On February 8, 1962, a demonstration for peace in Algeria, in Paris, resulted in nine deaths in the Charonne metro. This drama, which took place shortly before the end of the war, has become a bloody symbol of state repression.
It was sixty years ago. On February 8, 1962, a demonstration organized at the call of the French Communist Party, trade unions and other leftist movements for the independence of Algeria was repressed with unprecedented violence at the Charonne metro station in Paris. Result: nine dead and more than 250 injured.
In recent months, the OAS (Secret Army Organization) created in 1961 to maintain French Algeria, has been increasing attacks, including in mainland France. On February 7, 1962, the home of the Minister of Cultural Affairs, André Malraux, was targeted. The attack disfigures a 4-year-old girl: Delphine Renard. The emotion is such that the citizens are called to gather peacefully the next day, place de la Bastille, in Paris. For fear of new excesses in a France under a state of emergency since April 1961, the Minister of the Interior, Roger Frey, banned the demonstration.
February 8, 1962, the war in Algeria comes to an end. In Paris, a demonstration against fascism is violently repressed by the police. 9 people suffocated at the entrance to the Charonne metro station. An event long overshadowed by the media and the political class pic.twitter.com/LRLTkuNLUG
— Ina.fr (@Inafr_officiel) February 8, 2022
“On the side of the government, there is a kind of panic fear, Prime Minister Michel Debré and Roger Frey, the Minister of the Interior, have only one fear left, it is that of the subversion of the OAS, which arouses a lot of sympathy in the army and in the gendarmerie.We cling to the idea that the police ultimately remain the last obstacle, analyzes for AFP Jean-Marc Berlière, police historian. therefore leaves the rein on the neck to the Parisian police and gives them the responsibility of solving the problem in the street, seeming to promise a form of impunity, exactly like what happened on October 17, 1961, four months earlier (when a peaceful demonstration by Algerians in Paris was bloodily repressed, dozens of deaths according to historians, editor’s note).
>> October 17, 1961, a massacre of Algerians in the heart of Paris
On February 8, President Charles “de Gaulle does not want independence to be wrested by the street, whether it is Algerian or that of the workers’ movement. Maurice Papon, prefect of combat, must hold the street”, explains Emmanuel Blanchard , lecturer in political science at the University of Versailles-Saint-Quentin.
The Prefect of Police of Paris, Maurice Papon, who distinguished himself by the bloody repression of the demonstration of October 17, 1961, deployed large numbers of police to prevent this rally “against fascism”. Clashes break out with the police.
“The police with helmets and batons charged”
Boulevard Voltaire, demonstrators seeking to flee a police charge rush into the Charonne metro. It’s the scramble. Police pursue the demonstrators to beat them, others throw, towards those who try to come out, the heavy grids which surround the trees. People blocked by the access gates to the platforms are suffocated under the pressure. Others die with their skulls shattered under the blows. Eight people, including three women and a 15-year-old apprentice, died that day. Another victim succumbed to his injuries eight weeks later. All are unionized in the CGT and members of the PC, with the exception of one.
The front page of the newspaper “L’Humanité”
February 8, 1962:
60 years ago, the Papon police bloodily repressed hundreds of people and massacred 9 activists, all communists and/or cégétistes, who were demonstrating for peace in Algeria and against the attacks of the OAS. Charonne, a state crime. pic.twitter.com/Dg2da6ehYB
— Fabien Gay (@fabien_gay) February 8, 2022
“The rush in the metro, the gates closed, then the big black hole”, remembered, in 2002, Jacqueline Guichard, then a young employee of the postal checks, member of the CGT and the PC. “We left with 7 or 8 girlfriends,” she said. Among them, Anne-Claude Godeau, 24, who will not come back.
“We had been marching for a while, night was falling, we were shouting ‘Peace in Algeria’. It was protesting, but nothing more. In Charonne, the head of the demonstration gave us the order to disperse. And then, that started”, continues Jacqueline Guichard. “Suddenly, the police with helmets and truncheons charged” and the crowd rushed into the metro: “Why did we enter this metro? I will never know. Why Anne-Claude was beaten? Why not me? I won’t know either.”
As for October 17, 1961, this repression will be concealed. “Michel Debré congratulated the prefect of police, Maurice Papon – and therefore in a way the police – a few days later for his firmness and, in 1966, a law granted amnesty to all facts related to the Algerian war” , continues Jean-Marc Berlière. The police officers of this brigade have, for the most part, been transferred to more attractive posts. They weren’t decorated, but it was still a sort of symbolic gratuity.
60 years ago, the police of Papon suppressed an anti-fascist demonstration in Paris. During a trap at #Charonneshe killed 9 demonstrators.
We salute the memory of these victims of a State crime and also that of the thousands of European and Algerian victims of the OAS. pic.twitter.com/aT6wHUEBic
— Fabrice Riceputi (@campvolant) February 8, 2022
For historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, who died in 2006, “it’s the height of absurdity. It’s hard to understand this police violence when the government is in the middle of negotiations with Algerian representatives for an agreement of peace signed a month later. And yet it was state repression,” he said, 40 years after the tragedy. “No doubt de Gaulle wanted to show that his authority was intact”.
On February 13, the funeral of the victims of this “state massacre”, according to historian Alain Dewerpe, brought together 100,000 to 200,000 people. “One of the greatest in the history of France”, recalled Fabrice Riceputi during an interview granted to France 24 on October 17, 1961. “It is the founding act of the memory of Charonne. It will be relayed constantly”, specified the historian to explain the concealment of this massacre in Paris.
In 1966, a law granted amnesty to all facts related to the Algerian war. Survivors of the crackdown filed lawsuits, but judicial and administrative investigations led nowhere.