On Tuesday October 17, 1961, a nocturnal peaceful protestation held in Paris by the National Liberation Front (FLN) for the independence of Algeria is brutally repressed by the police as ordered by the prefect of the Paris police, Maurice Papon. Between 30 and 250 Algerians – according to historians – are killed and thrown into the Seine.
October 1961. For five months, since the Evian Accords in April, the negotiations between the National Liberation Front and the French government are coming along nicely as for the issue of the independence of Algeria, French colony since 1830, and everything seems to end up to a cease fire and the implementation of an independent Algerian State.
But in Paris, the climate is deleterious and fights between the police and migrants happen almost on a daily basis. Named Paris police prefect in March 1958, Maurice Papon – former prefect of Constantine where he created operational units of protection which specialty was nothing else but torture – wishes to fight more harshly and violently against the National Liberation Front French Federation and brings to Paris the torture already used in Algeria.
Raids and arrests within the Algerian community in Paris skyrocket in August 1961. As a response, the FLN holds a series of attacks killing eleven French policemen. Violence intensifies on both sides and Papon announces that for “one shot given”, policemen have been ordered to give “ten more”.
On October 5, 1961, another affront with the implementation of a curfew in Paris for the “French Muslims of Algeria” who are ordered not to leave their homes, every night, between 8:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. The decree read: “It is urgently recommended to Algerian workers to refrain from circulating during the night in the streets of Paris and the suburbs, and especially from 8:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.”.
But the National Liberation Front levels by way of another own goal. Rightly considering this ban as racist, discriminatory and off the cuff, the FLN calls in Algerian migrants, men, women and children to peacefully protest on October 17, 1961 in the evening, against the curfew instated 10 days earlier and claim for the independence of their country.
Over 20,000 Algerians answer the FLN’s call for protestation and defy curfew. The quiet and peaceful protest – the FLN having asked protestors not to answer to any provocation – starts at eight in the evening. Gathered on public squares, protestors chant their headlines: “No to curfew!”, “Negotiate with the Algerian Republic interim government”, “Independence for Algeria!”, “Long live the National Liberation Front”.
But orders of the Secretary of the Interior are clear: such gatherings must be prevented at all cost. Then starts a horrific night, climax of the Algerian revolution in France; a genuine massacre committed by the French authorities against the Algerian protestors.
In one night, out of the 22,000 marchers, 11,538 Algerians are arrested in a very random fashion and sent to several internment camps in Paris by buses such as the Palais des Sports, the Parc des expositions de la Porte de Versailles, the stade Pierre de Coubertin or even the Vincennes identification center where they are beaten, tortured and submitted to questioning for several days by the forces of order. Some of them died.
At the exits of metro stations, blows and insults rain down on the migrants with never-before-seen violence; racial persecution is on and the “ratonnade” (rat hunt) lasts all night. In the streets, in the metro stations, the forces of order attack and intentionally kill dozens of marchers, throwing their bodies into the Seine.
In the early hours of October 18, 1961, newspapers only report 2 to 3 people dead, according to the police, and between 44 and 64 injured. Later, it is reported that many journalists and photographers here on site, the night of the protest, have been muzzled by the police prefecture; only the Libération and L’Humanité newspapers dare to report the massacre. But in the following days, dozens of bodies are fished out, floating in the Seine. According to historians, between 30 and 250 Algerians died that night.
Despite the indignation of many parliamentarians such as Gaston Defferre and Eugène Claudius-Petit who quickly demand the creation of an inquiry commission, Papon reiterates his support to the French authorities, stating the latter did their duties.
France has not mentioned this violent of such a rare violence for a while, considered by British historians Jim House and Neil MacMaster as the most violent contemporary State repression ever applied to a street protest in western Europe.
In 2001, a commemorative plate reading “To the memory of the many Algerians killed during the bloody repression of the peaceful protest of October 17, 1961” is set up by Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë, on the Pont Saint-Michel, a stone’s throw from the police prefecture from where multiple Algerians have been thrown.
In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged for the first time the action of France in the massacre implicitly stating: “on October 17, 1961, Algerians who were protesting for their right for independence have been killed during a bloody repression. The Republic clearly acknowledges these events. Fifty-one years after this tragedy, I pay homage to the memory of the victims”.
En-tête : Jean Texier/Mémoires d’Humanité - Archives départementales de la Seine-Saint-Denis
Photo n°2 : Manifestation des travailleurs algériens. Paris, 17 octobre 1961 © Roger-Viollet
Photo n°3 : 17 octobre 1961. Métro Concorde © Elie Kagan/Bibliothèque de documentation internationale contemporaine
Photo n°4 : Des manifestants algériens appréhendés à Puteaux, le 17 octobre 1961 - ©AFP
Photo n°5 : Une du Figaro, 18 octobre 1961
Photo n°6 : Plaque à la mémoire des Algériens tués, FSouici