Michèle Audin was three years old and fell asleep with her two younger siblings when French paratroopers broke into her family's apartment on the third floor of a block of flats in Algiers and dragged her father away. She never saw him again.
Following his arrest on 11 July 1957, Maurice Audin, 25, a mathematician, was tortured and killed by French soldiers who, on special instructions, had done everything possible to crush Algeria's struggle for independence. His body was never found. His killers were never identified, never officially investigated and never punished.
Last week, following a relentless 61-year election campaign by Audin's widow Josette, now 87, President Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that the state was responsible for his death, and for the first time acknowledged that France had systematically used torture during the Algerian war.
For Michèle, the explanation has come for almost a lifetime. It took more than 55 years for France to face the unpleasant truth of a conflict that has long eclipsed the Republic, its history and its successors.
"Since the day my father disappeared, my mother thought of nothing else – we, the children, lived with it – my whole life, my identity, was connected to who my father was and what happened to him" Michèle said observer, "My mother never stopped fighting, and because of her we talk about Maurice Audin today." My mother wrote to people, she wrote letter after letter in the days when there were no photocopiers, she wrote to everyone and she kept writing. "
At the time of his arrest, Audin, an activist for the independence of the banned Algerian Communist Party, was accused of hosting members of the Nationalist Front de Libération Nationale, which was suspected by French troops of bombing. When he could not return home, Josette was told that he had been shot and tried to escape. "Everyone knew what that meant, I knew what it meant," she said.
Like France's role in the deportation of Jews under Nazi occupation and the collaborative Vichy government, which was only publicly recognized by the state in 1995, the Algerian war is an event that France would rather forget. After a seven-year conflict in which French soldiers brutally crushed every trace of rebellion, Paris reluctantly relinquished its colonial control over Algeria in 1962, causing the militias to react in the same way to the independence movement.
For decades, French officials have spoken of "les événements"- Events – in Algeria, not" war, "which, like Northern Ireland's" difficulties, "veiled barbarism in euphemism, historians collected stories of torture and assassination, filmmakers made films, including Jean-Luc Godard Le Petit soldier (The Little Soldier) was banned for three years in 1960 for condemning the use of torture on both sides. In 2005 Michael Haneke Psychothriller Hidden Colonialism was viewed critically, including the massacre of 300 supporters of Algerian independence in Paris in 1961, which was hushed up for 37 years.
The official investigation into what was going on in France's former colony was lifted when the state ordered a general amnesty over the atrocities committed by its forces, and every president considered it politically appropriate not to mention the war.
Josette Audin, who never remarried, wrote to every new French leader who renewed her request for information. Shortly after being elected in May 2017, Macron phoned her and said he was ready to do something. On Thursday, the Elysée Palace made an official statement and the President visited Audin's house with an apology.
"What Emmanuel Macron has done is a very big step and very important because it affects so many people in France, especially those of Algerian origin," said Michèle. "There has been such a distortion of the truth for such a long time." The gap between the historical reality and the official version of the republic has been enormous. "At last, this was recognized." It is a pity that this historic moment has taken so long, but it is definitely the beginning of something, not the end. "
Macrons mea culpa was welcomed in Algeria. In France, the scientists hope that his statement and his promise to open official archives will encourage witnesses from that time, who are protected by the amnesty, to speak up. One historian, Gilles Manceron, said Macron had made a "break with the attitude of denial, silence and lies that we have long had from the state".
France's conservative rights, historically less enthusiastic about Algerian independence, have accused Macron of scraping old strikebreakers. Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the extreme right-wing National Front and former paratroopers in Algeria – who repeatedly denies allegations he was involved in torture – described Aud's assassination as "an event in a war, a civil war … where the rules are not the same as in the League of Nations ".
Michèle said she was "satisfied," even though the truth about her father's death was unattainable. "We knew my father was tortured and killed, we do not know exactly how or who killed him, and it's possible that we'll never do it, but for me that's not the most important thing, it's important to me that the system, the state, assumes its responsibility.
"My mother feels different, she was 26 years old, she had three children, my dad was the love of her life, she wants to know who killed him and how she wants to know what they did with his body She has fought this fight so far in her life, and she will continue it. "
A brutal conflict
The Algerian War of Independence (1954-62) was a complicated colonial war characterized by the brutality of both sides and the use of torture and terror against the military and civilian populations.
France was determined to retain control of its large and longest-held North African colony, which had invaded in 1830. It was an integral part of the republic and home to thousands of French emigrants. The Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) wanted full independence. The conflict also degenerated into a civil war between and within different communities.
In 1962, after negotiations with the FLN, President Charles de Gaulle signed the agreements of Evian granting independence to Algeria, but the murder continued. Algerians who worked for the French, known as Harkis, were considered traitors and many were killed by the FLN or Lynchmob.
Around 800,000 European Algerians, known as pieds-noirs (black feet), feared reprisals and fled to France, where mass exodus was unexpected and often unwelcome. Many have never been to France, and their families have lived in Algeria for generations, leaving a sense of estrangement among their children and grandchildren born in France.
Both countries still deny the death toll of the war: France demands 400,000 people, Algeria 1.5 million. Until last week, France refused to publicly announce that it had endorsed the use of torture and mass executions against FLN fighters and French sympathizers like Maurice Audin.