Between 1954 and 1962, more than 1 million Algerians are believed to have been killed in the brutal conflict that led to the then-French colony’s independence. At the time, many in France were eager to maintain rule over Algeria, which had been under French control since 1837. The French government responded to the uprising in the North African country by cracking down through the deployment of hundreds of thousands of troops.
What followed was a bloody and painful conflict that spread through the capital and the countryside. French troops regularly went on missions commonly known as “ratissages” — slang used to describe raids on Algerian towns, which often turned deadly.
Many Algerians died and many disappeared. Among them was Maurice Audin, a 25-year-old professor and activist. French forces removed him from his apartment in 1957, and he never saw his wife or three children again.
On Thursday, as The Post’s Paris correspondent James McAuley wrote, French President Emmanuel Macron released a statement that publicly acknowledged the French military had used systemic torture during the conflict. McAuley called it “a step forward in [France] grappling with its colonial legacy.”
In his statement, Macron pointed to Audin’s case specifically, acknowledging that he was killed at the hands of the French military. His disappearance occurred because law enforcement officials were allowed “to arrest, detain and question any ‘suspect’ for the purpose of a more effective fight against the opponent,” Macron wrote.
“Everyone knows that in Algiers the men and women arrested in these circumstances did not always return,” the statement published by the Elysee Palace on Thursday said. “Some were released, others were interned, others were brought to justice, but many families lost track of one of their own that year, in the future capital of Algeria.”
The conflict is far from forgotten in modern-day Algeria and France. Some of those who fought in it or lived through it are still alive. One of them is Audin’s widow, Josette. On Thursday, Macron personally visited her at her apartment. She’s now 87.
“You never stopped trying to have the truth recognized,” Macron reportedly told her.
Below is a photo of Audin, years before he was arrested and killed. On Thursday, Macron’s statement said he “recognized, in the name of the French Republic, that Maurice Audin was tortured and then executed, or tortured to death, by soldiers who arrested him at home.”
Charles de Gaulle was elected president of France in December 1958, as the first leader of the country’s Fifth Republic. For the first years of his presidency, the country was divided over whether Algeria should remain a French colony. Millions of Europeans who had settled in Algeria and came to be known as the pieds-noirs were eager for France to remain in control of the territory they then called home. After the war, more than 1 million fled to France and resettled there.
But in 1959, de Gaulle said that Algerians had the right to “self-determination.” A referendum later decided that Algeria would indeed determine its own future. In 1962, a cease-fire went into effect — even as those who opposed de Gaulle turned to terrorist attacks.
In July 1962, Algeria officially voted for its independence and won “an Algerian Algeria."
This week, Macron said the French government will open archives to allow the public to research those who disappeared during the war. “We’re putting the issue of the missing in the center,” his statement said.