The Story of Others

Collaboration with the Axis Powers during World War II


Documentary on Himmler a compelling contribution to Holocaust filmography


The Magna Carta Manifesto {1215}

Peter Linebaugh Radio Interview 2011


The long march to freedom

How does Montmartre, 1871 compare with Tahrir Square and Tunis, 2011? Alex Butterworth explains what the Paris Commune can teach us about the Arab Spring


Secret tapes of ‘professional sadists’ reveal true story of German soldiers’ war brutality

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

The captured Luftwaffe fighter pilots were swapping shocking stories about the raids they had flown over Kent during the opening stages of the Battle of Britain. They had no idea that their room was bugged and their conversation was recorded by Allied intelligence.

“I was over Ashford,” said one who recalled flying low over the town in a so-called “disruption attack”. “Some sort of meeting was being held on the market square. Masses of people, speeches and all that. They didn’t half get spattered! That was fun!” he added.

Not wanting to be outdone, his colleague countered: “We did a low level attack on Eastbourne. We got there and there was this big house with a ball going on. There were lots of women in evening gowns and a band. The first time we just flew past. Then we turned round and gave it to them! My dear fellow, THAT was fun!”

Yet another boasted: “In our squadron, I was known as the ‘professional sadist’. I knocked off everything: buses, a civilian train in Folkestone. I gunned down every cyclist.”

These macabre exchanges are among some 13,000 bugged conversations between captured German servicemen at the Trent Park detention centre in north London during the Second World War. The Allies recorded them in the hope of obtaining strategic information and excerpts from the 150,000 pages of transcripts will be published for the first time next week in Soldaten – which means “soldiers”.

It is a disturbing book by two German historians which reveals the barbaric attitudes of some of the ordinary men who fought for Germany in the war and dispels the myth that chivalry played a role in the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. It also suggests that millions of servicemen became brutalised almost as soon as hostilities began.

As one pilot said of the invasion of Poland in 1939: “I had to bomb a station but eight of the 16 bombs fell on houses. I didn’t enjoy that. By the third day, I didn’t care and on the fourth day, I enjoyed it. It was a pre-breakfast pleasure to chase soldiers through the fields with machine-gun fire.”

The authors, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, discovered the recordings while searching in British and US military archives for material about the German U-boat war. They expose a German U-Boat rating’s glee at having “knocked off a child transport” carrying more than 50 refugee children which his submarine had just sunk in the Atlantic.

In another case, a senior German army officer voiced his disgust at a junior lieutenant’s giggling account of how he and his men raped a so-called woman “spy” in Russia and then threw hand grenades at her. “She didn’t half scream when they exploded near her,” the lieutenant jeered. The recordings also show, not for the first time, how the regular German army, or Wehrmacht, often delighted in taking part in the Holocaust: “The SS sent out an invitation for a Jew shoot,” recalled one lieutenant colonel on the Russian front. “The whole company went along with rifles and gunned them down. Each could choose who he wanted to knock off.” The book is certain to cause a stir in Germany. It may also reopen a major controversy that erupted in 1995 when historians staged a travelling exhibition about the regular army’s role in the Holocaust.

Crimes of the Wehrmacht sparked protests and led several critics to dismiss it as a falsification. It was never turned into a permanent exhibit.


Forgotten Irish Suffragettes

Militancy, if not Irishness, was in their genes. A male ancestor was a duke who earned the isles of Cadiz for military service, but later defied the Spanish Inquisition, which ordered him burned. Thanks to a sympathetic guard, he escaped with his life, if not his title and lands, and so was left only a surname to pass on to his descendants.


Turning Green With Literacy

So on this St. Patrick’s Day, remember them as they would wish to be remembered. Read a book.


The bitter history of sugar

A new study outlines the unbearable conditions of the slaves who worked to satisfy the world’s sweet tooth


The Dresden Debate Won’t Die

Today’s idea: Sixty-five years after the British bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities during World War II, debate festers over whether the intention was to kill as many civilians as possible.

Article , NYT February 15, 2010


German Federal Archive Dresden, 1945

History | A year ago, this blog pointed to an interview with a British historian who contended that the destruction of Dresden, 65 years ago this past weekend, had a clear military rationale, since it was a communications and transit hub. “I remain unconvinced that maximizing civilian casualties, rather than winning the war by whatever means necessary,” was the chief objective, said Frederick Taylor.

But recently in The New Statesman, Leo McKinstry sifted archives that he says contradict the British government’s longstanding denials that killing civilians en masse was a primary aim of wartime air raids on German cities:

Typical was a paper, now in the archives of Cambridge University, written in August 1941 by the bombing operations directorate of the air ministry. This argued that the focus of future British attacks must be “the people in their homes and in factories, also the services such as electricity, gas and water upon which the industrial and domestic life of the area depends.” Warming to this theme, the directorate then found support for such theories in the Luftwaffe’s [1940] bombing of Coventry [toll: nearly 600 dead]. To most Britons, this attack had been an outrage. To the Air Staff, it was an inspiration. The assault on Coventry, argued the paper, was “one of the most successful raids carried out by the German Air Force on this country,” with a ton of high explosive and incendiaries for every 800 citizens. “If Bomber Command could carry out a raid on the Coventry scale every month, the result would be a complete state of panic in the industrialized west of Germany,” as well as “considerable loss of life and limb, widespread destruction and damage to the houses of workers.”

Mr. McKinstry adds that Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, who ran Royal Air Force’s devastating bombing campaign with gusto, saw “the euphemisms and evasions that his superiors used to cover up the reality” as an insult to the heroic men in his command. The officer wrote in 1943: “The aim of Bomber Command should be unambiguously and publicly stated. That aim is the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.” [The New Statesman]

More Recommended Reading:


Haiti – a failed state?

Short Background



Walls never work: in the Middle East or in Ireland

Israel’s illegal claim to West Bank Arab land is based on holy texts, not on a king’s fiat

By Robert Fisk, Saturday, 2 January 2010


We were walking round Milltown Cemetery last week, me and David McKittrick – Our Man in Belfast and among my oldest friends – and the wind came biting down from Cave Hill.

“Cloaked in ice and snow,” was how the Belfast Telegraph described Northern Ireland when I took the train back to Dublin the next day, but I think the bitterness of the Ardoyne, the Falls, the Shankill, the old Markets, made up for the exaggeration. “Peace” lines they may be, but just east of Andersonstown, that frozen, implacable wall of iron, stone and wire reminded me of an even more permanent “security fence” more than 3,000km away.

In Milltown Cemetery, in the Republican “plot” – yes, Bobby Sands lies there, also memorialised, of course, in the street next to the British embassy in Tehran – was the shared grave of Maire and Jimmy Drumm of Sinn Fein. Her picture showed a younger woman than I used to know, all smiles and curled hair rather than fury and cynicism (though she’d met me cheerfully when I went to say farewell more than 34 years ago, a whiskey bottle on the table and the commanders of the IRA’s Andersonstown Brigade on the sofas around her to say goodbye to the young “fella” setting off for Beirut).

“Murdered by pro-British elements” her gravestone said – that was the nearest an Irish Catholic Republican movement might come to saying “Protestants” – and I remembered how they’d shot Maire in her bed at the Mater Hospital in 1976, how she’d fallen from the bloody sheets and tried to crawl across the floor; where they shot her again.

They could not have known that Belfast would today be a Catholic majority city. Nor could the Protestant settlers of the 16th and 17th century – the Jacobean planters and the Cromwellian veterans – have known that their lands would almost all be Catholic 400 years later. The story of the Protestant “settlements” in Ireland provides a ghostly narrative of those modern-day “settlements” in the West Bank, where the Israelis insist on fighting the world’s last colonial war with the assistance of that great anti-colonial nation known as the United States.

The differences, of course, are legion. Protestantism, in its various Irish forms, aimed to convert or ethnically cleanse the Catholic Gaels. Judaism does not attempt to proselytise – quite the contrary – and Israel’s illegal claim to West Bank Arab land is based on holy texts, not on a king’s fiat.

Robert Kee, still one of the finest popular expositors of 16th-17th Irish history, puts in concisely: “The four counties of Donegal, Tyrone, Derry and Armagh … together with the two counties of Cavan and Fermanagh became subject to the most systematic attempt yet to plant or settle in Ireland strangers from England and Scotland. This was the so-called Plantation of Ulster, worked out on a government drawing board between 1608 and 1610.”

There had been previous efforts to colonise barbarous Ireland, when Catholic sovereigns had settled families in Leix and Offaly (whose landowners found they now lived in King’s and Queen’s Counties, just as West Bank Palestinians are supposed to believe that, since 1967, they have lived in Judea and Samaria). “But all such previous plantations had in the end been failures,” writes Kee. “Collapsing for lack of human support or capital, or else being physically wiped out by the rebellion of those who had been dispossesed to make room for them.”

This remains Israel’s fear: that those Palestinians dispossesed in 1948 will return to take their former lands in what is now the State of Israel, or at least those lands stolen from them in the West Bank after 1967. The Catholic massacres of Protestants in 1641, a period of civil war vividly captured in the 20,000 pages of witness depositions now held by my own alma mater of Trinity College, Dublin, is a bleak precursor of the Hebron massacre of Jews during the Arab rebellion of 1929; albeit that up to 1,300 Protestants were hanged and put to the sword in 1641, 64 Jews in Hebron. William Baxter, a gentleman from Co. Fermanagh “swore that Ross McArt McGuire seized his lands at Rathmoran … on the grounds that they ‘belonged to his father before the said plantation,'” Trinity’s modern history professor Jane Ohlmeyer, recalled in a recent article.

But the Elizabethan settlers came as soldiers who settled. Later Scots Protestants came, like Israelis to the West Bank, as settlers prepared to be soldiers. “The idea of the settlement of underpopulated lands caught the imagination of men in both countries” – I am quoting Perceval-Maxwell’s work on Scottish migration, but “making the desert bloom” and “a land without people for a people without land” echoes in the future distance.

Cromwell was to inject a new form of violence into Ireland, whose ultimate victims can still be found in Milltown Cemetery and, just down the Falls Road, in Belfast’s largely Protestant City Cemetery. The slaughter at Drogheda and Wexford acted as a catalyst of mass fear, much as the killings at Deir Yassin and many other Arab villages in 1948 led to the abandonment or capitulation of hundreds of other Arab towns in the land that was to become Israel. Most of the best land of Ireland, at least three-quarters of it, was confiscated from its Catholic owners, its original inhabitants expelled to the cold, wild lands of Connaught. By 1688, Catholics held only 22 per cent of the original Gaelic Ireland, precisely the same percentage of mandate Palestinian land – 22 per cent – for which Yassir Arafat was required to negotiate in the hopeless Oslo “agreement”. Arab-owned land in “Palestine” is now smaller still, heading inexorably to the mere 14 per cent that the Catholics still clung on to in 1703.

Again, these are not parallel narratives; but unborn ghosts are there. English rulers in the 17th century suspected – quite rightly – that Spain was lending spiritual and material support to Irish insurgents, just as Israel today believes, correctly, that Iran is giving spiritual and material support to Hamas and, outside “Palestine”, to Hizballah. For the Pope of Rome, read Pope Khamenei of Tehran. On many occasions, acts of “terrorism” against the Protestants emerged from landless Catholic tenants who were allowed to work for those who had seized their property. So, later Protestant “settlements” were surrounded by vast defensive walls, angled with watch-towers and ramparts and gun positions. The city of Derry has walls above the Catholic Bogside every bit as ferocious as the Israeli wall that now cuts into yet more Arab land.

And, of course, Irish Catholics fled abroad – just as the Israeli foreign minister would like to “transfer” Palestinians to the east. And where did the Irish Catholics go? As many as 100,000 fled to the continent, mostly to Spanish Hapsburg territories, in many cases to the Spanish lands from which the Moriscos – the Muslims of Spain and the remainder of the nation’s Jews – had just been “cleansed” by their Catholic Christian overlords. The final crushing of the Spanish Muslims (who had failed to convert) occurred in 1609, when Philip of Spain forced 300,000 souls to leave the Iberian peninsula for Ottoman north Africa. And the very Spanish “cleansers” who had “ethnocided” the Moriscos – Garcia Sarmiento de Sotomayor and Count Caracena were among them – now advocated resources for the Irish arriving in Galicia.

Irish Catholic publications of the time – according to research undertaken by Igor Pérez Tostado – compared Irish Catholics with Spanish Muslims; “both were presented not only as disloyal but as a mortal threat to the very survival of the political community.” Both, in effect, were thrown into the sea.

But the English and Scots “settlements” failed in Ireland. Protestant hopes of eternal support from London eventually proved false. And so, what of Israeli hopes of eternal support from Washington? I still don’t believe in a one-state solution – which the Protestant minority will one day have to accept in Ireland, if they have not, subconsciously, already done so – but colonisation leads only to the graveyard. Walls don’t work. Nor “superior” religions. Nor ethnic cleansing. History, which should be studied as eternally as false hopes, is a great punisher.


The Christmas Truce of 1914

Friday 25 December 2009

by: Paul J. Magnarella, t r u t h o u t | Report

Although World War I ranks as one of the most horrific in history, causing about 40 million casualties and up to 20 million military and civilian deaths, it also included a famous and spontaneous peaceful interlude inscribed in chronicles as the unofficial Christmas truce of 1914.

World War I

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914, plunged much of Europe into war. The Entente Powers of France, Russia and Britain stood against the Central Powers of the Austro-Hungarian, German and Ottoman Empires. In mid-September, the German, British and French commands ordered their armies to entrench along a 475-mile Western Front that extended from the North Sea to the Swiss frontier. Four years of brutal, stalemated trench warfare followed. Most trenches were about seven feet deep and six feet wide, topped by a parapet of sandbags. From there, barbed wire entanglements extended into no man’s land. In many places, the no man’s land separating German and British front-line trenches was only 30 to 70 yards wide.

The elements were sometimes more debilitating than the enemy. Standing in the mud and water for days often resulted in feet becoming gangrenous. Excessive exposure to wet and cold caused nephritis, which affected the kidneys. The accumulated rubbish, urine and excreta in the trenches negatively impacted on health. Food scraps and decaying corpses attracted huge numbers of disease-carrying rats. The unwashed men attracted lice that covered their bodies with bite marks and caused “trench fever.” Artillery bursts caused some men to experience shell shock.

Periodically, the aristocratic generals (safely lodged in the rear) ordered the mostly lower-class men in the trenches to make suicidal frontal assaults on enemy trenches. Machine guns and rapid fire rifles simply mowed down attacking men in no man’s land, where their bodies often remained for weeks in a decaying state. The generals never devised a sensible plan to break the cruel stalemate that trench warfare became.

On Christmas Eve, the weather cleared. Rain gave way to a clear cold that froze the mud and water, making movement easier and boots and clothing drier. Having received gift packages from home, the men of both sides were in a festive mood. That evening, along the front line, German troops sang Christmas carols. Many erected candle-lit Christmas trees on their parapets and called out season greetings to their enemies opposite them. Many Entente troops responded with applause, holiday wishes and songs of their own. Concerned, one British battalion command informed Brigade Headquarters: “Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs, and are wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged, but [I] am nevertheless taking all military precautions …”

Then, an amazing series of events occurred. Along parts of the British, French and Belgian lines, men from both sides went out into no man’s land unarmed to meet, shake hands and fraternize. The First Battalion Royal Irish Rifles reported Germans calling out: “If you Englishmen come out and talk to us, we won fire.” Scotsmen in Flanders, the 2nd Queen’s Battalion near La Chapelle d’ Armentieres, and the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers also reported Germans singing “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) and extending invitations to meet in no man’s land.

Christmas Day

On the morning of 25 December, the 2nd Battalion Devons reported seeing the Germans hoist a board with the words, “You no fight, we no fight.” Opposite the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment, the process began with a German officer emerging from his trench waving a white flag. The 2nd Battalion Wiltshires reported men on both sides waving to each other, and then going out into no man’s land to meet unarmed. After initial greetings, both sides agreed to bury their dead comrades, who had been laying in no man’s land for weeks. Some Germans and British worked together in burial parties; a British soldier described a joint funeral service as “a sight one will never forget!” Members of the British Rifle Brigade gave the Germans wooden crosses to mark their graves.

The opposing sides exchanged food, drink, cigarettes, photographs, addresses and sincere wishes for peace. A British officer found the scene “absolutely astounding!” The troops found each other to be quite likable. Many men felt compelled to write home about their experience. A London Rifles Brigade officer: “They [Germans] were really magnificent in the whole thing…. I now have a very different opinion of the Germans.” A Scots Guard: “Some of them are very nice fellows and did not show any hatred, which makes me think they are forced to fight.”

Once no man’s land had been cleared of corpses, some men found areas suitable for soccer games with improvised balls. In places, British and Germans ate Christmas dinner together, sharing whatever they had. They entertained each other with singing and instrumental music.

How It Ended

Many who participated in an informal truce hoped to continue it until New Year’s Day or beyond. But the high commands sternly objected. A German Army order threatened that fraternization with the enemy would be punished as high treason. A British order warned that “Officers and NCOs allowing [fraternization] would be brought before a court martial.” In late December, the high commands ordered artillery bombardments along the front. They did the same in following years to ensure that the 1914 Christmas truce would not be repeated. Despite these measures, a few friendly encounters did occur, but on a much smaller scale than in 1914.

Soldiers Express Themselves

The Christmas truce touched the men deeply as evidenced in their letters and diaries. Various British soldiers wrote the following: “The most wonderful day on record!” “The most extraordinary celebration of Christmas any of us will ever experience!” “This experience has been the most practical demonstration I have seen of Peace on earth and goodwill towards men.”

German troops wrote: “The way we spend Christmas in the trenches sounds almost like a fairy tale.” “It was a Christmas celebration in keeping with the command ‘Peace on earth’ and a memory which will stay with us always.” “Probably the most extraordinary event of the whole year “a soldier’s truce without any higher sanction by officers or generals.”

Speaking in the House of Commons in 1930, Sir H. Kingsley Wood, a former major who had served at the front in 1914 stated: “If we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired. “It was only the fact that we were being controlled by others that made it necessary for us to start trying to shoot one another again.”

Today, the Christmas truce of 1914 is regarded as evidence of men’s natural desire for peace and friendship, even in the context of a brutal and senseless conflict. However, the 1914 Christmas truce is not unique in history. During the early 19th century, Peninsula War, British and French soldiers at times visited each other, shared rations and played cards. Periodically, during the 1854-56 Crimean War, French, British and Russian troops gathered around the same fire to smoke and drink together. In the American Civil War (1880-81), Yankees and Rebels traded coffee and tobacco and peacefully fished from opposite sides of the same rivers. Throughout history, it has been rare for men fighting at close quarters not to extend friendly gestures and establish informal truces with their enemies.


The Arab-Israeli conflict (22 pictures)

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Israel-Palestine timeline: Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

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1914-1918 The Ottomans – who had conquered the eastern Mediterranean in 1516 – sided with Germany during the first world war. Britain supported an Arab revolt against the Ottomans, promising self rule. The British also promised the Jews a homeland in Palestine – the then foreign secretary, Lord Balfour, issuing a declaration in 1917.

Pictured, temples and ruins on the Mount of Olives in the city of Jerusalem

Photograph: Michael Maslan/Corbis


The French In Algeria

Veterans Al Jazeera

Part One

Part Two

As part of its series on Veterans Al Jazeera visited France where feelings over the country’s brutal war in its former colony Algeria more than 40 years ago still run deep.

Born and raised in Algeria Rabah Gerrairia considers the African nation very much “his country” but it is with sadness and bitterness that he explains why he will never return there.

“I won’t go back, I won’t go,” he says. “Of course my family’s there, and I’d love to see them. But I’m scared. I’m really scared I’d be killed. It’s my country, but I can never go back, never.”

Gerrairia fears for his welfare in Algeria emanate from his part in France’s brutal and bloody conflict in its former colony between 1954 and 1962.

He was one of 150,000 Algerian Muslims who fought for the French during the war known as “harki”, a term that more than four decades on is still a negative one for many of their countrymen.

Ahead of the declaration of independence by Algeria in 1962 they were forcibly disarmed by the French army – who stood by as thousands were tortured and killed by Algerian independence fighters who regarded them as traitors.

Algerian veterans are still bitter at their treatment by the government
Unlike European settlers who had also fought for the French – and despite the clear danger to their lives – Algerians who had fought for France were forbidden from immigrating to the former colonial power.

Through the kindness of individual French commanders, however, several thousand were illegally smuggled to France where on arrival they were confined to primitive rural camps.

In the south of France, near Marseilles one group of veterans remain close friends, regularly meeting to relive their experience and share a cup of tea.

‘Republican values’

Revisiting the site of one camp, that was only finally demolished in 1995, the men reveal their hostility at the French government for their treatment.

“In the camp we lived communally, without any relation to the outside world. We were Arabs and didn’t know what racism was,” says Slimane Djera, another veteran.

“It was only when I was in college that racism came along. We were treated differently – always put at the back of the class. And we have found it very difficult to find jobs.”

“They [France] said we were there to defend “Republican values”, and then they left us without arms, to our own destiny,” says Saiid Merabti. “We want France to admit its responsibility for those of us who died in Algeria and for our abandonment in France”

The Algerian veterans’ anger is symptomatic of a conflict that has left deep psychological scars on the French psyche and whose legacy was left unaddressed and ignored for a long time by successive governments.
In video

It was a conflict that France was reluctant to label a war from the very start even as a rebellion by the Algerian National Liberation Front escalated from early attacks on French military and civilian targets into full-scale conflict.

Algeria was colonised by the French in the 19th century and, unlike the neighbouring protectorates of Tunisia or Morocco, Algeria was considered inalienable French territory, a mere extension of the mainland.

Independence drive

By the mid 20th century it was home to over a million European settlers who enjoyed the privileges of French citizenship, the overwhelming majority of the population – Arab and Berber Muslims – reaped few benefits from the French presence.

In 1954 the FLN, determined to end France’s colonial rule and achieve independence, turned to violence.

The conflict was ultimately an unsuccessful one for the French
As the war became more embittered, atrocities were reportedly carried out by all sides.

Many young soldiers sent to Algeria were deployed to villages in the countryside to root out FLN influence at any cost.

“Two or three other soldiers and I found ourselves face to face with two FLN fighters. Guns were fired on either side, and they were wounded,” says Jean-Paul Vittori, one veteran who did his military service in Algeria.

“I stopped shooting to wait for reinforcements. Then other soldiers arrived, and one simply killed one of the FLN fighters. I’ll never forget that – it remains an open wound. I’d never have imagined that someone could kill a defenceless soldier.”

The French proved unable to crush the independence movement and at the end of 1956, the FLN hardened its stance, launching a campaign of urban attacks inaugurated a new chapter in the war known as “The Battle of Algiers”.

Such bombings were often carried out by Algerian women dressed in Western clothes – a tactic which sent the European settler population into hysteria.

Severe measures

France reacted harshly, deploying its 10th Parachute Division – headed by General Jacques Massu – to Algiers in an attempt to prevent any further attacks, and stop a General Strike called by the FLN to garner international attention to the independence cause.

General Paul Aussaresses reported directly to General Massu and says his superior officer was under orders to prevent a strike organised by the FLN “at any price.”

That price included degrading forms of torture, practiced by General Massu’s Parachute Division, as they swept the streets of Algiers’ ancient Muslim quarter – the Kasbah – in an attempt to identify and break FLN cells.

Many people were appalled at the measures that France was undertaking within its own territory.

“Today the French authorities admit that a war took place. At the time they refused to. So these prisoners didn’t fall under the Geneva Convention,” says Jacques Verges, a human rights lawyer famous for his defence of criminals such as Carlos the Jackal.

“What’s more, they weren’t even entitled to the same rights as ordinary criminals. Basically they were “outside” the law. The result was that in Algiers at the time over fifty torture sites existed, mainly in private houses.”

Verges began his career defending FLN suspects, an action undertaken, he claims, to raise attention in France itself to the systematic abuse of human rights being carried out in its name.

“Appalling crimes were committed in Algeria that no one knew about. Events were hushed up. Court-cases were the only way of denouncing these crimes publicly: the only way of denouncing torture.”

Official silence

The French state was to draw a line under the war. An amnesty was put in place for all crimes committed during the war and for decades it was veiled in official silence.

A minority still regret the independence of Algeria from France
That silence has not only angered Algerian veterans but also former French servicemen and former members of the “Organisation of the Secret Army” (OAS) a breakaway group of hardliners which brought France itself to the verge of civil war in its attempt to keep Algeria French at all costs.

The activities of the OAS against both French and Algerian targets accentuated inter-communal tensions in Algeria and men and women from the group still gather for  meetings of “The Association for the Defence of Former Prisoners and Exiles of French Algeria”.

More than four decades on, they remain firm in their belief that France should never have given up Algeria.

“We’ll forget once everyone has recognized de Gaulle’s betrayal – but we’ll never forgive him,” says Joseph Hattab Pacha, a member of the group.

Few French have much sympathy for former OAS members and their claims of “betrayal” but increased calls for recognition of the conflict and its atrocities saw the National Assembly officially admit that a “war” had taken place and a small monument was erected on the banks of the River Seine.

Broken silence

The silence surrounding the war was well and truly shattered in 2000 when
General Paul Aussaresses published a book in which he admitted his part in the systematic torture that was practiced by the French during the “Battle of Algiers”,  including his assassination of the local FLN leader Larbi Ben M’hidi, covered up at the time as “suicide”.

General Aussaresses insists that the coercive methods of interrogation – including torture – were sanctioned at the highest levels of the French State.

“General Aussaresses committed war crimes in Algeria, crimes against humanity. But his book shows that he committed these crimes under orders from members of the government,” Jacques Verges says. “He carried out the orders – but the people above him were quite simply able to bury the past.”

Aussaresses is unrepentant
over his role in the war
Aussaresses and his publishers were put on trial in order to suppress the book and convicted them of condoning war crimes, a move that many say made a scapegoat of the general by a nation still unable to face up to its own responsibility for the conduct of the war in Algeria.

The French values of liberty, equality and fraternity were badly compromised during the conflict and it continues to cast a shadow over France’s relationship with its own Muslim community.

Aussaresses however remains unrepentant.

“In the middle of trial in Paris my lawyer called me and said ‘listen Paul I have a message. If you say the word “regret” there will be no trial.’ I said: listen, I cannot say that. I cannot say that.

“I feel there is a song of Edith Piaff: “Non, rein de rein, no je ne regret rein.” That’s my song. I don’t regret. I did not like, but I don’t regret.”

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