nasty that luck
(from He Stole The Night From My Dreams, Red Kite Production, https://www.scribd.com )
henri alleg: in this enormous prison. where each cell houses a quantity of human suffering. it is almost indecent to talk about oneself. the “divi-sion” for those condemned to death is on the ground floor. there are eight of them in there. their ankles chained together. waiting for their reprieve or their end. and it is by the pulse of these condemed men that we all live. there is not one of them who does not turn on his straw mattress at night with the thought that the dawn may be sinister. who can fall asleep without wishing with all his force for nothing to happen at dawn. yet is is from this section of the prison that the forbidden songs are heard every day. those magnificent melodies that always spring from the hearts of a people struggling for their freedom.
torture. the word has been familiar to us all for a long time. few of those imprisoned here fave escaped it. the first questions put to new arrivals. when it is possible to speak to them. are these. and in this order: when were you arrrested. have you been tortured. by “the paras” or the detectives.
my particular case is exceptional in that it has attracted
public attention. it is not in any way unique. what i said in my petition and what i am saying here illustrateds by one single example the common practice in this attrocious and bloody war.
it is now more than three months since i was arrested. i have survived so much pain and so many humiliations during this time that i would not bring myself to talk once again of those days and nights of agony if i did not believe that it would serve a purpose. and that by mak-ing the truth known i might do a little towards bringing about the sease-fire and peace. for those nights during the course of a month i heard screams of men being tortured. and their cries will resound for ever in my memory. i have seen prisoners thrown down from one floor to another who. stupefied by torture and beatings. could only manage to utter in arabic the first words of an ancient prayer.
but. since then. i have come to know of other attrocities. i have been told of the “disappearance” of my friend maurice audin. arrested twenty-four hours before me. tortured by the same group who afterwards “took me in hand”. he disappeared like shiekh tebessi. president of the association of oulamas. doctor cheris zahar. and so many others. at lodi. i met my friend de milly. employed previously at the psychiatric hospital at blida. who had also been trotured by the “paras”. using a new tech-nique: he was fastened down. naked. one a metal chair through which an electric current was passed. he still
has the deep marks of severe burns on both legs. in the corridors of the prison i recognised among the new en-tries mohamed sefta. registrar of the mahakma of algiers (the moslem court). “forty-three days with the paras. excuse me. but i still have trouble in speaking. they burnt my tongue.” and he showed me his slashed tongue. i have seen others: a young trader from the casbah. boualem bahmed. showed me. in the prison car in which we were driven to the military tribunal. the long scars on the calves of his legs. “the paras... with a knife: i hid a member of the f.l.n.”
on the other side of the wall. in the wing reserved for the women. there are young girls of whom not one has given way: djamila bouhired. elyette luop. nassima hablal. melika khene. lucie coscas. colette greoire and many others: undressed. beaten. insulted by sadistic torurers. they too have been submitted to the water and the electricity. each one of us here knows of the martyerdom of annick castel. raped by a parachutist and who. believing herself pregnant. thought only to die.
all this i know. have seen. have heard. who can tell of all the other atrocities that i have not seen.
in reading these words you must think of all those who “disappeared”. of those. who sure of their cause. are awaiting their death without fear at this moment. of all those who have already been executed. of those who in the face of hatred and torture reaffirm their belief in
future peace and friendship between the french and the algerian peoples. because this book could be the ac-count of each one of them.
it was four o’clock in the afternoon of wednesday. june 12th when lieutenant cha_ of the paratroop. accompa-nied by one of his men and a policeman. arrived at audin’s house to arrested me. on the previous day my friend maurice audin. an assistant at the falculty of sci-ence of algiers. had been arrested at his house and the police had left a detective behind. it was this man who opened the door to me when i fell into the trap. i tried. wiouth success. to escape. but the detective. revolver in hand. caught me on the first floor and forced me into the apartment. the detective. who was very nervous. telephone to paratroop headquaters to ask for immedi-ate feinforcements. watching me all the time out of the corner of his eyes.
from the moment when the lieutenant entered the room i knew what to expect. underneath an enormous beret. his small face. closely-shaven. triangular and long like that of a desert fox. gave me a tight-lipped smile. “an excellent capture.” he said. enunciating each syllable. “it’s henri alleg. former editor of the alger reùpublicain.” then turning immediately to me. he asked: “where have you been hiding.” “that i won’t tell you.” he smiled. raised his head then. very sure of himslef. said: “we will prepared a little questionnaire for you later on which will change your mind. you’ll answer. i promise you.”
and then to the others: “hand-cuff him.”
escorted by the paras. i walked down the three flights of stairs to the street. the lieutenant’s car. an aronde. was waiting for us on the other side of the street. they made me sit in the back. the para was next to me: the barrel of this sten-gun jarred against my ribs: “there’s a good packet for you inside there. if you start any non-sense.”
we drove towards the higher part of town. after a short stop in front of a villa (without doubt one of the com-munication posts of the paratroops). where cha_ entered alone. we continued to climb towards chateauneuf by the boulevard clemenceau. finally. after passing the place el-biar. the car stopped in front of a large build-ing under construction.
i crossed a court filled with jeeps and military lorries and arrived before the entrance of the unfinished build-ing. i went upstairs: cha_ went ahead of me. the para behind me. the bars in the reinforced concrete stuck out here and there from the masonry. the staircase did not have a balustrade. from the grey ceilings hung the wires of an unfinished electrical installation.
there was a constant movement of paratroopers going up and down from one floor to another. pushing arabs in front of them. prisoners dressed in rags with several-day-old beards. amid a great noise of boots. laughter
and intermingleed obscenities and insults. i was at the “centre de tri” of the sub-section of the bouzareah. i was soon to learn how this “tri” worked.
i went ito a large room on the third or fourth floor be-hind cha_. apparently the living room of a future apart-ment. there were several collapsible tables. blurred photographs of wanted suspects on the wall. which to-gether with a field telephone made up all the furniture. near the window stood a lieutenant. i learnt later that his name was ir_. he had a great ape-like body. much too big for his small head with its sleepy eyes set be-tween fat cheeks and for his little pointed voice which came out like the noneyed and spoilt tones of a vicious choirboy.
“we’re going to give you a chance.” said cha_. turning toward me. “here is paper and pencil. you’re going to tell us where you live. who has been sheltering you since you went into hiding. who are the persons you’ve met. what your activities have been....”
his tone was polite. the handcuffs had been taken off. i repeated for the two lieutenants what i had already said to cha- during the car journey: “i went into hiding in order no to be arrested because i knew that an intern-ment order had been made out against me. i was look-ing after the interests of my paper and i am still doing that. on this subject i met m. guy mollet and m. geùrard jacques in paris. i have nothing else to say to you. i
shall write nothing and don’t count on me to betray those who have had the courage to hide me.”
still smiling and very sure of themselves. the two lieu-tenants exchanged glances.
“i think there’s no point in wasting our time.” said cha_. ir_ agreed. at heart i. too. agreed with them: if i was going to be tortured. it didn’t matter very much if it was earlier or later. and rather than being kept in suspense. it was better to face the worst right away.
cha_ went to the telephone. “get ready for a session: it’s a “prize catch” this time and tell lo_ to come up.” a few moments later lo_ came into the room. twenty-five years old. short. sunburnt. pomaded hair. small forhead. he came up to me. smilling. and said: “ah. so you’re the customer. come with me.” i went ahead of him. one floor further down i entered a small room on the left of the corridor. the kitchen of the future apartment. there was a sink. and earthenware cooking stove. surmounted with the shelf on which the tiles had not yet been laid and only the metal frame was in place. at the back was a large glass door hidden by broken boxes which dark-ened the room.
“get undressed.” said lo_. and. when i did not obey him:
“ if you don’t we’ll take them off by force.”
while i was undressing. paras were coming and going
all around me and in the corridor. curious to see who lo_’s “customer” was. one of them. a blond with a parisian accent. put his head through the frame of the door where the glass had not yet been inserted and said: “well. a french man. he’s sided with the rats against us. you’’ll take care of him. won’t you. lo_”
lo_ now laid on the ground a black plank. sweating with humidity. polluted and sticky with vomit left. no doubt. by previous “customers”.
“lie down.” i laid myself down on the plank. lo_. with the help of another. attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood. i saw lo_ standing above me. his legs apart. one foot on each side of the plank at the height of my chest with his hands on his hips in the attitude of a victor. he looked me straight in the eyes. trying to intimidate me likehis supervisors.
“now listen.” he said. in his north african accent. “the lietenant is giving you time to think. but afterwards you’ll talk. when we have an european we look afterhim better than the “wogs”. everybody talks. you’ll have to tell us everything-and not only a little bit of the truth. but everything.”
during all this time i was being taunted by the “blue berets” standing around me.
“why don’t your friends come and rescue you.”
“well. well. what’s he doing stretched out like that. re-laxing.”
another one. more vicious. snarled: “it’s better not to lose time with trash like that. i would show them the way things are right away.”
a current of cold air was blowing in from underneath the window. naked on the damp plank. i started to tremble with cold. lo_ insinuated with a smile: “are you affraid. do you want to talk.”
“no. i’m not afraid. i’m cold.”
“you’re still playing at heroes. are you. it won’t last long. in a quarter of an hour. you’ll talk very nicely.”
i remained in the middle of the paras who continued to joke and insult me. without answering. forcing myself to remain as calm as possible. then i saw cha_. jr_ and a captain coming into the room. tall. thin. with pinched lips. scarred cheek. elegant and taciturn. this was cap-tain de_.
“well. have you thought about it.” it was cha_ who put the question to me.
“i haven’t change my mind.”
“good. we can proceed.” and addressing himself to the others: “ it would be better to go into the room next door. there’s more light and it will be easier to work.”
four paras picked up the plank to which i was bound and carried me into the next room facing the kitchen. and put me down on the cement floor. the officers sat down around me on boxes brought in by the men. “now.” said cha_. still very sure of the final result. “i need some paper and a box. or something hard. to write on.” he was given a piece of wood which he put down beside him. then. taking form lo_ a magneto which the latter hand him. he raised it to the level of my eyes. turning for my inspection the machine which had already been described to me a hundred times by its victims. “ you know what this is. don’t you. you’ve often heard it spo-ken about. you’ve even written articles about it.”
“you have no right to employ these methods.”
“you will see.”
“if you have any charge to bring against me. hand me over to the appropriate authorities. you have twenty-four hours in order to do it. and i would prefer not to be addressed as “tu”. there were bursts of laughter around me.
i knew very well that my protestations were useless and that under the circumstances it was ridiculous to
ask these brutes to respect the law. but i wanted to show them that they had not intimidated me.
“go ahead.” said cha_.
a para sat on my chest: he was very sunburnt. his upper lip curled into a triangle under his nose with the broad smile of a boy who is going to play a good trick.... i was
to recognise him later on in the office of the judge dur-ing my accusation. it was sergeant ja_. another para (from oran. to judge by his accent) was on my left. an-other by my feet. the officers all around me. and sev-eral others were also in the room without any particu-lar function. but no doubt wanting to watch the fun.
he picked it up and knotted it like a cord round my neck. and amid the laughs of the others. dragged me off be-hind him. as he would have dragged a dog. into the of-fice next door.
“well.” he said. “so you haven’t had enough. we’re not going to let you go. get down on your knee.” with his enormous hands. he slapped me with his full strength. i fell on my knees. but i was incapable of keeping my-self upright. i sagged sometimes to the left. sometimes to the right. the blows of ir_ kept me from fallling. ex-cept when he threw me down to the floor. “well. do you want to talk. you’re finished. do you understand. you’re a dead man living on borrowed time.”
“bring in audin.” said cha_. “he’s in the other building.” ir_ continued to hit me. while the other. sitting on the table. watched the spectacle.
my glasses had long since fallen off. my short-sightedness reinforced still more strongly the impres-sion of unreality. of nightmare which had taken posses-sion of me and against which i forced myself to struggle. lest it should weaken my will.
“well. audin. tell him what’s in store for him. save him from the horrors of yesterday evening.” it was cha_ talk-ing. ir_ raised my head. above me i saw the pale and haggard face of my friend audin looking at me while i wavered on my knees. “go on. tell him.” said cha_
“it’s hard. henri.” audin said to me. and they took him away.
suddenly ir_ pulled me up. he was beside himslef. this was going on too long. “listen. you scum. you’re fin-ished. you’re going to talk. do you hear. you’re going to talk.” he brought his face close to mine until it was al-most touching and shout: “you’re going to talk. every-body talks here. we fought the war in indo-china—that was enough to know your type. this is the gestapo here. you know the gestapo.” then. with irony: “ so you wrote articles about torture. did you. you bastard. very well. now it’s the tenth paratroop division who are doing it to you.” i heard the whole band of torturers laughing be-
hind me. ir_ hammered my face with blows and jabbed my stomach with his knee. “what we are doing here. we will do in france. we weill do it to your duclos and your mitterrand. we will do to them what we are doing to you. and your whore of a republic. we will blow it up into the air. too. you’re going to talk. i tell you.” on the table was a piece of hardboard. he picked it up and used it to beat me. each blow stupefied me a little more. but at the same time confirmed me in my decision not to give way to these brutes who flattered themselves they were like the gestapo.
“all right.” said cha_. “you’ve asked for it. we’re going to throw you to the lions.” the “lions” were those whose acquaintance i had already made. but who were going to exercise their talents still further.
ir_ dragged me back into the room. the one with the plank and the magneto. i just had time to see a naked moslem being lifted up amid kicks and pushed out into the cordior. while ir_. cha_ and the others were “lookking after” me. the rest of the group were con-tinuing their “work” using the same plank and the mag-neto. they had been “questioning” a suspect in order not to lose any time.
lo_ fastened me down to the plank: a new session of electrical torture began. “this time. it’s the big one.” he said. in the hands of my torturers i saw a different ma-chine. larger than the first. and in my very agony i felt
the differences in quality. instead of the sharp and rapid spasms that seemed to tear my body in two. it was now a greater pain that took possession of alll my muscles and tightened them in longer spasms. i was taut in my bonds. i tightened my teeth on the gag with all my might and kept my eyes closed. they stopped. but i continued to shake with nervous convulsions.
“do you know how to swim.” said lo_. bending over me. “we’re going to teach you. take him to the tap.”
together they picked up the plank to which i was still attached and carried me into the kitchen. once there. they rested the top of the plank. where my head was. against the sink. two or three paras held the other end. the kitchen was lit only by a weak light from the corri-dor. in the gloom. i could just make out the faces of ir_. cha_ and captain de_. who seemed to have taken over the direction of these operations. lo_ fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. he wrapped my head in a rag. while de_ siad to him: “put a wedge in his mouth.” with the rag already over my face. lo_ held my nose. he tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that i could not close my mouth or spit out the tube.
when everything was ready. he said to me: “when you want to talk. all you have to do is move your fingers.” and he turned on the tap. the rag was soaked rapidly. water flowed everywhere: in my mouth. in my nose. all
over my face. but for a while i could still breath in some small gulps of air. i tried. by contracting my throat. to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffoca-tion by keeping air in my lungs for as long as i could. but i couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. i had the impression of drowning. and a terrible agony. that of death itself. took possession of me. in spite of myself. the fingers of my two hands shook uncontrolla-bly. “that’s it. he’s going to talk.” said a voice.
the water stopped running and they took away the rag. i was able to breath. in the gloom. i saw the lieutenants and the captain. who. with a cigarette between his lips. was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water i had swallow. befuddled by the air i was breathing. i hardly felt the blows. “well. then.” i re-mained silent. “he’s playing games with us. put his head under again.”
this time i clenched my fists. forcing the nails into my palm. i had decided i was not going to move my fingers again. it was better to die of asphyxiation right away. i feared to undergo again that terrible moment where i felt myself losing consciousness. while at the same time fighting with all my power not to die. i did not move my hands. but three times i knew again this insupportable agony. in extremis. they let me get my breath back while i threw up the water.
the last time. i lost consciousness.
on opening my eyes. it took me a few seconds to estab-lish contact with reality. i was laid out. unbound and naked. in the middle of the paras. i saw cha_ bending over me. “it’s alright.” he said to the others. “he’s com-ing around.” then he addressed himself to me: “you know. you did well to pass out. don’t think that you al-ways be able to lose consciousness... get up.” they propped me up. i staggered. leaning against the very uniforms of my torturers. ready to collapse at any mo-ment. with blows and kicks they threw me like a ball from one to the other. i made a movement of defense. “he’s still got some reflexes—the pig.” one of them said.
“and now. what shall we do withhim.” said another. be-tween their laughs i heard: “we’ll roast him.” “good. i haven’t seen that yet.” it was cha_. with the voice of somebody about to have a new experience.
they pushed me into the kitchen and then they made me lie down on the stove and sink. lo_ wound a wet rag around my ankles. which he then tied tightly with rope. then altogether. they lifted me up in order to hang my head downward from iron bar of the shelf above the sink. only my fingers touched the ground. they amused themselves for a while. swinging me from one to the other like a sack of sand. i could see lo_. who slowly lit a paper-torch at the level of my eyes. he stoood up and all of a sudden i felt the flame on my penis and on my legs. the hairs crackling as they caught fire. i straight-
ened myself with such a violent jerk that i bumped lo_. he scorched me again. once. twice. then he started to burn me on the nipple of my breast.
but my reactions were now dulled and the officers moved off. only lo_ and one other stayed with me. from time to time they beat me or stepped on the extremities of my fingers with their boots as if to remind me of their presence. my eye opened. i forced myself to look at them in order not to be taken by surprise with their blows. and in the moments of respise i tried to think of something other than the cords cutting into my ankles.
then. from the corridors two boots walked towards my face. i saw the upside-down visage of cha_. who squat-ted in front of me. glowering furiously. “well. are you going to talk. you haven’t changed your mind.” i looked at him and said nothing. “untied him.” lo_ untied the rope which tied me to the bar while another pulled me by the arms. i fell flat on the cement. “get up.” i wasn’t able to get up by myself. held up on each side. i felt the soles of my feet swollen to the point where i had the impression that each step disappeated into a cloud. i put on my undershirt and my trousers. and. toppling over. fell all the way down a staircase.
there. another para picked me up and put my back against the wall. holding me up with both hands. i was trembling with cold and nervous exhaustion. my teeth were chattering. lo_’s companion__the one who had
“looked after” me in the kitchen__had arrived on the landing. “move.” he said. he pushed me ahead of him and. with a kick. knocked me on the ground. “can’t you see that he’s groggy.” said another with a french ac-cent. “leave him alone.” they were the first human words i had heard. “rats like that. they should be taken care of right away.” answered my torturer. i was trembling on my legs. and in order not to fall i put my palms and my forehead against the wall of the corridor. he pulled my hands behind my back and handcuffed them together. after whcih he threw me into a cell.
on my knees. i moved towards a mattress against the wall. i tried to lie on it on my stomach but it was stuffed inside with barbed wire. i heard a laugh behind the door: “i put some barbed wire inside the mattress.” it was still the same man. another voice answered him: “all the same. he has gained a night for his friends to get away.”
the handcuffs were cutting into my flesh. my hands hurt. and the position in which my arms were locked cramped my shoulders. i rubbed the tips of my fingers against the rough cement in order to make them bleed and take away a little of the pressure from my swollen hands. but i did not succeed.
from a small window. set high in the wall. i could see the night getting brighter. i heard a cock crowing and i estimated that the paratroopers and officers. tired by
their night. would not come back before nine o’clock at the earliest. and that it was necessary for me to use all this time as best possible. in order to get back some strength before the next “questioning”. sometimes on one shoulder. sometimes on the other. i tried to relax. but my whole body refused to quieten down. i trembled constantly and was not able to find a moment of rest. i knocked several times against the door with my foot. at last someone came. “what do you want.” i want to uri-nate. “piss on yourself.” he answered me from behind the partition.
it was already day when a paratrooper. the same one who had found the brutality of his colleague excessive. appeared and said to me: “come on. we’re leaving.” he helped me to get up and supported me while i climbed the stairs.
they led me out on to an immense terrace. the sun was already very strong and from that point in the building one could see a whole quarter of el-biar. from the de-scriptions which i had read. i realised right away that i was in the same building used by the paras. where ali boumendjel. barrister at the court of appeal of algiers had died. it was from this terrace that (as the torturers had given out) he had thrown himself in “suicide.” we went down by another staircase into a different part of the building. where my goaler locked me up in a small dark room. it was a dungeon. no bigger than a cupboard. where daylight never entered. only a small narrow slit.
situated high up in the wall and looking onto an air-vent. let a little light in. crawling as best i could. i ad-vanced towards a corner to support my back and give some relief to my shoulders which were contracted by cramp.
very soon the traffic in the corridors became heaviers. the building was waking up and i prepared myself for the return of my torturers. but ir_ appeared all alone. he seized me by the shoulders to pull me up and led me to the landing. “this is hte man. major.” he said. before me was a major of the paratroopers in camouflage uni-form and blue beret. he was tall and ill-looking. ex-tremely thin. in a soft ironical voice he askedd me: “you are a journalist. then you shuold understand that we want to be informed. we must be informed.” he had only wanted to make me my acquaintance: i was taken back to my cell. i did not stay alone for very long. for a few moments later ir_ appeared. this time he was ac-companied by cha_ and by another para carrying a mag-neto. on the threshold of the door they looked at me: “you still don’t want to talk. you’d better realise that we’ll go on with this to the end.” i was leaning against the wall facing the door. they came in. put the light on and settled themselves into a semi-circle around me.
“i need a gag.” said cha_. he put his hand into one of the packages which were lying there and came out with a filthy towel.
“don’t bother.” said ir_. “he can shout as much as he wants. we’re three floors underground.”
“all the same.” said cha_. “it’s disagreeable.”
they unfastened my trousers. took down my underpants and attached the electrodes to each side of my groin. they took turns in manipulating the knob of the mag-neto—it was a large one of the second type used the previous day. i only cried out at the geginning of the shock and at each new wave of current and my move-ments were much less violent than during the precious sessions. they must have expected it. as they hadn’t considered it necessary to tie me down to the plank. while the torture was going on i could hear a loud-speaker blaring out popular songs of the day. without doubt the music was coming from a mess or common-room nearby. it largely drowned my cries and this was what ir_ had meant by “third floor underground.” the torture session continued and graduallly exhausted me. i fell down. sometimes on the right. sometimes on the left. one of the two lieutenants detached one of the clasps and fastened it to my face until i jerked uptight. “my word.” said cha_. “he likes it.” they consulted to-gether and decided they had better give me time to re-cover. “leave him the electric wires. “said ir_. “as we’re going to return.” they went away leaving the clasps still stickling into my flesh.
i must have fallen asleep suddently. because. when i
saw them again. i had the impression that only an in-stant had passed. and at this point. i lost all idea of time.
ir_ was the first to come into the room. he gave me a kick. saying: “sit up.” i didn’t move. they seized me and propped me up in an angle of the wall. a moment later i was writhing once again under the electric cur-rent. i felt that my resistance was making them more and more brutish and nervous.
“we’ll give it to him in th emouth.” said ir_. “open your mouth.” he commanded. in order to make me obey. he held my nostrils and the moment i opened my mouth to breath. he pushed the naked wire as far in as he could. right to the back of the palate. while in the meantime cha_ set the magneto in motion. i could feel the inten-sity of the current increasing. and my throat. my whole jaw. all the muscles of my face up to my eyelids con-tracting in a contortion that became more and more agonising.
it was cha_ who was holding the wire now. “you can let go.” ir_ said to him. “it will stay there by itself.” in fact. my jaws were soldered to the electrode by the current. no matter what effort i made. my eyes. under their spasmed lids. were crossed with images of fire. and geometric luminous patterns flashed in fron of them. i thought i could feel them being torn from their sockets by the shocks. as if pushed out from within. the current had reached its limit and so had my suffering. the agony
was constant and i thought that there was no greater harm they could do to me. but i heard jr_ say to the person who was working the magneto: “do it by little shocks: first you slow down then you start again...” i felt the intensity diminished. the cramps which had stiff-ened my whole body decrease. and all of the sudden. as he turned the magneto back to its full force. the cur-rent was tearing me to pieces again. in order to escape these sudden easings and sharp increases towards the maximum agony. i started to bang my head against the ground with all my force and each blow brought me relief. ir_ shouted into my ear at close quarters: “don’t try to knock yourself out. you won’t succeed.”
finally they stopped. the flashes and points of light still danced in front of my eyes and my ears continued to buzz with the noise of a dentist’s drill.
after a while i was able to distinguish all three standing up in front of me. “well.” said cha_. i did not answer him.
“good god.” said ir_. and with all his force he slapped me.
“listen.” said cha_. rather calmer. “where can it get you—all this. if you won’t say anything. we’ll take your wife. do you think she’ll stand it.” ir_ leaned over me in his turn and said: “do you think that your children are safe just because they’re in france. we’ll bring them
here whenever we want.”
in this nightmare. it was only with the greateast diffi-culty that i was able to seperate the menace i had to fear from the blackmailer’s bluff. but i knew that they were capable of torturizing gilberte. as they had already tortured gabrielle giminez. blanche moine. elyette loup and other young women. i learnt later on that they had even tortured madame touri (the wife of a well-known radio algiers actor) in front of her husband. in order to make him talk. i ws afraid that they would divine my anguish at the thought that they could effectively carry out their threats and it was almost with relief that i heard one of them say: “he doesn’t care. he just doesn’t care about anything.”
they left me alone. but the idea that gilberte might at any moment be attached to the torture plank could no longer be dispelled from my mind.
cha_ came back a little later with another paratrooper. they tortured me once again and then left. i now had the impression that they were coming and going con-tinually. only leaving me a few minutes of respite to recover. cha_ tortured me again. moving the wire across my chest while continually rapping out the same ques-tion: “where did you spend the night before your ar-rest.” he put the photograph of one of the leaders of the party. who had gone into hiding. under my eyes: “where is he.” i looked at cha_. who this tiem was accompa-
nied by ir_. he was in civilian clothes. very elegant. i had to clear my throat. and he stepped away from me. saying: “look out. he’s going to spit.”
“what does it matter to us.” one of the others asked.
“i don’t like it. it’s not hygienic.”
he was in a hurry and he was afraid of getting his suit dirty. he rose and left. i thought to myself that he had to go to some reception and that consequently at least one more day would pass from the time my arrest. and i felt a sudden wave of joy at the thought that these brutes had not yet conquered me.
ir_ also left. but i did not stay long. into this obscure cell they brought an arab. the door opened for the mo-ment. letting a ray of light. i saw his silhouette: he was young and well-dressed. he had handcuffs on his wrists. he came forward. gropping in the darkness and sat down next to me. from time to time i was shakedn by fits of trembling and i would jump. groaning. as if the torture by electricity was still pursuing me. he felt me shaking and pulled my undershirt over my icy shoulders. he held me. so that i could get down on my knees and relieve myself against the wall. and then helped me to stretch out. “lie down. brother. lie down.” he said to me. i de-cided to say to him: “i am alleg. formerly editor of the alger reùpublicain. tell them outside. if you can. that i died here.” but i had to make the effort and there was
not enough time. the door suddenly opened and i heard somebody in the corridor say: “why did they put him here.” and my arab was taken away.
a little later the door open again. this time it was two paras. an electric torch was shone on my face. i waited for the blows. but they never touched me. i was trying in vain to see who they were. but i only heard a young voice say: “horrible. isn’t it.” and the other one an-swered: “yes. it’s horrble.” and they went away.
suddenly the electricity was switched on. it was two men from ir_’s group. “hasn’t he said anything yet.”
“don’t worry about it. in five minutes he’s going to talk.”
“ah.” said the second. “you told your idea to the lieu-tenant.”
“yes.” i understood that i was to learn new sufferings.
ir_ appeared behind them. he leaned towards me. pulled me up and propped me against the wall. he opened my undershirt and stood facing me. his legs supporting mine. astride on the floor. he took out a box of matches from the pocket of his uniform. lit one and very slowly passed it in front of my eyes to see if they followed the flame. and if i was afraid. then. using his matches he set about burning the nipple first of one breast. then the other.
he adressed one of his assistants. “you can go ahead.”
this one then lit the paper torches which he had been holding in readiness and started to scorch the soles of my feet. i didn’t move and made no sound: i had be-come completely insensitive. and while ir_ burnt me i was able to look straight at him without blinking. fu-rious. he hit me in the stomach and shout: “you’re fin-ished. finished. do you hear. can you talk. i’ll make you shit. you’d like me to kill you right away. wouldn’t you. but it’s not finished yet. do you know what thrist is. we’re going to let you die of thirst.”
the current had completely deheydrated my tongue. my lips. my throat. which were as rough and hard as wood. ir_ must have known that torture by electricity induced an insupportable thirst. he had given up his matches. and in his hand he held a glass and a zinc gug. “it’s two days before you die of thirst. four days can be a long time. you’ll want to lick up your piss.” he poured a stream of water into the glass in front of my eyes and whispered into my ears: “talk and cyou can drink... talk and you can drink.” with the rim of the glass. he forced my lips open. he had only left a finger of water in it and i could see the clear liquid moving at the bottom. but i was unable to drink a drop. his face close to mine. ir_ laughed at my exhausted efforts. “tell the boys to come and see the torture of tantalus.” he joked. other paras were looking in the open doorway. and in spite of the fatigue agianst which i was fighting. i raised my head
and refused to look at the water so as not to make my suffering an entertainment for these prutes.
“oh. we’re not as bad as all that. we’ll let you drink all the time.” and he raised to my lips the glass which he had filled to the brim. i hesitated a moment. then. hold-ing my nose and pushing my head back. he poured the whole glass down my thoat: it was atrociously vile. filthy water.
minutes or perhaps hours later there was a new inter-ruption. de_, the captain. appeared in turn. with him was lo_. ir_ and the big paratrooper who tokk part in wednesday’s session. they propped me up against the wall and lo_ attached the clips to my ear and my finger. at each shock. i started but wiouth crying out. having become almost as insensitive as a machine. de_ made a sign for them to stop.
sitting on the packing-case. almost at ground level. he smoked and talked in a very soft voice which contrasted with the sharp tones of the others and their shouts. which still rang in my ear. he joked about subjects of no ap-parent importance and wiouth any reference to the ques-tions which had been hammered into my head since the beginning. among other things. he asked me if many newspapers belonged to the french press federarion. i would certainly have answered him. but i could not move my dry hard lips except with the greatest effort and only a dry whistle came out of my throat. painfully. i tried to
articulat certain syllables. while he went on talking as if one question was connected with the next: “and audin. he’s a good friend of yours. isn’t he.” this was like an alarm signal: i saw that he wanted to lead me on gradu-ally. without realising it. to talk of something that inter-ested him. stupefied as i was by the blows and the tor-tures i had undergone. one single idea was still clear in my mind: “tell them nothing. don’thelp them in any way.” i din’t open my mouth.
at this. de_ lost his calm: he got up and started to hit me in the face with both fists. my head bounced from one side to the other to the rhythm of his blows. but i had lost all feeling. to the point where i no longer closed my eyes when his hand came towards me. he stopped after a while to ask them to bring him some water. “we’re already tried that. sir.” said ir_. all the same. he took the glass and the jug that they handed to him. as the lieutenat had done earlier. he started to pour the water from one vessel to the other in front of my eyes. bringing the glass to my lips. but so that i could not drink it. but discouraged by my lack of reaction. because i made no effort to drink. he put it on the ground. i fell to one side. in my fall i knocked over the glass. “better mop it up.” said ir_. “or he’ll lick it.”
de_ having gone away. ir_ took over in turn and with his sharp voice started to scream. bending over me: “you’re finished. this is your last chance. your last chance. that’s why the captain was here.” a paratrooper
who had come in with lo_ was sitting across-legged in a corner. he had taken out his revolver and he was now examining it in silence. ostensibly to make sure that everything was in readiness. then he put it on his knees as if waiting for an order. during this time. lo_ had con-nected the clips to me again and he worked the mag-neto by little jerks. but without conviction. i jumped at each shock. but i was more worried about something else. i seemed to see. lying on the ground against the wall. an enormous pair of pincers wrapped in paper. and i tried to imagine what new tortures were in store for me. i thought that with this instrument they could perhaps tear out my finger-nails: i was even rather as-tonished that i felt so little fear and almost reaaured myself with the thought that my hands had only ten nails. when they had finished and the door was closed. i crepted towards the wall and saw that the pincers was nothing more than a piece of drainpipe sticking out of the masonry. it had become more and more difficult for me to think without fever dragging me back into unre-ality. but i felt that i could not go on much longer. memo-ries of old tags kept coming to my mind: “the machine cannot go on forever: the moment must come when the heart gives up.” it was in this way that my young friend djegri had died two months earlier in the dungeon of the villa s_. the domaine of the “green berets’ of cap-tain fau_.
when. some considerable time later. the door opened again. i saw ir_ come in. accompanied by two officers
whom i had not seen before. in the semi-darkness one of them crouched down before me and put his hand on my shoulder. as if to inspire conficence: “i am the aide de camp of general m_.” it was lieutenant ma_. “ it grieves me to see you in this state. you are only thirty-six years old: that’s young to die.” he turned towards the two others and asked them to leave. “he wants to talk to me alone.” he explained. the door closed again and the two of us were alone.
“you’re afraid that they’ll know you talk. nobody will know and we will take you under our protection. tell me everything that you know and i will have you taken immediately to the infirmary. in a week you will be in france with your wife. you have our word. it not. you will disappeared.”
he waited for a reply. the only one which came to mind. i gave him: “too bad.”
“you have children.” he went on. “i could perhaps see them. do you want me to tell them that i knew their father. ... you won’t talk. if you let me go away now. the others will come back. and this tiem they won’t stop.”
i remeained silent. he got up. but before leaving. he said. “there is nothing left for you to do but kill your-self.”
i heard him exchange a few words with the others who
were waiting for him in the corridor: “for ten years. fif-teen years they’ve all had the same idea. that is cap-tured they must say nothing: and there is no way to change them.” i felt that i had arried at the end of one stage of my ordeal: in fact shortly afterwards two paras came in. they untied my hands. helped me to stand up. and then conducted me. supporting me all the time. to the terrace. every second or third step. they stopped to enable me to get my breath back. in the passage other paras. standing around the stairs or on the landings. taunted them: “do you have to carry him. can’t he waled alone.” one of my guides answered them as if making an excuse. “it’s because he’s had twelve hours grill-ing.” then we went down into the other building.
at the end of the corridor. i was taken into a cell on the left-hand side: this was in fact a bathroom not yet fitted up. one of the paras took me by the knees. the other under the arms and they put me on a mattress thrown against the wall. i heard them debating for a moment whether or not to put the handcuffs on me. “he can hardly move. there’s no point. the other did not agree: “we would be taking a risk we might regret.” finally they attached my wrists. not my back. but this time in front. i had the most extraordianry sensation of relief.
high up on the wall. on the right. the lights of the town lit the room feebly through a small window. quartered by barbwire. it was evening. pieces of plaster had come loose on the ceiling and cracks had run down the rough
cement of the walls. my fever turned these into living forms. haft seen. all mixed up together. in spite of my exhaustion. i was unable to sleep: i was shaken by ner-vous trembling and the dazzle tired my eyes painfully. in the corridor they were talking about me: “give him a little to drink. a very little every hour. not much or he’ll collapse.”
one of the paratrooper who had accompanied me. a young man with a french accent. came in with a blan-ket which he put over me. he made me drink: i swal-lowed a little. but i felt no thirst. “doesn’t it interest you. the proposition of general m_” he said. his voice was not hostile. “why are you so determined not to talk. you don’t want to betray your friends. you have to have courage to hold out like that.” i asked him what day it was. it was friday night. and they had started to torture me on wednesday.
in the corridor was an incessant noise of steps and shouts. broken from time to time by the shrill voice of ir_ giv-ing orders. and suddenly. i heard terrible screams. very near by. probably in the next room. a woman. and i thought i recognised the voice of gilberte. it was only several days later that i knew i had been mistaken.
the torture went on until dawn. or very nearly. through the partition. i could hear shouts and cries. muffled by the gag. and curses and blows. i soon knew that it was in no way an exceptional night. but the routine of the
building. the cries of suffering were part of the familiar noises of the “centre de tri”. none of the paras paid any attention to it. but i don’t beleive that there was a single prisoner who did not. like myself. cry from hatred and humiliation on hearing the screams of the tortured for the first time.
i was half conscious. i didn’t really get to sleep until morning and woke up very late when the para of the previous evening brought me some hot soup: my first meal since wednesday. i swallowed a few spponfuls with great difficulty: my lips. my tongues. my palated were still extremely inflamed from the burns of the elec-tric wires. my other wounds. the burns on my groin. my chest. my fingers. were infected. the para took off my handcuffs and i realised that i was unable to use my left hands. which was stiff and without any feeling. my right shoulder was extremely painful and did not allow me to raise my arm.
it was in the afternoon that i first saw my torturers again. i had the impression that they had agreed to meet in my cell. they were all three: soldiers. officcers and two ci-vilians (of the dst without doubt) whom i had not previ-ously seen. they started to talk among themselves. as if i were not present.
“so he doesn’t want to talk.” one of the civilians said.
“we have time.” said the major. “they’re all like that at
the beginning. we’ll take a month. two months. or three months. but he’ll talk.”
“he’s the same type as akkache or elyette loup.” an-swered the other. “what he wants is to be a hero. and have a little plaque on a wall in a few hundred years.” he laughed at his joke.
turning towards me. he told me. smiling: “we looked after you well.”
“it’s his own fault.” said cha_.
“he doesn’t care about anything.” ir_ said. “he doesn’t care about his wife or his children. he only cares for the party.”
he had rested his foot on top of my as on a dead animal. then he announced. as it it had only just occurred to him: “you know that your children are arriving tonight by plane. they’re going to have an accident.” they started to go out. but de_ and cha_. who had felt that i hesi-tated to take this blackmail seriously. lingered in the doorway.
“don’t you really care about what happens to your chil-dren.” said the lieutenant. they waited a moment in si-lence and cha_ conclude:
“good. then. you will die.”
“everybody will know how i died.” i said to him.
“no. nobody will know anything.”
“yes.” i said to him again. “everybody always knows.”
he had to come back the following day. which was sunday. with ir_. but only for a moment. the two fo them were smiling. “you haven’t change your mind.” cha_ asked me. “then you are preparing new troubles for yourself. we have scientific ways (he emphasised the adjective) to make you talk.”
when they were gone. i knocked on the door and asked to be helped up. supported by a para. i went to the kitchen and. leaning myself against the wall. splashed some water over my face. when i had lain down again. another para—this same european-algerian who be-longed to lo_’s group—put his head throught the haft-open door and asked me in a mocking voice: “well. feel-ing better.”
“yes.” i said to him in the same tone. “you’ll soon be alble to start on me again.” i would have like him to go on jabbering for a bit. as he might have given me a clue wo what was in store for me. and what the “scientific” means were to be. but he only answered with spite: “you’re right. it’s not finished. we’ll open your mouth.”
it was monday afternoon when ir_ woke me. two paras
helped me to my feet and the four of us went down the stairs. one floor down was the infirmary: a large room with many windows. where were several camp beds and a table overflowing with medical supplies in com-plete disorder. the only person there for the moment was a military doctor. a captain. who seemed to be wait-ing for me. he was quite young. thin. with a dark skin badly shaven. his uniform torn. with his southern french accent he asked. in place of greeting:
“are you afraid.”
“no.” i said to him.
“i shall not beat you and i promise not to do you any harm.”
they laid me out on one of the camp beds. bent over me. he took my pulse and ran over me with his stetho-scope. “we can go ahead. he’s just a bit nervous.” he said to ir_. i was upset that he had discovered my feel-ings in this way through my heart-beats. all these prepa-rations confirmed my apprehensions. they were going to experiment on me with “truth drugs”. these were the “scientific means” of which cha_ had spoken.
since the previous day. i had tried to remember every-thing i had ever read in the papers about pentothal. “if the will-power of the patient is strong enough. he can-not be forced to say what he does not want to.” this was
my conclusion. which i repeated to myself in order to keep calm and confident. it could not in any way help to defeat me: they had tied me down. and it was prefer-able to use all my energy to resist the drugs as best i could.
they waited a moment for the hospital attendant (or medical assistant) to arrive. he was coming back. no doubt. from an operation or a patrol. because he was dressed in campaign uniform. he took off his sten-gun and his equipment before listening to the doctor’s ex-planations: “first of all use five-centimentre cubes only. because there are some people who are immune.” he was thinking of the difficulty some people have in ab-sorbing drugs. but at this moment i thought that he meant psychological resistance and i decided to give them the impression of not resisting. i thought it ws the best way to get off with the smallest possible dose of the drug.
i was saking with cold and nerves: i was naked to the waist. because my shirt. which no coubt somebody else had found to their taste. had neer been given back to me. one of the paras threw a blanket over me and the attendant come up to me. he took my right arm. tighten the vein with a piece of rubber and plunge in the needle. underneath the blanket i slid my left hand. stiff and numb. into the pocket of my trousers and. throught the cloth. pressed it against my thigh. forcing myself to think that as long as i felt the contact. i would know i was not dreaming and would be able to remain on guard. the
attendant only pressed very slowly on the syringe and the liquid entered my bloodstream drop by drop. “count slowly.” the doctor said to me. “start now.”
i count: “one. two. three...” until ten and then i stopped as if i were already asleep. at the base of my skull i felt a frozen numbness which mounted to my head and pushed me into unconsciousness. “one. two. three.” said the doctor to encourage me. “continue.” i repeated af-ter him: “fourteen... fifteen... sisteen...” i missed out on purposed two or three numbers. continued at nineteen. twenty and twenty-one and was silent. i heard him say: “the other arm now.” under the blanket. i slowly moved my right hand in order to put in my pocket. always with the same idea that as long as my nails pinched my flesh. i would remain anchored to reality. but in spite of all my efforts. i fell asleep...
the doctor gently patted my cheeks. almost whispering. he said to me in a voice that he tried to make as friendly as possible: “henri. henri. it’s marcel. are you all right.” i opened my eyes. slowly. with a great effort. i became aware of what was happening. it was dark in the room. he had pulled the blinds. around me. sitting on camp beds. were paras and officers—those that i knew and others. who. no doubt. had been brought in to watch the experiment—listening in silence. i saw that the doctor had a piece of paper in his had and understood that it was a list of quetions he wanted to ask em.
in the familiar voice of someone who greets an old friend. he started by asking me: “have you ben working long for the alger reùpublicain.” the question was harm-less: probably intended to put me at ease. i heard my-self answering with extraordinary ease: i gave details of the difficulties of prodution on a newspaper. then i went on to discribe how the pages were make up. i felt drunk. as if somebody else was talking in my place. but i had enough consciousness to remember that i was in the hands of my tortures and that they were trying to make me denounce my friends.
all this was no more than an introduction. the doctor whispered to his assistant: “it’s working. you see. that’s the way to do it.” he broke into the middle of my expla-nations and said to me in a low voice: “henri. i’ve been told to come to you in order to see x_. what shall i do.” under this friendly guise. was the same question that had been put to me twenty times under torture. a thou-sand pictures came into my befuddled mind: i was in the street. in an apartment. in a square and always with this “marcel” who was pursuing me and plying me qith questions. i made a great effort and. forcing open my eyeslid. i managed to get a grip on reality long enough to plunge myself back again into semi-consciousness. he shook me a little to make me answer:
“where is x_.” and a lunatic dialogue ensued.
“i’m astonished.” i answered him. “that you’ve been
sent to me. i don’t know where he is.”
“when he wants to see you. how does he go about it.”
“he never needs to see me. i have nothing to do with him.”
“yes. of course. but if he did want to see you. how would he go about it.”
“no doubt he would write to me. but he has no reason to do so.”
i was making a great effort in this cautious conversa-tion. being suffeciently master of myself. in spite of the drug. to resist these brutes.
“listen.” he went on. “ i have soft job for x_. i have to see him urgently. if you see him. can you put me in touch with him.”
“i can promise you nothing.” i said to him. “ i would be astonished if he wanted to meet me.”
“good. but if by chance he came. how could i get in touch with you.”
“where do you live.” i asked him.
“26. rue michelet. 3rd floor on the right. ask for marcel.”
“very well.” i said to him. “ i will remember the adress.”
“no. that’s not the best way; i gave you my address. you should give me yours. you must have confidence in me.”
“well. then.” i said to him again. “if you like. we can meet at parc de galland station in two weeks time at six o’clock. i have to go now. i don’t like loitering about in the street.”
“do you live near the parc de galland. tell me your adress.” he said to me again.
i was exhausted and i want to bring the conversation to an end. even rudely:
“you’re wasting my time.” i said to him. “goodbye.”
“goodbye.” he said.
he waited a moment. without doubt to ascertain that i was fast asleep. and i heard him whispering to some-one near me: “he won’t say anymore.” then i heard them all getting up and filing towards the door. as if after a show. one of them. in passing. turned on the electric light. and all of a sudden i was entirely conscious. they were all by the door. some of them already outside. others. including ir_ and cha_. still in the room and look-ing at me. as loud as i could. i shouted at them. “you
can bring back your magneto. i’m ready for you. i’m not afraid of you.” the doctor. a little bag in his hand. went out. too: he signalled to them not to answer. be-fore leaving the room. he said to the attendant: “he will probably be a bit difficult now. give him some pills.”
before the two paras who had brought me there tokk charge of me again. the attendant dressed my wounds and covered the burns o my hips and chest with adhe-sive bandages. then they helped me to return to my cell. one of the two. taking two pills out of his pocket. said to me: “swallow that.” i took them. slid them under my tongue. drank a mouthful of water and said to him: “all right.’ as soon as the door was closed i spat them out. probably they were only aspirin tablets. but i was no longer able to think clearly and i felt myself filled with a sharp dediance of everything. most of all i asked my-self if this might not be the beginning of a “treatment”. i felt that was not in my normal state: my heart. my pulses were racing feverishly. i had a meeting with “marcel”. this pentothal phantom took on the reality of flesh and blood. i had succeeded in not answering his questions. but how would i defeat him the second time. i knew that i was in delirium. i struck and pinched my-self in order to be certain i was not dreaming. but every time i returned to reality. i was unable to allay the fears that the drug had raised in me.
“come on. we’re moving.” it was my two guides from the infirmary. it must have been quite late. perhaps
eleven at night. and as we climb up the terrace the idea came to me that they were going to make me “commit suiside”. in the state in which i found myself. this thought did not cause me any additional emotion: “i had not given way under torture. the serum hadn’t worked. this was the end.” but we went down again into the second building and they opened the door of the dungeon where i had been before. it had been cleaned. there was a camp bed in it now. and a straw mattress.
as soon as they were gone. the same thoughts. put out of mind by this diversion. assailed me once again.
i asked myself if i was not going mad. if they continued to drug me. would i still be able to resist as i had done the first time. and if the pentothal made me say what i didn’t want to. my agony under torture would have been for nothing.
the door of the cupboard on the right was open and i could see a roll of copper wire inside it. the open win-dow above me had the hook of the latch left free. i could have attached the end of the wire to it. climbed on the camp bed and at the right moment pushed it away with a kick. but the idea of suicide revolted me. they would think after my eath that it was the fear of torture which had driven me to it. i also asked myself if these “facili-ties” had not been placed there on purpose. and the words of the aide de camp of m_ came back to me: “there is nothing left for you to do but kill yourself.”
and at the very instant ewhen i had decided not to kill myself. saying that if i had to die it was better to do so under the blows of the paras. i also asked myself if it was not perhaps the fear of approaching death which had put these argruments into my head. death was death. wasn;t it better to die right away without the help of my executioners. i tried to make a decision as calmly as possible and i decided that in any case they would not come back for me before the following morning at least. that i still had sufficient time to kill myself if necessary. i also realised that i was not in a normal state and that i needed to sleep in order to think better.
i slept until morning. the night had taken away both my fever and my fears of the day before. i suddenly felt proud and happy not to have given way. i was convinced that i could still hold out if they started again. that i would fight them to the end. that i would not help them in the job of killing me.
towards the middle of the afternoon. i was taken back to my first cell in the other building. but i did not stay there long. at night. i was taken back again and put into the dungeon. where i spent a second night. the snatches of conversation which i had picked up in the corridor gave me the explanation of these orders and counter-orders: they were waiting for hte visit of a commission (i didn’t know which one). and it was necessary that they should not see me: i was hidden away in the sec-ond building which in principle was not part of the “cen-
tre de tri” and was only used for the accommodation of paras and for the mess.
i felt better and i managed to stand up and stay on my feet. i could sense from the different attitude of the paras toward me. that they regarded my refusal to speak as “sporting”. even the big para in lo_’s group had changed his attitude. he came into my cell one morning and said to me:
“were you tortured in the resistance.”
“no. it’s the first time.” i replied.
“you’ve done well.” he said with the air of a connois-seur. “you’re very tough.”
during the evening another para. whom i didn not know. came in on his round. he was a short blond. with a straong northern accent. a conscript. he said to me with a big smile: “you know. i was present all the time. my father talked to me about the communists in the resis-tance. they died. but they never talked. that’s very fine.” i looked at this youth with his sympathetic face. who could talk of the seeions of torture i had undergone as if they were football match that he remembered and could congratulate me without spite as he would a cham-pion athlete. a few days later i saw him. shrivelled up and disfigured by hatred. hitting a moslem who didn’t go fast enough down the staircase. this “centre de tri”
was not only a place of torture for algerians. but a school of perversion for young frenchmen.
one para at least was not like the others. he was young with a country accent. he opened the door of my cell towards seven o’clock at night. when there was nobody else in the corridor. he had a bag of provisions inhis hand: cherries. chocolate. bread. some cigarettes. he offered them to me and said: “come on. take this. ex-cuse me. but here. one can’t talk.” he shook my hand hard. very quickly. before closing the door. but ir_ must have given orders. for i didn’t see anyone else.
during the following days i ws taken to the infirmary. the first time i went there my heart was beating. i feared a new injection of pentothal. but they only wanted to dress my infected wounds. i was given penicillin injec-tion and several times my bandages were changed. i didn’t know what to conclude from this attention. in any case it was intheir interest to look after me: if they wanted to torture me again. i must not be too weak: if they decided on the other hand to excecute me. they had to have (other than the normal bullet-wounds) a “clean” body in case of an autoppsy. and with every day that passed my hopes grew that public opinion would be alerted and would succeed in rescuing me fromt heir grasp. although at the same time i was con-vinced that they would rather face the scandal of my death than have me alive and able to reveal my experi-ences. they must have weighed that up themselves.
because one of the paras said to me ironically. before i was able to stand by myself: “it’s a pity. isn’t it. you could have told them enough to make a first-class row.”
they tried once again to question me. first cha_. de_ and another whom i did not know. they made me come to the office on the same floor. i sat facing them and for the hundredth time they asked me the same questions. but more politely.
“where did you spend the night before you were ar-rested.”
“i have already answered that question under torture.” i said to them. “my answere is that i won’t tell you.”
they smiled without insisting. then de_ said to me:
“the lease of your apartment—is it in your own name. you can answer that question: if you don’t. the concierge will tell us. youcan see for yourself it’s not important.”
“ask the concierge. if you like. i won’t help you.”
the interview had not lasted more than two or three minutes and cha_ accompanied me back to my cell.
a few days later i was visited by lieutenant ma_. the aide de camp of general m_. he started off by saying to me. without irony. that he was glad to see i was better. then. very verbose. he gave me a “disgest” of the po-
litical thought of the army of occupation in algeria: “re’re not going to leave.” that was the theme. the mis-erable condition of the alferians. one mustn’t exagger-ate. he knew a native who earned 80,000 francs a month. “colonialism.” a word invented by the defeatists. yes. there had been injustices. but all that was finished now. torture. you don’t make war with choir-boys. the war would have been over a long time ago. but the commu-nists. the liberals and the sentimental press worked up opinion against the paras and hampered their “work.” i had very little wish to get involved in a conversation of this nature: i only said to him that he was lucky that france had other representatives and other titles to glory. and otherwise. i thought it enough to answer his colo-nists’ stereotyped arguments with a degree of irony.
then he came to the object of his visit. they were mak-ing a new proposition to me: they were not going to ask me again to answer their questions. but only to write a brief of what i thought of the present political situation and the future of algeria. after which i would be set free. of course. i refused.
“why.” he asked. ‘are you afraid that we will use it against you.”
“that. for one thing.” i answered. “for another. i don’t intend to help you. if you are interested in what my friends and i think of the algerian problem. look at the old issues of the alger reùpublicain: you have them all.
as your paper. le bled. has taken over our offices.”
he did not press me further. and going to another sub-ject he said to me point-blank: “by the way. i had a visit from your wife and her lawyer. they asked me if you were alive. i answered that you were still alive.”
then he went on: “it’s really a pity. i likeyou. and i ad-mire your resistance. i’d like to sahke your hand as i shall probably never see you again.” with this parting shot. he left.
on the evening of my departure for lordi. one month after my arrest. i was taken into an office on one of the bottom floors. a captain of the paras. wearing the green beret of the foreign legion—was waiting for me: he wore a brush-cut. had a face like the blade of a knife which was slashed with long scars. thin wicked lips. and clear. prominent eyes. i sat down facing him and at the same moment he rose: with a single blow in the face. the threw me to the ground and knocked off my glasses. which had been returned to me: “you’re going to take that insolence off your face.” he said.
lo_ had come in and was standing up near the window. the presence of this specialist made me think that more torture was about to follow. but the captain sat down again as i stood up.
“do you want a cigarette.” he asked me. with a sudden
change of tactics.
“no. i don’t smoke. and i would prefer to be addressed as “vous”.”
i didn’t so much want to provoke him. as to know what he was leading up to: more torture or just a “friendly” talk. whether or not he slapped me again. or just swal-lowed my remark. i felt that my fate was already de-cided. he replied that it was not important and from then on addressed me byt the more formal “vous”. i asked him if i could pick up my glassess: he thought my pur-pose ws to remember his face better: “you can look at me. if you want to. i am captain fau_. you know. the famous ss captain. you’ve heard the name before” i was in the presence of fau_ the head of the torturers at the villa s_. whose reputation was particular bloodthirsty.
he eveidently regretted having elt his hatred carry him away. he tried to talk calmly and. in order to wipe out the first impression. had two bottles of beer brought in. i drank slowly. looking at him out of the corner of my eye. in case aother spasm of rage should cause him to throw the bottle in my teeth.
“you must have nice dossier on me. haven’t you. what would you do to me if the tables were turned.—but i think i know how to pick my risks.”
then. in the same tone of voice. he embarked on a dis-
sertation on liberal or communist writers. painters and intellectuals in general. he talked with a great deal of ignorance and with so much hatred that it changed the lines of his face. which was very mobile. into a skull-like grin. i let him go on talking. interrupting him some-times with the sole purpose of gaining thiem and re-ducing that which would be devoted to torture. on the assumption that more torture was coming later.
he asked me the usual questions. but without issistence. then he came back to politics. he walked around the room like a madman. coming up to me sometimes to shout a phrase in my face. he hoped that the war would spread to tunisia nd morocco. he regretted that the suez expediton had not led to a general conflagration: “i would have liked an american submarine to have at-tacked a french boat. we would have gone to war against the americans: at least things would have been clear.” i contradicted him. but as one would contracict an invalid who must not be excited. several times he wanted to hit me. but he restrained himself and once he shouted at me: “you don’t want to talk. as for me. i make them talk by putting a knife to their throats at night. i’ll get you back one day.”
without doublt. it was the intention of all of them to “get me back”. because the decided to send me to the camp at lodi. which was reserved for suspects who could be removed at will.
but before this final questioning and the transfer which nothing had enabled me to foresee. i had been able during the month to observe how the torture factory worked. from my cell. i could see through the key-hole. part of the corridor. the landing and some of the stairs. the thin walls of the partition allowed me to hear the sounds of the neighbouring rooms.
during the day there was an incessant coming and go-ing on the stairs and in the corridor: the paras. either alone. or pushing the imprisoned suspects brutally in front of them. on each floor—as i later found out—they kept fifteen or twenty persons in rooms which had been converted to dungeons. the prisoners slept on the ce-ment itself or divided a mattress between three or four. they were constatnly in darkness because the blinds were always closed so that nobody could see in from the houses opposite. during days. weeks. sometimes more than two months. they waited there either to be questioned. to be transferred to a camp or prison. or else to be victim of an “attempt to escape”. that is to say. a burst of machine-gun fire in the back.
twice a day. at two o’clock and eight o’clock. when they didn’t forget. we were given army biscuits—at five in the morning and five in the afternoon occasionally some bread and some spoonfuls of soup made from all the throw-outs of the meals of our overlords. one day i found a maggot. another time a paper label. and another time the stones spat out from some fruit.
it ws a moslem who was in charge of this distribution. formerly a rifleman. he deserted to the qmquis and was taken prisoner during the course fo a battle. in exchange for his life. he had agreed to serve the paras. his name ws boula_. but for fun he had been put into a uniform which is called “pour-la-france” and this is the name he was given. they had dressed him in a blue beret and armed him with a rubber truncheon. which he used on the occasion in order to be more popular with his mas-ters. this lackey was despised by everyone: by the paras as well as by the prisoners.
but it was at night that the “centre de tri” really came to life. i heard the preparations for expeditions: in the cor-ridors there was a stamp of boots. of weapons. the or-ders of ir_. then. from the windows. other noises came to me. in the court. jeeps and dodges started up. every-thing was silent for an hour or two. up to the time when they came back. theirs vehicles filled with “suspects” arrested during the course of operation. i saw them. for an instant. as they passed through my field of vision: the stairs. the landing and the corridors. most often they were young men. they had hardly been given time to dress: some of them were still in pyjamas. others in bare feet or slippers. sometimes there were also women. the latter were imprisioned in the right wing of the build-ing.
the “centr de tri” was then filled with screams. insults.
lud and brutal laughs. ir_ would start to question an arab. he shouted at him: “say your prayers to me.” and i could picture in the next room a man. humiliated to the roots of his soul. made to prostrated himself in an attitude of a prayer before the lieutenant torturer. then. all of a sudden. the first cries of the victim cut through the night. the real “work” of ir_. of lo_ and the others had begun.
one night. on the floor above me. they tortured a man: he was a moslem. quite old. to judge by the sound of his voice. between the terrble cries which the torture forced out of him. he said. exhuasted: “vive la france. vive la france.” without doubt. he was hoping in this way to appease his tormentors. but the others contin-ued to torture him and thier laughs rang through the whole building.
when he didn’t go on an operation. ir_ and his men “worked” on the suspects who was previously been ar-rested. toward midnight or one o’clock in the morning. a door of one of the prison rooms would open suddenly. the voice of a para would shout: “get up. you scum.” he called one. two. three names. those who had been called out knew what awaited them. there was always a long silence and the para was always obliged to repeat the names a second time. which sent him into a fury: “so you don’t want to come then. can’t you say “here.” those who had been called out would get up and i could hear the blows which raised on them as the para pushed them before him.
one night. ir_ sent out his men to assault all the room at once. truncheon in hand. they hurled themselves into the cells. “get up.” the door of my cell. violently thrown open. slammed against the wall and i received a kick in the kidneys: “get up.” i got up. but ir_. passing in the corridor. sae me and said: “no. not him.” and slammed the door himself. i layed down again on my mattress. while a great rumpus of boots. blows and cries of pain invaded all the floors.
every morning and evening. when boula_ haft opened the door to give me “my meal” or when i went to the privy. i would often pass arab prisioners in the corridor. on the way back to their collective dungeon or cell. some of them knew me from haing seen me at political ral-lies organised by the paper: others only knew my name. i was alwyas naked to the waist. still marked by the bruises i had received. my chest and hands covered with bandages. they undestood that. like themselves. i had been tortured and they greeted me in the passage: “have courage. brother.” in their eyes i read a solidarity. a friendship. and such complete trust that i felt proud. particularly because i was a european. to be among them.
i lived like this for the space of a month. with the pros-pect of death always in front of me. it might happend that evening. it might be the next day at dawn. my sleep was still peopled with nightmares and nervous shocks
which woke me with their violence. i was not surprised when one evening cha_ came into my cell. it must have been about ten o’clock. i was standing up. near the win-dow and looking forwards the boulevard clemenceau where some few cars were still passing. he only said to me: “get ready. we’re not going far.”
i put on my torn and dirty undershirt. in the corridors i heard him say: “get out audin and hadjadj. but we’ll take them seperately.” ten times at least i had prepared myself for the last moments of this life which i thought i was about to leave. once again. i thought of gilberte. of all those i loved. of their atrocious pain. but i was exalted by the fight which i had survived without weak-ening. and by the thought that i would die as i had al-ways hoped to die. true to my beliefs and to my com-panions in battle.
in the courtyard. i heard a car start. then move away. a moment later. in the direction of the villa des oliviers. i heard a long burst of machine-gun fire. i thought ot myself: “audin.”
i stayed in front of the window for as long as possible to breath the air of the night and to see the lights of the town. but minutes passed. hours passed and cha_ did not come to get me.
my account is finished. never have i written anything with so much difficulty. perhaps it is because all these
events are still fresh in my memoy. perhaps. too. it is cecause i have the idea that althought this nightmare is behind me it is being lived by others as i am writing and that it ensures the continuation of this odious war. but i must tell everything i know. i owe it to audin who “disappeared”. and to all those who are being humili-ated and tortured. and who still continue the struggle with courage. i owe it to all of them. who. each day. die for the liberty of their country.
i have written these lines four months after having left the paras. in cell 72 of the civil prison of algiers.
it is only a few days since the blood of three young algerians has joined that of the algerian fernand and yveton in the courtyard of the prison. in the immense cry of pain which sprang from the prisoners in all the cells at the moment when the executioner went to get the condemned. as in the absolute and solemn silence which followed it. the soul of algeria vibrated. its tears. singing in the darkness. fell across the bars of my cell. all the shutters had been closed by the guards. but we were able to hear one of the condemned cry out before he was gagged: “tahia el djezair. vive l’algeùrie.” and with a single voice. at no doubt the very moment when the first of the three mounted the scaffold. then anthem of free algeria rose from the women’s section of the prison.
“out of our struggle
rise the voices of freemen:
they claim independence
for our country.
i give you everything i love.
i give you my life.
o my country... o my country....”
all this. i have had to say for those frenchmen who will read me. i want them to know that the algerians do not confuse their torturers with the great people of france. from whom they have learnt so much and whose friend-ship is so dear to them.
but they must know what is done in their name.
from He Stole The Night From My Dreams, Red Kite Production, https://www.scribd.com