November 13: questions from students to two survivors

The lesson was supposed to last two hours. He lay down for almost an extra hour without the slightest fuss. A somewhat special course, it is true. Two of the victims of the attacks of November 13, 2015 came to tell students in the final year of STMG, at Lycée Claude-Bernard in Paris, what they had experienced and endured. That evening, Yann, who was to celebrate his 40th birthday the next day, was at Le Petit Cambodge restaurant with his brother and his best friend. All three were injured. I was lucky the bullets didn’t hit vital areas. I still have shrapnel in my body. But physically it’s fine. What remains is the mental injury.

Sylvie, in her fifties, was at the Bataclan, with her husband, her nephew and her wife. It was his nephew who offered them tickets to the Eagles of death metal show. Luckily, at the time of the attack, Sylvie and her husband were upstairs and ended up, with a few other spectators, escaping through the roof before taking refuge in offices. These refugees from the roof were finally evacuated by the ladders of the Paris fire brigade. A pupil is astonished while listening to him: Why do you say that at first you did not consider yourself a victim?

Because this mother of three children cannot stop thinking about those parents who lost a child during these attacks. I remember one day at the trial when several of them came to testify: it was like a series of funerals. It was beyond what you could hear. Sylvie did not lose any relatives, was not injured or even had to go through the pit, where the bodies were strewn on the ground, to leave the room. Yet the trauma is there. Almost lurking in his body before invariably resurfacing: For a long time, I thought I had a high degree of resilience. And then came the Yellow Vests movement, with its share of violence during certain demonstrations. And there, I realized that my ability to cash in was not that strong.

photo for nearly three hours, the students were very attentive to the testimonies of yann and sylvie, two survivors of the attacks of november 13 in paris.  © joel le gall/west-france

For nearly three hours, the students were very attentive to the testimonies of Yann and Sylvie, two survivors of the attacks of November 13 in Paris. © Joel Le Gall/Ouest-France

“Trauma catches up with you”

How do you overcome such an event? The question actually intrigues the students. When we see such attacks, for us, it’s so outside of our reality that we tend to think it’s a movie, admits one of them. Afterwards, do you feel joy to be out of it or a little guilt?, asks another.

Yann smiles so much the question is crucial. Immediately after the attacks, I understood how lucky I was to be alive. I wanted to live fully. But in the end, it’s more complicated than that. The trauma catches up with you. He still remembers a stay in Valencia, Spain, several months after November 13. There was a popular party, with firecrackers everywhere. Me, I was curled up in my hotel bed with my teeth chattering. I was in the same position as in the restaurant, when I was on the ground. There, I said to myself that I had to face up, that I had to take to the streets… By dint of therapy, we get there.

Today, Yann and Sylvie attend hearings as often as possible. What do you expect from justice?, asks a student. Understand what the defendants have in mind, answer the two victims. Their justification for the attacks does not hold water, notes Sylvie. Salah Abdeslam and Mohamed Abrini, two of the main defendants, thus indicated that these attacks were responses to French strikes in Syria. However, the latter began in September 2015, while the project of the attacks was born during the summer of 2014.

photo on november 13, 2015, sylvie was at the bataclan, and yann at the restaurant le petit cambodge.  © joel le gall/west-france

On November 13, 2015, Sylvie was at Bataclan, and Yann at Le Petit Cambodge restaurant. © Joel Le Gall/Ouest-France

“Did religion motivate these attacks? »

Do you think it was religion that motivated these attacks?, asks a student. Yann is not even sure: That’s what we put in the heads of the terrorists. But the three from the Bataclan talked a little while they were shooting. They mentioned François Hollande, the strikes of the international coalition in Syria. But not Islam.

What they call religion, these terrorists have put at the service of a political cause. But religion should have nothing to do with politics, intervenes Chantal Anglade, of the French Association of Victims of Terrorism (AFVT), which organizes around thirty similar meetings in schools each year.

A final question intrigues the students who had previously attended two days of hearings with their philosophy teacher. They took note of what their teacher told them: justice is not revenge. But all the same, The defendants are young. If they get out of prison one day, are you going to put up with seeing them live normally?

In the lot, there is a poor guy who just wanted to help. Him, we’ll see… And then, there are others who are currently on trial in Paris and who will then be tried in Belgium for the attacks in Brussels on March 22, 2016. In both cases, they risk life. There is therefore no risk of seeing them immediately in the metro, hopes Sylvie.