Keywords: Oran, Paris, Judaism, Antisemitism, Music, Food, OAS, 1968, Memory transmission.
Interview for the Ecomusée du Val de Bièvres
Exposition Pieds noirs ici, la tête ailleurs
Date : 23 June 2011
Interviewer: Juliette Spire
JS : Actually, we’re going to begin by starting a little further back. Can we start, first of all, if you could tell me a bit about your family history and about yourself. You were all there from what date, etc.
ANON : Okay. So, it’s with that in mind that I was responding to the term ‘pied-noir’ with a bit of scepticism: the word ‘pied-noir’ was very rarely used in Algeria. It was used, as far as I know, according to my memory, in France to actually bring together a group of people who had French nationality and who were repatriated to France, but who came from Algeria. The history of my family … on my father’s side, what is certain is that he has Berber roots, so the thing that we know with some accuracy is that the grandfather of my grandfather came from Libya, on foot, with a donkey because he was a peddler. It’s here maybe, surely, that the name Badache comes from. I did some research, after all it’s as much Berber as in Spanish. And also in the south-west of France, ‘patache’ it’s a little boat for shipping goods. Which goes from port to port. And that’s where the words ‘patache’ comes from in the south-west! Which is a ‘carriole’, a cart, you know ? A carriage! There you are. And so the grandfather of the grandfather was a peddler, and according to what we would tell us, he went from village to village to peddle all kinds of thing. As well as religious objects, since he went among the Jewish communities and he sold bibles and things like that. And so he travelled on foot from Tripoli all the way to Tlemcen! And that’s how my family settled in Tlemcen. In the south of the ‘département’ of Oran. And there’s this ‘berber’ origin which is certain, and then there was this family myth, but this myth for me, I interpret it with a pinch of salt, because there’s a region in Hungary which is called Badache, or rather Badach, because it’s B, A, D, A, C, H, without an E. That can be pronounced ‘Badach’ and a number of our family members thought that we came from Hungary. So, well, whether we come from Hungary or not, in any case, we have Berber roots on my father’s side. Because the family name ‘Badache’ is also quite widespread in Algeria. It’s not very common, but it’s there in Arab families, or rather, Berber ones.
And on my mother’s side, it’s rather, on my mother’s side, she had an uncle who is ‘Seban’ which is an Arabic name. But, culturally speaking, she is closer to her Spanish origins. It’s what we were talking about just now, with the Spanish songs that we’d call ‘ladino’ today – we wouldn’t say ‘ladino’ in Algeria, we’d say Tetuani. There was something of Span and of Tétouan, because Tétouan, was a Spanish-Moroccan town where many Jewish people settled after the Spanish expulsion of the Jews in 1492. They settled here and then they had their own language which came from the Spain of the 13th century, which is Judeo-Spanish, which we call ‘ladino’ today. My mother’s mother-in-law used to speak it. On the other hand, my mother’s mother was a – she was born in Seville, so she was really of Spanish origin, she was called Mansana, which means ‘Apple’ in Spanish. So there’s a strong Spanish heritage, so even though her family name could also have Berber roots. So when they say ‘pied-noir’ to me, for me, there are many interpretations of the word.
But for, I think that the most truthful way of interpreting it, is to describe the colonists who arrived in Algeria, the French settlers had kept their big boots because they often rode horses. And that’s why we called them ‘pieds-noirs’ [black feet]. From that side, I don’t feel any connection with these people. I don’t look down on them, but there’s no connection, moreover because we had been marginalised for centuries by the French population of Algeria, as Jews, as … and especially as indigenous Jews, since with the abolition of ‘Crémieux decree’ in 1941, we went back to being, we lost, our family lost our French nationality …
JS : Oh yes, during the war the ‘Crémieux decree’ had …
ANON : We went back to being indigenous Jews. And often this term ‘indigenous Jew’, I heard it again in the 50s and 60s, from actual ‘pieds-noirs’. I think that there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Algeria, from this part of the population. Which meant that, at the end of the day, we can say that the Algerian War united us in a way because everyone who had French nationality, and was of French origin in these years, the end of the ‘50s and ‘60, would unite together under the umbrella of the myth of French Algeria. And after when there was, when the majority of the French population had been repatriated to France, well, they all called them ‘pieds-noirs’, with this … It’s a bit of a myth! The myth of amalgamation! Which Enrico Macias really expressed, who had Judeo-Berber origins, even Arab, and you can say Arab because his family were musicians who sang in Arabic. And who expressed through the song ‘J’ai quitté mon pays’ [I left my country], who mixed together all these groups of people, and the thing which brought them together was the fact that they had left their country, and that they had French nationality.
JS : And so, do you claim to have Spanish roots ? Do you feel Spanish at all?
ANON : I do, culturally, it really influenced me in my tender youth because my mother used to sing us Spanish lullabies. And in Judeo-Spanish, which is not exactly the same thing as Spanish. It’s Judeo-Spanish. Yes, I claim it, and I claim it again now, quite late, because at the end of the day I’m a, well, I’m a musician. In my life, I’ve tried to make a career as a musician, but I never managed it. I was successful in other ways but I never made a career doing what I loved, because I couldn’t make a living that way. And I sang a lot, I composed a lot, I wrote a lot. You can say that, towards the end of my life, from the age of 50, I rediscovered my mother’s songs, that she sang to us when I was a baby. I found them again and now I sing them and I pass it on to my children. It’s what’s called, as far as I’m concerned, a ‘matrimoine’ [maternal heritage, as opposed to ‘patrimoine’]. Jewish Spanish families were expelled in 1492, many kept the language, and their original songs, called ladino, which was passed on orally through the mothers. The father’s passed on religion, Hebrew, and the mother’s passed on their original language, which is, first of all, the language of 13th century Spain, which is not the same as the one … when I sing songs in Ladino, Spanish people say it’s strange!
JS : So it’s a bit like Arab-Andalusian music ? Or not really?
ANON : I’ll play you some, it’s not Arab-Andalusian, it’s Judeo-Andalusian. No, no, it’s more Spanish, it’s more … well it’s strange because they’re actually songs which were passed on orally from mother to daughter, without instruments. They were a capella, like my mother would sing them. Today, if you look up ladino on the internet, there are all kinds of renditions! Some sing ladino lyrically, others as flamenco, some Andalusian, others Arab-Andalusian. I mean that the most important things are the melody and the lyrics. The style, you can make of it what you want! And for me, I tend to perform it in a way which is even a bit rock, because, at the end of the day, for me it’s not at all iconoclastic, given that there was never, there isn’t a single way of performing it. There you are.
JS : It’s not written down, yes. And on this subject of language, what … what did your family speak?
ANON : Well, that, that’s important, yes. Uh … One thing to start, my parents spoke dialectal Arabic fluently, the Arabic of Algeria. They spoke French, and my mother was very … she spoke Tetuani with her family and with her mother-in-law. There you are. So that’s on my parents’ side. On our side, what I can say is that it makes me think of this well-known funny story about the Ashkenazi Jews, who say, the children say, what do their parents do when they go their bedroom? And well, they get undressed, get on top of each other, and speak Yiddish [He laughs]. That’s the story … and for me I could say that they get undressed … get on top of each other, and well after they speak Arabic! Because when they didn’t want us to understand what they were saying, well, they would speak in Arabic. Which meant we didn’t understand a thing! And they didn’t want us to learn Arabic, not at all! You have to understand that Jewish Algerians as being … a group of people who absolutely wanted, following the Crémieux decree and this desire to be more French than the French. My parents’ generation wanted to cut all ties with some of our roots, so that their children would be completely French, real French people. You see it in the first names, that’s also important. The first names are amazing! My whole generation, you know, I mean, I check it with my cousins, my friends, etc. All our grandparents had Hebrew names. At one point, all of them. My grandfather had a Hebrew name, Alaralim, my paternal grandparent, Alaralim. It can be complicated, and an officer in the civil service put Ramin! He couldn’t do it any other way, and so he made himself a French first name! So our grandparents’ generations only had Hebrew names. My parents’ generation had Hebrew names at first and then a French name, which means there was already … there you go. And everyone, all my uncles, all my aunts, took a French name to use in daily life. The Hebrew names were thrown out.
JS : Yes, but, you were born just after the war so …
ANON : Yes, and we all had French names, and sometimes second Hebrew names. So, you see, this evolution, which meant that, to come back to language, they absolutely wanted us to be French, that we learn English and Latin at school, Spanish, but absolutely not Arabic, which my parents through of as a blemish! But all the same, they spoke Arabic fluently. And I find that, there’s a story that I told which is, once my parents were repatriated, at one point, after they were retired, they went to Tunisia for a trip, an organised trip. And throughout the trip – they were with a group from Nice – through the whole trip to Tunisia, with everyone, etc., they did not even give the impression of being able to speak Arabic, not at all. And at one point, they was a carpet seller who was conning some tourist who was in their coach, who was part of their thing. And then my father, the man was talking to his colleague, that we’ll have them these ‘Frankaoui’ etc. And my father, faced with this situation, this danger, spoke to him in Arabic, saying stop this business, I understood everything you said. And all of a sudden, at the end of the visit, the whole group that my parents were with said to them, but you speak Arabic! You’ve understood since the beginning, you didn’t help us! And what a benefit! They spoke Arabic fluently, while for the whole trip, for a week, they hid that they knew the language, because for them it’s not benefit. It’s a blemish. Which is to say, to go back to your question, they cut ties with all their linguistic roots. And in the song that I was telling you about the origin just now, of which the refrain is a little of Berber, a little bit of Arabic, a little bit of French. Because paradoxically, when we used to hurt ourselves, my mother had a reflex which was always ‘Smellah’, when we came out of the show, my mother’s reaction was ‘Bessarah’. In other words, there were words like that, which were strong than them, that came out at important times in life, in moments of … there were some Arabic words, ‘alhamdulillah’, that wasn’t ‘inch’allah’ but there was ‘alhamdulillah’.
JS : Berber and Arabic is not at all the same thing.
ANON : No, it’s not the same thing. No, they didn’t speak much Berber apart from a few sentences, some words. My song is called ‘Deni den den’, which is Berber, meaning ‘Carried away by the song’. But words would come out mostly in Arabic, and sometimes, for my mother, in Spanish, of course. But for us, we were cut off from all of that. And there was this desire for us to not being tarnished by this element. By that element.
JS : And so your family, what was the social background, you grew up in what kind of class ?
ANON : Well, the background we grew up in was, let’s say, middle class, shopkeepers.
JS : What did your parents do ?
ANON : So, my mother and father had clothes shops. My father, a workshop, a clothing workshop, and my mother had a shirt shop in Oran, a menswear shop, full of nice shirts, all English origin. It was a pretty shop, chic, you know. So, on the other hand, her origins, she came from a really poor background. They were butchers, kosher butchers, from father to son. But very poor butchers, to the point that it was quite tragic for my mother: at 13-years-old, like other people of her generation, people who weren’t well off, well she was very bright at school. Right up to the end of her life, she maintained perfect handwriting, and knew a lot about literature, especially Victor Hugo, Voltaire, things like that. But after getting her school certificate, she had to work, so she stop her studies. Like a lot of people in her generation, even in France! That had been a big deal, because of the poverty! In contract, my father came from a very rich family. But he had been more or less disinherited by his father, rejected by his father before my grandfather died. The reason that was put forward was that he had made an unsuitable match in marrying my mother. So, there are these two quite different backgrounds. I think that my mother was very pleased to be marrying a Badache, because when I returned to Algeria …
JS : So it was socially unacceptable, as a match?
ANON : Socially unacceptable, yes, not religious. Social. But she was very strong, you know, pressure from that side! I think that my father, my grandfather had other plans for my father than to marry a Jewish girl from a poor area like Bellihoud, as they would say, the Jewish quarter. And he had other goals for him and he couldn’t stand that he was marrying her. And … so, there are these two origins. My mother was, I think, flattered, I think she thought to have made a … to have advanced socially, by marrying a Badache. But actually they found themselves very quickly without much money, but at the same time, let’s say that they were middle class. Me, when I compare them to people who lived in France in the 1950s, we had bathrooms, even a washing machine, indoor toilets, etc. Well, it was all the same …
JS : Yes, you lived in town !
ANON : We were in town! There you go. We were in town. But even so, when I compare it to how people my age lived in Paris, they didn’t have all that we had, you know ! So we were middle class, rather well off, but not rich, you know, there you go. But well off enough that my parents could eventually, in 1959 – their big mistake was to buy a big, 5-roomed apartment in the centre of Oran in 1959, being persuaded that … that, there you go, they had succeeded in making a bit of money and they put all this money in this apartment in the centre of town. At the time, they could also bought the same in Nice or Marseille … and there you go. After, they lost it all.
JS : And so you, you’re born in 1945. You grew up, you spend all your childhood in Oran. So, what was that like? Did you mix with everyone?
ANON : Yes, very mixed, very mixed ! At primary school. I remember primary school in which there was a mixture of children with very different backgrounds, Arab, Spanish … But at the same time very mixed because we were in the same classes, but at the same time as soon as we went to primary school, you had to figure out which community you were in. It was very, very ‘communautaire’ [Multicultural]. And so also a lot of, a lot racism was quite regular. What you would call today racism, and which seemed to be something which was very obvious and normal. When I talk to people form my generation who were in Algeria, we used to call each other ‘dirty Spanish Jew’, but you had to know who each of you were. It was the norm … that there were insults, insults about your origins. Because each of us had to show our origins and know it, I remember that. But all the same, it was good natured, and I have a good memory. I think that if we were talking about a child who today came home from primary school saying, they called me a ‘dirty Jew’, it was cause a scandal and there would be a response, etc. While for me, if I told my father that he would say it’s normal. Everyday, I was called a ‘dirty Jew’. Everyday, Everyday. There was either someone Spanish, Arab, and I’d called them ‘dirty Spaniard’ and there you have it ! It was very day-to-day, and yet, it didn’t stop us from being friends, playing football, etc. but …
JS : When you say ‘dirty Spaniard’, you also have Spanish origins …
ANON : Yes, but my goodness ! Look, the Spanish in Oran, the Spanish Catholics, they were very, very anti-Semitic. Oh yes, yes it wasn’t the same thing, And what’s more, what’s more, when there were Spanish people who heard my mother speak Ladino, it was really like “What is this awful Spanish?”. While of me, I didn’t know but I could have told them at the time that it dates back to the 13th century, it’s pure Spanish, Spanish that hasn’t been bastardised by loads of, of … but I didn’t know, and so there was also this mistrust for people who didn’t speak Spanish in a way they understood. Notably, it didn’t use the ‘jota’ [letter J], ‘mujer’, because the Spanish of the Middle-Ages hadn’t introduced it yet. So, no, no, the Spanish … ‘jodillo’ is an insult for ‘Jew’ in Spanish. Because the Spanish people in Oran were very, very Catholic, very, very strongly.
I remember we had a nanny, well a Spanish baby-sitter who looked after us. Because our parents worked a lot, as shopkeepers, they came home a little later and there was this babysitter who looked after us. I have a very strong memory of this: at one point my father was coming home, etc. and there were things, etc. and then I say to my father, because this Spanish woman talked to us a lot, it was good, I say to my father “Is it true that the Jews killed Jesus?”. Well, my father: “Who told you that?”, You know, “Jeanine”, well “Jeanine’s gone to far!”. “It’s true, the Jews killed God” (Not even Jesus, it’s God, they killed God). So my father says to her: “But you know, Jeannine, your God in question, he was Jewish”. Oh! But that, it’s unbelievable, it’s the worst insult. She left and she said : “I’m never coming back to this house”. She left to see her priest, who said to her: “No these dirty Jews are talking nonsense. Keep defending yourself and explain to these children that the Jews killed God, maybe they’ll convert to Catholicism”. That was the mood when she was there. She came back and said to my father “There you go, my priest said that it’s not true, it’s not true. It’s out of the question that Jesus was Jewish”. So, there was this very, very Catholic, very Catholic atmosphere, to the point that I also remember … so, like my parents, they were rather lax in the way, they would accept it. There was, in Oran, during Easter, a big procession which went up the ‘chemin de croix’ on Mount Santa Cruz, where there was the virgin … you know the story of the Santa Cruz?
JS : Yes.
ANON : Okay.
JS : But you can tell me a little about it.
ANON : Santa Cruz is a small mountain overlooking Oran where, during a serious plague, a plague epidemic in Oran, the Catholics had put in place a virgin, and built a monument around this virgin … a church to protect the town, and eventually, the plague was eradicated. And they attributed the fact that the plague was eradicated to the fact that the Saint Virgin of Santa Cruz had protected the town of Oran. Which meant that even the Arabs would say that, that it was the virgin … even the Muslims etc. would say that it was the Virgin who had eradicated the plaque. And so with Jeannine, when my parents were working etc. on Good Friday, we did this procession and this … what do you call it, the ‘chemin de croix’ with Jeanine. Which shows, even so, that there was this mixing up, this … I don’t know if today Jewish families would allow their children to go and follow a procession with the catholic babysitter. There was this tolerance.
JS : Racism and mixing, simultaneously.
ANON : There you go. I remember very well, these Spanish people who walked on their knees. It looked like the procession in Latin America at the moment, walking on their knees. Jeannine, the babysitter, she put chickpeas in her shoes. We watched her put chickpeas to feel pain throughout the procession. We saw her and we were playing around, we saw all these people who made themselves suffer, and it was very, very strange. But at the same time there was this racism, what we would call today, real racism, which we would not tolerate, at the same time, a friendly side, a mixture of different groups of people.
JS : And did your family have any religious practices ?
ANON : Well, there, it’s very peculiar. Uh … On my father’s side, I can say that we are a family of Jewish atheists. Which might appear contradictory, when I say that to friends, they tell me that it’s not possible. You’re either Jewish or you’re atheist. You can’t be both at the same time. I say, no, my father and my grandfather called themselves Jewish from a cultural, philosophical point of view etc. But they were profoundly atheist, my father a militant atheist. It was even about secularism, it was a dogged anti-clericalism, dogged … So we are, on my father’s side, a family of atheist Jews, with a very peculiar history because when my grandfather broke with religion – in quite a radical way – he becomes a Freemason. Quite socialist, on the left. My grandfather was a county councillor in Tlemcen, very much on the left, putting in project, policy for poor natives. Well, really someone who was very social, very socialist. But when he put it in place, since it was impossible to not have something to pass on, and notably a book, he tried to establish a ritual. Which means a very important ritual, that all the Badache be immersed in the moral and political universe, underpinned by a book – which should replace the Bible – and this book was Les mystères du peuple [Mysteries of the People] by Eugène Sue. And at 13 years old, every Badache must read the thirteen volumes, which was here, the Mysteries of the People by Eugène Sue. The book describes the history of France from the point of view of the proletariat. And which, mise en abîme, in the book, each generation is the history of the book. From the Gauls, a book is passed to the following generation, which represents the history of the family, a family from Bretagne, the Brennes, and with every episode of French history, gives a proletariat point of view facing a particular episode in the history of France.
Which means that when we, the Badache family, were in history class, we always had things to say that would contradict the teachers. I remember one episode really well, where we were talking about Saint Louis, who was presented with the usual iconography of history teachers; as good king, Saint Louis, who delivered justice from under his Oak tree. And I said: wasn’t he the one that introduced the ‘rouelle’ [roundel]? And the history teacher didn’t even know what it was. And the ‘rouelle’, do you know what it is? It was the first mark used to identify the Jews … and it wasn’t only this history, there was loads like that, and not only concerning Jewish people, but concerning the fact that everything in official history is the perspective of the powerful, wasn’t presented implicitly by the proletariat in Eugène Sue’s book. Eugène Sue isn’t well know for Les mystères du peuple, because most people don’t know it. Instead, he’s known for Le Juif errant [The Wandering Jew] and Les mystères de Paris, and for being socialist as he was an elected socialist politician in 1848. Which meant that, on my father’s side, we had this anti-religious environment, anti-religious and not just secular, you know. I reproached my father, I used to say, when I was older, after my adolescne, when I had understood, I told him that his atheism itself was a religion. What it was the same thing, since there was a tradition. I spoke about it with a cousin not so long ago, that in the Badache family we used to eat Alsatian sauerkraut on Yom Kippur. Not only did we eat it, but Alsatian sauerkraut is full of pork, as much pork as possible! It was a religion. But at the same time, I think that he was really closer to Judaism in that we had to do a lot on Yom Kippur. It was quite strange. Because I mean, if we were really anti-religious, we would do nothing on Yom Kippur, we would think of it as a day like any other. No, there was this iconoclastic side. That was my father’s side.
On my mother’s side, as she was the daughter of a kosher butcher, she was quite marked by her religion. And .. so, there was this contradiction between the two, which was eventually quite strong, because my mother very quickly dropped all her Jewish religious practices. At home, we ate pork, we ate sea food, you know that that’s forbidden in our religion. There was absolutely no, I wouldn’t even imagine that that existed, this story about separating meat and milk. I learnt about that here, uh … lots, lots of Jews …
JS : So, obviously no practices, no Bar Mitzvah for you …
ANON : Wait, wait, it’s not as easy as that, because first of all there’s circumcision. My father was completely against it. So I was circumcised against my father’s wishes. It was my mother who fought for it, since my father didn’t agree and he wasn’t present the day of the circumcision. So there’s that to start. Then, for the Bar Mitzvah, my mother really cared about me having a Bar Mitzvah, she gave me Hebrew lessons in secret. Which meant one day my father was coming home expectantly, a day he normally wasn’t there – Thursday afternoons surely, something, because we didn’t go to schools on Thursday – and he found the Rabbi in his house. And I always tell the story that for him, it was like finding a lover in his wife’s bed. He threw him out, but in such a violent way, I was gobsmacked because it was the Rabbi who was coming to give me lessons in secret. Which meant that I got to have a Bar Mitzvah, even though it was with my father being there. My uncle played the role of my father, my mother’s brother. Because my … I think that my father never step foot in a synagogue. He might have gone into churches to have a look, but never a synagogue, it was unthinkable for him. But from time to time, there was this resistant side to my mother who wanted that I be circumcised all the same, and that I have a Bar Mitzvah. And then, eventually, the resistance to which my father conceded to quite easily was cooking. It was the ritual of making dishes for nearly all the religious festivals. I mean, Kippur, Passover, we had traditional food. We were quite attached at the end of the day, there wasn’t any prayer or anything, but we would eat …
JS : So what were the meals ?
ANON : I still make this food now, because of this whole tradition, I’ve kept it while my two sisters haven’t. My two sisters live in the United States. Each time I go to the United States, I make them these dishes again, I think they’d like to learn but they don’t have the means, it doesn’t stand. Me, I have all of my mother’s recipes. For example, for Passover we have a kind of … a dish which has cabbage and broad beans on the bottom, for the Passover Seder, the Seder is the moment when we tell the story of the Exodus, in the evening, since Passover for Jews is the Exodus from Egypt. There’s also a dish with ox-tripe, other tripe, but lamb, not pork! And then, there’s quite a lot of dishes like that that are quite special. And every Sabbath my mother would make ‘dafina’; ‘dafina’ is a meal that all the Jews make, used to make in North Africa. The woman would prepare it on a Friday night, with a potato base, meat, and chickpeas. I saw it when I was young, they were preparing the meal on a Friday night, before sunset, they used a communal oven, or take it to the baker, each meal is marked so that the family knows which is theirs. So that the woman doesn’t have to cook on the Sabath, and at midday the children will go an fetch it from the bakery who have cooked the meal on a very low heat over night. When I was little I would see that. After the communal oven disappeared, and my mother left herself cook every Friday night, and she would get up several times throughout the night to check that there were no problems. So, there was this ritual of making ‘dafina’ every Friday night. And that, my father really fit in with all of that, because he loved it. By cooking, she had him by cooking. But it was a culinary ritual which also conformed to the traditional ritual of the religion, there you go.
JS : So you have spent your childhood [there] until what age in fact ?
ANON : Well, that’s complicated. Because, I had spent my childhood in Algeria until ‘seconde’ [Year 11/10th Grade], with a few trips to the metropole for the holidays because there was a holiday camp in Luchon. And like on my father’s side, I had … there were family members who stayed very rich. There’s this big story in the family, around knowing whether this side of the family have wasted the inheritance that my father never had. It’s this big issue which continues to feed our family discussions. Who took grandfather’s money, you know. So, in any case, there were some very rich people around us. So, twice, I went with one part of my family’s father to go skiing in Megève, things like that. It wasn’t any old thing. Beside, this family lived in my grandfather’s huge house, you could say a castle. The last time I went back there, I was still astonished by the luxury of this house. Beside, the general in chief of the Wilaya of Oran lives there. It’s really one of the most beautiful houses in Oran. So the trips to France like that, but during the holidays and then in 1961, it really started heating up in France. In Algeria, in Oran, there were … a lot of problems, even in the town centre because we had been spared it for a while, most of what happened had been in the countryside, with some attacks … there were attacks in town, there wasn’t … you didn’t see people fighting with machine guns.
In 1961, it began. With the curfew, sometimes a few shots, bullets, etc. and my parents started to feel that we were in danger. My parents made up their mind, above all, when they saw that I would sometimes go to pro-French Algeria protests, and they saw as well, they knew because I was naïve and I would tell them … I’m still naive … I would tell them everything, and one day I went home and I said that my friend had a gun [Laughter] I saw it, and for me, he was a hero! Someone who had a gun at 15 years old, it’s true, it’s not a toy! And my parents understood that I was in a place … because I used to play handball, I was quite good at it, and I was in a handball club which was quite far from our house. The cub was called PMO, Préparation Militaire Oranaise [Military Preparation of Oran]. In this club, it was … the OAS recruited quite a lot of young people during the last years in Algeria, to train them for action … and so my friend had got hold of this gun, because of this. When my parents found out about that …
JS : And you had been a support at one point, do you remember that? That French Algeria …
ANON : Oh yes, unlike my father. Because my father …
JS : And you were 14 at the time ?
ANON : Yes, 14 years old. But I was torn all the same. Because, since the start of the insurrection, the events – because they used to call it ‘the events’, it was a war but they used to call it ‘the events’ in Algeria. I never heard the word ‘war’, I never heard the words ‘Algerian War’ in Algeria, ‘the events’ – my father was almost the only adult in my family, the only adult around me who, influenced by The Mysteries of the People, obviously influenced by this story, who defended the native populations, who. … I remember really well that once, he took us around the countryside to show us the inequalities between the settlers [colons] who lived in mansions, notably, the people in my family. And the places where their workers lived, he showed us these social difference, and he educated us about it. He was clearly against the methods used by the FLN, especially the terrorism, etc. But it was the only adult around me who supported the Arab populations as having a legitimate right to revolt against social inequalities and to also demand national rights.
And personally, I was drawn to, because there was a lot of ... I remember that I went to the 1958 protest, the one that brought de Gaulle to power. And the 1958 protests, I went to the one in Oran, it was very mixed. By which I mean that I was … it was very mixed in the sense that it was the ‘pieds-noirs’ to start who began protesting in Oran and in Algiers, who started in the town-centres and who went to the Arab areas and, to everyone’s surprise, all the Arabs went through the streets with French Algeria signs, in 1958. I mean, the Arabs supported it. After, a lot changed, my father thought that he could stay in a country that he’d belonged to for generations. And in contrast to my father, I was attracted to the French Algeria and OAS propaganda. The propaganda appealed to me. Which meant that when my parents understood what was happening, they sent me off to a boarding school in Royan. Paradoxically, why Royan? Because, in an urgent way …
JS : That was in 1961?
ANON : In 1961. I had just finished the first term of seconde [Fifth Year/Year 11/10th Grade]. And they decided to send me to a boarding school in France, they didn’t know where. And my mother went to ask my CM2 [Primary 6, Year 6, 5th Grade], Mr Helmut, to see if he didn’t have an idea. Well, she asked loads of people and Mr Helmut said “Oh, I have a network”. It turned out that this network was the OAS. Which my mother didn’t know. He said “I have a network, I know people who could be a guarantor and the penpals of young ‘pieds-noirs’ who are sent to them. So I found myself in Royan with a penpal who was a former Army colonel, and there, I came to understand what the OAS was. What I hadn’t understood before. And there was The Mysteries of the People, the values of which came back to me, passed on by my father, and I understood. We didn’t get it completely in France, I mean Algeria, sorry, that the OAS were fascists. In Algeria, it was a group of fascists to begin with, I’m sure, but around them were people who were just French Algeria, who didn’t understand how we could give Algeria to the Algerians and which weren’t specifically … which didn’t support nationalist values. In Royan, I understand very, very quickly, I went to the pen pal’s home twice, and everything he would say, everything he did, I understood the anti-Semitism – which is the basis of this ideology – and all of sudden I … I went the year shut up in my room because I refused to go visit the pen pal. So, there were these two terms in Royan … Well, shut up in the four walls of my room, I have an anecdote about that which is quite funny. At the time, in boarding school, and we refused to go see our pen pals, we had to spend every weekend in the high-school, in prison. And in order to be able to go out, I went to Mass every Sunday. And so Sunday morning, there was a supervisor who took all the children to Mass. And he wasn’t interested in going to Mass, he took them to the church, went and got a drink, and picked them up again at the end of Mass. And I would get to Mass at 9am, go into the church, leave by the back door, and I would go and play rock’n’roll with my friends on Sunday morning. Every Sunday, I had a rock and in Royan. And the anecdote is that one day, my history teacher was an anti-Semite, in class. Royan was a very reactionary place, very anti-American because they were …
JS : So it’s still 1961 ?
ANON : Yes. So that day, we were lead to say that we were Jewish, there was two of us. And, the teacher didn’t care, he said “That can be true, I see you in Mass every Sunday! Not you, not you”. I remember this “not you, not you”. All of sudden, he saw us a Jews while until now he … it was very, very reactionary. And then, after this time in Royan, I was sent to another boarding school in Corbeilles, but after independence, I was in touch with families who had been repatriated.
JS : So in 1962 ?
ANON : Exactly. And afterwards, my parents stayed in Algeria, they told me to come back in 1963.
JS : So they stayed throughout ?
ANON : They stayed. My father wanted to stay. My father wanted to stay, he didn’t see why they should leave. At the same time, he wanted to stay and my uncle had also been asked by my uncle to see if he could continue to maintain the business he had in Algeria. Because there was this whole period when we weren’t sure, all the properties, who was occupying them, etc. And so after I came back to Algeria, I lived there from 1963 to 1965, a year and a half … I sat my first high school exam in Algeria – at the time there were two exams, the French exam and the Algerian exam. I sat both of them. I passed both of them. Yes, there was an Algerian exam and the test was slightly different, I sat them both, and then, we left Algeria end of 64, definitively. I tell the story how in 1963, when I came back to Algeria, I took the boat and it was practically empty, because no one was going from France to Algeria at that time. It was the opposite.
JS : So, what eventually made your parents leave in 1964, while they stayed throughout all the events without leaving?
ANON :They were throughout the event, they were even present in on those days in early July ’62, where there were basically anti-‘pied-noir’ pogroms, anti-French, they were there, they experiences … It was after that that the Exodus happened …
JS : You say pogroms but …
ANON : Massacres
JS : But ‘pieds-noirs’ are lots of different religions …
ANON : Yes, you can say there were massacres targeting ‘pieds-noirs’ and the French. You know the events at the start of July, where there was a rather peaceful demonstrate of Arabs who were celebrating Algerian independence. You have to remember that Oran was built in a way which was very separate, there was the French town, there was the Arab town, that we called the ‘village nègre’ at the time. In the last few years France was there had been sugar-coated, so instead of ‘village nègre’ it was called ‘ville nouvelle’ [new town]. There was the Jewish area, the Spanish town, and in the town centre, the French quarter, very French. There were times, I would see fewer Arabs in Oran’s town centre than I see in Paris. You didn’t see them! Apart from servants … It was really very, very separated, apartheid.
When there was this big demonstration at the start of July, they came down to the town-centre, singing Algerian songs, Algerian flags, it was rather peaceful. When they arrived in a square, the Cathedra square, shots were fired. So, no one knows if it was the OAS or if, for some people, it was members of the FLN who didn’t want it to stay peaceful. So someone shoots into the crowd, no-one knows, maybe it was OAS, I don’t know. I find it interesting but in any case, that transforms the demonstration into a very violent protest. And there were several hundred ‘pieds-noirs’ who were killed that day, and my parents had gone out because they had tried to escape, and everyone told them flee toward the beach, because it’s there that there are still, because Mers-el-Kébir, still was … there were still French soldiers there. Because there weren’t any soldiers to protect them, and they were saying that you had to get to the beach because there was a FLN group who was protecting the French. My parents had tried to follow them, they were stop but a roadblock and they say people get massacred, so they said to themselves, that’s it … when they would tell that story, that people were massacred. My father knew people some of the people who were killing, they said, no, they have always been with us, let them pass. Despite this episode, so they went to find refuge on the beach, when they came back, despite that, they left. Because in the weeks that followed after, all these people left with a single suitcase, they filled them … they were in the ports, in the boats, they filled the boats with a suitcase, three things. They stayed, and they were nonetheless – little but little, they saw the situation get worse, notably because the official, it wasn’t that the people were hostile, it was the official, those who took over the administration, the middle-managers who had been put in charge. And my father was harassed by a police chief who, I found out later, wanted to take the apartment: a beautiful apartment with five rooms [laughs], a terrace, rue Alsace-Lorraine. They were harassed, I remember this man really well, who’d come almost twice a week. He knock on the door, he said hello, very polite, very nice, he’d sit down, he’d ask questions. He was the police chief so my parents had to … very well, it was their friends, they came over for drinks. But little by little, they felt the pressure … that was when they left. They decided to leave in 1964, at the end of 1964.
JS : So you were how old ?
ANON : I was 19 years old. Yes 19 years old. December 1964.
JS : Okay. And how did you experience … because I imagine that you had friends who had left before. What was it like between the two big departure, 1961-1962 and your own departure?
ANON : I didn’t really experience the ‘rupture’ since I was in France at the time. No, I didn’t experience it. Actually, when I went back in 1963 there was a whole group of teenagers, of Spanish origin, Jewish origin, but there were also Arabs. We had a band in Oran, we had a lot of freedom. I remember it as being an idyllic time for us, adolescents, after independence. The war was over, a lot of freedom, we did what we wanted. I got my driver’s license, I had a [Citroën] CV2, we went clubbing, it was very, very free. That was what is was like in Oran, it always had a very, very liberal … with nights out, café terraces, girlfriends, girls who were a little … free, etc. For me, it was a beautiful time, for us it was … I remember my little sister, we went out a lot, I played a lot of music, in rock’n’roll groups – I should also say, I was really affected by the rock’n’roll wave of those years …
JS : So you were two children, or three children, in your family ?
ANON : Three children. I should say that rock’n’roll was really important for our childhoods, ever since the Americans arrived in Oran, notably at Mers-el-Kébir in 1942, until almost 1954-1955. When I was young, I would see American sailors all in white, like you would see in these musicals, handing out chewing-gum. But they also shared music, and we were especially impressed by rock’n’roll in Oran, even before it spread through France. Because, officially, you could say that the first French rock’n’roll performers are Henri Salvador and Boris Vian, who with a sense of humour because they thought it was an odd kind of humour, made their first record in ’56. While, I think that from the age of 10, they founded … well, I think, it’s certain ! I was 10 years old and my sister, 13 years old, when they founded the first Elvis Presely club in Oran, in 1955. And so after, when I went back to Algeria, there was a real rock’n’roll atmosphere. There were bands, and they were very mixed, there were Arabs, all of that. Really, our love of rock’n’roll was more important than all the rest.
JS : And so after, you left definitively in 1964. How did you take it and how did your parents explain it to you?
ANON : [sighs I think it was a very dramatic experience for me. My parents, yes, especially, because the market – it had been for that that my father had … when he was in Algeria after independence, looking after my uncle’s business and in exchange, my uncle said to him, I’ll give you a job, and at the same time, he was a complete stranger, we didn’t know …
JS : Your uncle had already left ?
ANON : Oh yeah. He left and as he had a lot of money, he had already transferred all his money to France before independence, a huge fortune, which came, undoubtedly from my grandfather, that my father never saw! [laughter] But well, I don’t know if we will ever manage to figure it out. People with large fortunes, they got out of it quite well, you know? Because they did have all their eggs in the same basket. They didn’t have their entire fortunes invested in Algeria. Very rich people, they had everything they need elsewhere. And so my parents, they explained to us that they were going to leave, that we were going to live in France. It was a very dramatic experience for me, like a new adventure. And I knew France quite well already. I didn’t feel traumatised. But my two sisters were, yes. My two sisters were traumatised for life by this separation. They never coped. And besides, if they’re in America now, it’s because of that. They never handled that shift from Algeria to France. I think that I integrated very quickly into politics. It’s funny, I think about it sometimes, it’s … I integrated thanks to 1968. So some years later, but at the same time, it was already … Integrating as a protesting French person, but French. While my two sisters, they didn’t have that. They never handled the shift, and they spent their time trying to leave, to find a way out.
JS : So where did you actually arrive in 1964, you left for Paris ?
ANON : We left directly … my uncle owned mills in Saint Maurice, and he put us in this kind of hangar, you couldn’t call it anything else, there were even rats. I remember, my mother she was … it was awful, she was terrified by it. Which meant that we didn’t stay in Saint Maurice for long, we went to live with other family members. My mother’s sister had a very small apartment in Porte de Vanves, and as we found ourselves quite cramped up, two families, a little apartment in Porte de Vanves, on one side there were three children, and on the other sides, two children, my parents decided to send everyone to boarding school. Often, I think about that, I say to myself that it was a good idea all the same, because I think families who are worse off, etc., I think … I don’t know if it’s a solution for social problems but this overcrowding, the fact of all being piled in on top of each other, of not being a place for … you see, I’m quite a politically engage person, I take part in a lot of activist activities, I go to lots of areas, I see these children who, when they want to work, have to go work in the stairwell. And when they don’t want to work, well, they go and hang out in the road because there’s no room for them in the house and … I said to myself, we were spared that because they put us in a boarding school. Which meant that …
JS : But you were nearly 20 by that time !
ANON : For me, I went to sit my bac [high school exams], but yes I was nearly 20 years old, as I was lagging behind. I sat my bac when I was 19, or 20, in 1965.
JS : But I thought that you passed your exams in Algeria ?
ANON : The first exams ! I sat the second ones …
JS : Oh yes, so you actually straddled the two, with the departure.
ANON : Yeah. And the second exam, I sat my last exam in Marcel Roy in Saint Germain en Laye, as a boarder. Which meant that it was all the same quite odd, because my parents, who had been living with family at Porte de Vanves, then went to live with other family members (still sharing a house), but not far from Du Pecq, in Saint Germain en Laye, near the high school. Which meant that I sat my exam, 500m away! There you go. But it really suited me and I could get on with work, to be … to not have to put up with all my parents’ social and economic problems, the overcrowding … the lack of housing, etc.
So my parents, my father had this job that his brother-in-law had promised him, so he was at Saint German en Laye in a clothing company, a small accounting job. And I was boarding at Marcel Roby, my younger sister was boarding at Marie Curie, still in Saint German en Laye, so not far. And my older sister was at university, she had a room at the university in Orsay. There you have it. And then, well quite a bit after, after the bas, my parents managed to get an apartment in one of the huge HLM [housing estates] in Marly, and … it wasn’t a very big apartment. For me, after spending a year making rock’n’roll because I wanted to carry on making music, to the despair of my parents, I decided to go to uni since it was hard living with my parents. It wasn’t very large. In fact, during my studies, I was a maître d’internat [housemaster in boarding school] in Saint Germain en Laye, in the agricultural high school. So I had my room, which opened out on the dormitory. I was there throughout my studies, the four years of my studies. Well, I could do that thanks to that the fact that I was a pion [monitor]. There you have it.
JS : Ok. And your parents actually left with very little ?
ANON : Not a lot. Oh, practically nothing !
JS : So what did you bring with you from over there ?
ANON : Over there I had a radio [he laughs], a radio that you sit in front of when you’re a kid. Uh … a few pieces of my mother’s crockery … The Mysteries of the Peoples … quite a few of my grandfather’s books … At the end of the day, it’s what I was saying to my father as well, it’s … we didn’t have money, we had books ! And the side of the family that had money, they … they didn’t have books [He laughs] ! And that means something, at the level of … we had the greater wealth, you know. Books. We brought back books.
JS : Yes, then, I imagine that when you left, it wasn’t the same as leaving in a rush in 1962 ! You could …
ANON : No, no, no, it’s not the same thing …
JS : I suppose you left by plane ?
ANON : Oh no, by boat ! It’s not the same thing, not rushed, but all the same, we weren’t able to bring back a lot of our things, eh, it was … it was complicated. They didn’t bring back any furniture, they did bring back the crockery, as I said, the radio, the books, book take up a lot of space and they’re heavy, you know ! Uh … and what else, not a lot, eh ! Not a lot. I dunno, I have some tablecloths, things like that, some sheets, some … uh, I think, I have a metal Kiddush cup, I have a things bits like that, a few pieces of crockery. Not a lot.
JS : And so, once you’re all settled, you say that you weren’t really integrated until 1968. What was that transition like between … How were you welcomed ?
ANON : Oh, well, not welcomed very well ! Me, I had already experienced that in Royan ! Well, that, really, it was very, very widespread in France. Things like, the ‘pieds-noirs’ are exploiters, you worked the Arabs to the bone [ vous faites suer le burnous] so shut your mouth. It was really, there was an atmosphere, an anti-French, anti-‘pieds-noirs’ ideology which put us all in the same box, eh ! Uh … I had already experienced it in Royan, when I was rejected as a ‘pied-noir’, rejected as a jew, it’s quite a lot ! Luckily, I had friends through rock’n’roll, that was what I … allowed me to intergrate somewhere, so I felt it in Royan. In Corbeilles as well, when I was boarding in Corbeilles, a lot of anti-‘pied-noir’ reaction. So, at the time, Corbeilles was a communist town, and so I even had teachers, etc, who rejected us, you know, because they were communists and they thought that the ‘pieds-noirs’ were people who had exploited …
JS : Who’s ‘we’, your family, or were you with friends …
ANON : I’m talking about boarding in Corbeilles. As a boarder, I remember a teacher, a French teacher who was called Kameker. Who was surely, like me, of Jewish origin, but who was very, very communist. So, at the same time, he spent his time trying to help me because, in a generous way, he was a true communist so he wanted to help disadvantaged people. He made me, he let me attend tutoring, because he could see that I was behind. And at the same time, there was this rejection of the ‘pied-noir’ people who … who got what they deserved, you know. Well, okay, you exploited the Arabs for centuries, you deserve to have been thrown out, you know, we won’t cry any tears for you, eh. And it’s, that’s what I think about quite a bit. I think that it’s a characteristic of the ‘pieds-noirs’, you see, at the end of the day, I say the ‘pieds-noirs’. I think it’s a characteristic of the ‘pieds-noirs’. I never heard my parents say, we’re going to go to the social services. While, when they came back from Algeria, honestly, they had nothing ! They had lost everything, they were poor, they were, my father took up this job that my uncle had promised him. But it was a very small job, he barely earned a living, a lot of commuting, he suffered a lot. He was poor, as I said, to the point that there were several families in a three-roomed flat in Porte de Vanves, to the point of sending your children off as boarders. I never heard my parents say, we’re going to go get help or aid. So, there’s this side to the French, this unwillingness to organise their … this support, there was certainly aid but very, very little – and on the other hand, from the point of view of the ‘pieds-noirs’, I think in any case, in my family, I look around me, I see … I think that in my parents’ generation, it wasn’t possible to ask for social aid ! It was impossible !
JS : Yet there were things which had been planned, since there were plans, a Minister of the Repatriates, etc. There was financial aid !
ANON : Well, there was very little help to start. There was compensation, but 20 years later! We got a bit of money, but just before my father died, eh, it was in 1980 that we got that money! At the start, there was aid, of course! In my family, one side of my family who had been put in HLM in Avignon, so there were HLM put aside for that, there were even whole estates that were built for the ‘pieds-noirs’, eh! Yes, yes, things had been planed. But in any case, in my family, there was willingness to say, we’ll get through on our own, without any help! I didn’t have, I don’t think there was any social aid that my parents accepted. Certainly through pride, as well.
JS : So you have, we have spoken about the word ‘pied-noir’, ‘pied-noir’, ‘repatriated’ is … is ‘repatriated’ something which you …
ANON : It has the word patrie [motherland] inside it. Which is also quite significant in Algeria, it’s … I think that it’s absolutely symptomatic of the atmosphere, the 14th July, there wasn’t a single balcony which didn’t have the French flag. In a French town! There was an attachment to France in Algeria, while there, as well, not only … not only for the French people, also for the Jewish people, but even the Spanish, people of Spanish origin who … there was an attachment to France, there was an attachment to the flag, an attachment to the national anthem, that I have never seen since, except in the United States. I never saw it in France, never saw it in France. There was the … if the Marseillaise was playing somewhere, I would see my whole family, stand up, stood up, you couldn’t stay sat down! With tears in their eyes! There was an attachment to the patrie that I never saw again anywhere in France. I don’t know if that exists. Or, except for the Front National. And that, that’s terrible. It’s terrible to see that in France, the patrie has been monopolised by the Fascists! I can’t stand it, never have! In Algeria, ‘repatriated’, yes, in that sense, in other words, to return to the patrie, to France.
On the other hand, personally, I would also say ‘expatriated’, because our country was Algeria. And there, there’s this contradiction between the attachment that my whole family, all the people around me had, the attachment to Algeria; this visceral attachment to the landscapes, to the practices, to the smells, to the atmosphere as well, because in Oran, I lived in Oran … I only find this atmosphere in Spanish towns, Alicante, Sevilla … This kind of joie de vivre of people who live outside, on the café terraces, with music all around you until midnight, with children who go home late … It’s one of the things that I only see in Spain! So, very attached to a life style, very attached to a country, and at the same time, very symbolically attached to France. Since, at the end of the day, my grandfather was injured, mutilated during the war in 1914. My father fought in the Second World War, with this song …
JS : And the Algerian War – I’m using the term – he had to take part or not?
ANON : No! My father was too old! No, he was born in 1913. Then, he had already given enough, eh! My father was recruited in 1936, he did three years of military service – at the time, it was three years I think. He was demobilised and then recruited again in 1939 to go to the front, the Maginot line. He was part of the cavaliers regiment, he told me, swords drawn against the German panzers. There was quite a gap, a technological hurdle between the Germans and … He charged with a drawn sword against German panzers, he was injured, he was decorated with the Croix de Guerre, and … no, he was too old!
JS : And you, you could have been drafted!
ANON : I could have been, but I was too young! I was in the PMO. At 15 years old, I could have been recruited by the OAS but at 15 I could be called up by the army! And ‘repatriated pied-noir’, I would say. At the same time, I’m contradicting myself because at the start of the interview, I said that I did not feel like a ‘pied-noir’ and, at the same time, somewhere there are moments where I felt ‘pied-noir’ and I have people around me who, from time to time, we talk to each about nostalgia, nostalgia for Algeria, through food, through memories. So yes, I feel a little bit part of a community, uh …
JS : Do you currently have a network of ‘pieds-noirs’ friends?
ANON : Yeah. Through music. Actually, the only ‘pieds-noirs’ friendships that I have are people which whom I used to make music in 1963, 1964. And we still see each other today to play music.
JS : So it’s s cultural link, overall.
ANON : There you have it. But it’s very modern music, eh, well modern, it was rather American rock, or American folk.
JS : Oh yes it’s not musical which is …
ANON : Traditional. No. Ladino, I make it basically on my own. I started a band but it wasn’t with people from there, uh … no, I don’t have contacts from that side.
JS : And so, the journey between 1963 and 1968, you said you felt rather integrated. How did that happen?
ANON : So, 1964, because … at the end of 1964, you could say 1965, because I did my second bac in 1965. After the bac, I wanted to make music, and only music, to my parents’ despair. Uh … they even made sure that I knew that they wouldn’t pay for my studies, because they had nothing. But given that that I had my bac and the situation was such that … For my parents, there was some assistance available, as you said, and so I could get a bursary. My sister and I, we applied to study medicine and we had a bursary! The problem, my sister is a doctor, she went through the whole thing, she worked, and I did not! The first year, 1965-1966, I signed up at Medical School – actually, it wasn’t medical school it was the PCEM – it was the first year, we were registered at the Science faculty, uh … actually, which would become Jussieu a bit later. And very quickly, in February, I gave up because I was hanging out with young people who were making music. I had promised to make a record, I had met Antoine, the famous Antoine of the time, who played music, often sang in a little bar which was opposite Jussieu, which was called Chiadel. And we would meet up, a whole group of friends. So I worked very little. And I, during the academic year 1965-1966, I started a rock band and we made record, so that was my integration. So I didn’t pass my year in Medical School to my parents’ despair, I lost my bursary. There you have it.
Then, the following year, I continued making music, and then in 1967, I came to the understanding that music was giving me nothing, especially, because I was starting to become more politically aware, and the music environment I found myself in in 1965 and 1967, it was show-business you know. And it didn’t suit me at all, not at all. Show-business, I couldn’t stand the sight of all that. So I stopped, and I registered at Nanterre for the academic year 1967-1968. And at the same time, I was a monitor at Saint German en Laye, and there, in the swing of the first year of protest 1967-1968, at Nanterre, eh … I was influenced, bit by bit, by movements of the Left and even far Left, while at the start, I still harboured some of the wishful thinking, some of the traces of my OAS past and of French Algeria! So it was … there was a conversion.
JS : Well precisely, in 1968 for example, there wasn’t any reaction from your friends around you, who say ‘but you’re a ‘pied-noir’…
ANON : Absolutely, So there, all around me, all the ‘pieds-noirs’, no, no, it was very … of course! Because, at the end of the day, almost naturally, the ‘pieds-noirs’ were right-wing and used to think that the … because they thought that the ‘Gaullists’ had betrayed them, but don’t even mention the communists! It was … the communists and the leftists, they were the great enemies of the ‘pieds-noirs’, eh! Since, they had supported the FLN, had been porteurs de valises etc. …Oh no, no, no there were big political debates at the house or in my family, I remember them very well, I remember them very well. These discussions … obviously, it wasn’t well understood how young ‘pieds-noirs’ could align themselves with the 1968 movement!
JS : It seemed to be a minority for your, compared to the rest of the ‘pieds-noirs’?
ANON : Yes! Yes. It still is. I think that since the 1960s the ‘pieds-noirs’ have remained – I think, I’m not sure, I don’t know the statistics, but in any case – as for me, I think that they have stayed all the same quite right-wing. Except for my father [He laughs]. But my father, he didn’t have this … I say my father, but I’m the same. Once again, I’m coming back to the Mysteries of the People! Our roots are in struggle and … our roots are on the left, which are so strong, so deep, that whatever happens in history, you know that you’ll defend these values! The Badaches. With this Mysteries of the People. But the other, they don’t have that!
JS : Maybe it’s another interpretation all the same, because there are studies that show, for example, that the ‘pied-noir’ vote isn’t as right wing as we think.
ANON : Well there you. Its’ a …
JS : So it’s possible that it’s a construction but …
ANON : Oh, no, of course, it’s maybe an interpretation eh! It’s a representation! But this representation is based on what I see around me! So that’s why, I’m not so concerned with these statistics, but I see around me, all the same, a vote … Well, especially in the ‘Midi’ eh! I often receive things on … recently, like that, some ‘pieds-noirs’ friends with whom I was … we knew each other in Algeria and who sent me - with the internet now there was an abundance – I can show you the things the things that they sent, notably from the community around Sète and Nîmes, which recuperated the Santa Cruz virgin, who sends me things which are, for me, unmentionable, eh! Which are … it’s not right-wing, it’s extreme right! And they have all been taken up in this OAS atmosphere which has continued and been maintained by the Front National in these areas. I dunno, I’m sure there are statistics about it. I’m not so concerned with this, but I get the feeling all the same that there are a large number of ‘pieds-noirs’ in the ‘Midi’ who have fed the Front National vote, eh! I think! And besides, the Front National doesn’t hide it. They know that there’s a whole constituency which continues, generation after generation, to adhere to those values!
JS : So, you starter by saying, yes, I don’t know if I’m ‘pied-noir’, uh … if you were to say, I am ‘pied-noir’, what would that mean for you? Are there certain values attached to it, does it … what characterises being ‘pied-noir’?
ANON : Nostalgia. When I sign my song that I will give you in a moment, that I’ll send you by MP3, when I sing my song ‘Dani den den’, when I sing it with whatever pied-noir community, I see tears in their eyes, you know. Because it speaks about … it’s about an atmosphere, a nostalgia for a country which was amazing, we have to say it, eh, we had a wonderful life, because … [He laughs] Maybe the communists of the ‘60s weren’t so wrong, because it was a life in which – we have to face up to it – you know, as the lower-middle class, not well off, we still had servants, we had … It was a way of also … there was a lot of inequality. And the, let us say, ‘pied-noir’ population was all the same a bit more well off than the Arab one in Algeria! And we had a nice life, with the beach in the summer, I remember it as being a little California, you know. The weather was nice, there was a great atmosphere … So I think that there’s that, there is this nostalgia for a life. We say in Arabic ‘hassra’. ‘[Ya] hassra’ means it was before, it was good. It’s a kind of nostalgia for a life, even if it was during the war and even if there were problems with violence. It was all the same a very beautiful country, you know. That’s the way in which I feel like a ‘pied-noir’. As for values, no, because there’s all sorts, eh!
JS : Cultural elements?
ANON : So, as for cultural elements, what else is there? For me, I’ve done all that I can to make my accent disappear. I don’t know if it’s completely gone or not, it comes back when I’m angry [He laughs]! I don’t get angry often, so it never comes back. While I see around me, most ‘pieds-noirs’, when I meet new ‘pieds-noirs’, they say to me [He imitate a ‘pied-noir’ accent] ‘So, how’s it going?’ They speak like that! Even though they left … we left 50 years ago! And after 50 years they talk like [He imitates] ‘Do you remember what is what like over there?’ There you have it. It’s … and … so I’ve kept my Jewish side more than the ‘pied-noir’. It’s more that I’ve gone back to ‘ladino’, my mother’s language, you know! And that, that’s … it’s something which is deeply … Oh, I really feel it, it’s it’s …
JS : And do you think you would have had this return to ladino if you had stayed in Algeria? It’s difficult to reconstruct things, eh, but ..
ANON : I don’t know. I don’t think so, don’t think so, no.
JS : So it plays a small role all the same?
ANON : Absolutely, of course! No, it’s a kind of reattachment to something that we’ve lost, you know. I don’t think. I think that we would have been in the French way of life, French, the most French possible! And that, well, there wasn’t, there would maybe not have been the need to be so attached to the land, to reattach ourselves to our cultural roots. Surely!
JS : And so, cooking?
ANON : Cooking. So cooking, for me, I’m the custodian of my mother’s cooking. And not my sisters. Which is strange. I would have never, I worked at one point … I worked in theatre a lot, eh, a lot of social theatre. I founded a theatre company, which at one point, at the theatre, we worked on unconscious transmission. We worked on this, and someone asked me, have you ever felt something that previous generations have transmitted to you without meaning to? And I used this example. In my house, only women went into the kitchen! So the boys and the men didn’t go into the kitchen! So while they went in from time to time, when I was a boy, I was chased out of it, a boy had nothing to do with the kitchen. And my mother, she tried to pass it on to my sisters: couscous, Dafina, all the religious rituals. She tried to pass it on and it was a total failure! My sisters can’t make Dafina, Frita, an egg loaf, they can’t do it! And when I go the United States, straight away my sister asks, will you make couscous for us, because it’s been such a long time that we haven’t eaten it! Won’t you make us some couscous? No, they don’t know how to make it. They don’t now. And very recently, my older sister who is there, she was watching me make Semolina and she said, oh, that’s how you cook Semolina? I’ve always cooked semolina like you cook rice! I said, how is this possible? She’s 50 years old, she’s lived her whole life … her whole child was in Algeria, and she cooks semolina like it’s rice. Which is to say that she puts semolina in the water and she cooks it like that! It’s unbelievable, even the French don’t make it like that, there’s a couscoussier! Oh that’s how you make semolina! And so I’m the one that has been the keeper of these tradition, and I even, every time I invite friends over, from the Algerian family, I make them ‘kalentika’. Kalentika is something like Proust’s madeleine for the Oranais! You make a ‘kalentika’ for an Oranais, there are very few people who make it, it’s a kind of flat, a flan made of chickpea, it’s very simply, a chickpea flan. But it was, it was really in harmony with the rhythm of life in Oran, of the Oranais, you know, it’s really Oran. Kalentika comes from a Spanish word meaning ‘hot’, and often Arabs, who this kind of cart which was also an oven where they made this chickpea flan, served it hot in the street! And my whole childhood, I heard ‘Kalentika! Kalentika!’. And then we went to buy ourselves some for next to nothing. They would serve in newspaper, definitely not very healtyh! [He laughs]. Sometimes even in bread. There were some people who ate only that, it really was the food of the poor. But at the same time, it was food that everyone liked, there was this smell of Kalentika in the streets in Oran. And when I make Kalentika for people who lived in Oran, it’s absolutely extraordinary for them, you know, it’s a unique taste that you don’t find … it’s a dish that basically doesn’t … not even a dish, it’s …
There’s Kemia, as well. Kemia, which goes with an aperitive. And so I’m the one who acts as the custodian of all that, and I pass it on. I pass it on so much that there’s another dish called Frita – another Spanish word, eh – that my mother used to make, and often goes with couscous. It’s a dish based on pepper, garlic, and tomatoes. It’s very simple, but hard to get right. And what’s strange is that my wife, she makes my mother’s Frita. Without ever having met my mother. She makes it better than me! In other words, I pass it on, I tried to make my mother’s recipe, I taught my wife the recipe, and now she can make it to my mother’s taste, and I can’t. So now, every time there’s a Frita to make, I tell her, you can do it, because … and so, this transmission through food, yes, through food is very important, you know, but I don’t know why.
JS : Do you have children?
ANON : Yes.
JS : And do they feel like you do, a bit ‘pied-noir’, are these origins … Have you passed it on to them or not?
ANON : It’s not just a bit! I have two daughters, 33 and 23 years old, big girls who were … so there mother was Protestant from Alsace-Lorraine. I met her in France, of course, and so 80% of this transmission was mine. I mean that they took very little from their mother and nearly everything from me. It’s quite annoying actually, it’s … at the same time, I’m quite proud of it. So, it’s a lot, because when I turned 60 years old, they gave me an envelope and inside my two daughters gave me an organised trip to Algeria.
JS : Oh! Well I was going to talk to you about that!
ANON : Well, they didn’t say that they were paying for the trip [He laughs] They were offering the organisation of it. And after, I asked them, especially my older, I understood very quickly that she couldn’t marry someone, she couldn’t have children, she couldn’t settle down, before going on this trip to Algeria. If she didn’t go back to Algeria with me. And her sister, in the same way. When meant that we all left, all three of us, with my daughter’s future husband, so my future son-in-law, since they weren’t married at the time because they couldn’t do it [He laughs] before this pilgrimage, it was this kind of thing! And we left all three of us, they organised it all, especially, because my eldest daughter works with an Algerian sociologists who helps us to organise it, because it’s not very easy to go over there, well, there you go. Uh … it’s not like any old country, eh, it’s not … it’s not like people who are from Tunisia or Morocco, where it’s very easy to go back. We found it quite difficult. And so we were welcome over there, and they were very, very, very, very affected by that culture. They want to make all the food, they want to … So yes, they were very impressed with it. And paradoxically, when it came to my family history, they had this return to Jewish religion but with something that made me very happy – it was a return, because they decided early on, eh, both of them, that they wanted to be Jewish very early on, eh … they wanted to do their religious education, and it came from themselves. While even for Jews, there aren’t Jewish, since their mother isn’t Jewish. Except for me, I told them …
JS : Their mother is Protestant?
ANON : Their mother is Protestant.
JS : Practising?
ANON : Protestant origin. No, not at all practising. That’s why, as well, I mean that, I’m not practising but at the same time, there’s … the Jewish side is very important for me, I mean … for example, I never imposed anything but, for example, at Passover, I made my mother’s recipes and told the story of the Exodus! That’s all! You tell stories. The history. The memory. That’s all. There’s nothing else, I’m a Jew of the Kippur, which means the only time I go to the synagogue is on Yom Kippur and then that’s it, well. In comparison to my father, I’m already far too Jewish, but … a lot too religious, not too Jewish. Because I think that he affirmed these values, but through my I continue to pass them on to the two youngsters, my wife’s two children, because she, she’s also got a Catholic background, but not a practising one, not at all! It’s these people who haven’t practised religion for generation, they don’t go to church, they’re not baptised, there you go. While on my first wife’s side, the mother of my two eldest girls, there was not transmission, while their parents were, would go to the temple, eh, but she didn’t want to pass any of it on.
JS : And so your daughters thought that it was … important enough to …
ANON : There you go, important enough, and they have, let’s say, a certain religious practice, I’ve never been against it, except …
JS : But besides this religious aspect, they feel ‘pieds-noirs’ …
ANON : They feel attached to Algeria, and now, she know what I’m talking about! They know the country, I went everywhere with them, we went to all the places that I knew …
JS : How long did you stay for?
ANON : We stayed for 10 days, but it was enough to visit Tlemcen, the birthplace of our family, to go to Oran, to see all the things there are to see. And that satisfied them to a point that they now want to go back! But well, after, that, we can organise another thing, but …
JS : What year was it?
ANON : Two years ago! Just before she got married. And what was important for me, what I tried to pass on, I said to them both, well, you want to be religious, maybe, so they don’t eat pork, they not very orthodox, but well, there you go. I explained to them that it was going back to something which didn’t really have much to do with my family, since my parents ate pork in the house, eh! So they, they recuperated something from my great-grandparents, eh! Well, on my mother’s side, but on my father’s side, it was quite far from that. So they have a kind of attachment all the same. What I think I passed on to them are the values, above all, it’s history, which has a whole philosophy behind it. It’s that when they were children and they heard about Passover, they shouldn’t forget that they had been foreigners on Egyptian land. This symbolism, and that we should have a certain attitude vis-à-vis foreigners, that … a number of values around tolerance, love for one’s neighbour, etc. which are contained in religion, that’s what is the most important. And I remember one story, it was my daughter, I remember it very well. At one point, she was trying out being religious at a culinary level, so she wouldn’t eat pork, she wouldn’t eat seafood. One day, she went to eat at her grandfather’s house, who had lovingly made some prawns. The next day she came to me to say, you know Daddy, I ate prawns. I said, well, you know that’s not bad, we don’t care here. She said but all the same, it’s important to me. And I asked her why had she eaten the prawns if it was important to her? She said, because you taught me that the most important thing is to not hurt another person, because he had made these prawns so lovingly. It was more important the ritual of eating. Well, you’ve understood everything.
JS : It got through.
ANON : Exactly. And another thing which got through, it that I can’t stand the separation of men and women in traditional synagogues. And each Passover, I told this story, because at Passover I prepare the same plate as my mother did. On the tray, there’s the story of the Exodus, I don’t know if you know about Jewish Passover plate.
JS : Vaguely.
ANON : There’s the symbol of the cement, which built the pyramid, there’s the symbol of the bitter herbs, because it was the bitterness of slavery, there’s the symbol of the liberation, the symbol of the rebirth with the egg … all of that is on the plate! And the Paschal lamb, well there’s everything, loads of symbols on a single plate, and the plate itself – if we’re describing everything that’s on it – there’s obviously the Maxa, the bread which did not rise, describe all of that and explain the symbolism of it all, that’s the story of the Exodus. With all that it entails for me, it’s not a magic story etc., it involves people who say to themselves, slavery is not right, we must fight against slavery, we must accept the stranger, we must accept the Other, we must fight for freedom. It’s not an accident that the North Americans have taken the Exodus of the Hebrews as a foundational element, most of the Gospels speak about it. They obviously talk about Jesus, but they also talk about that, the liberation of the slaves. And my whole life, I’ve, when I prepare the plate each time, I would explain to my daughter, I put another thing. In contrast to all these books which explain how to prepare the traditional Passover plate, I place an orange. I explain every time that the Orange is for one time, a long time ago, there was a Jewish man who asked the Rabbi if he thought one day there would be women Rabbis? So he said, with the usual Jewish humour, listen, what you’ve asked me is so abhorrent, it’s as if you’ve included an orange of the Passover plate! And so, we put an orange on the Passover plate. And now my daughter is in a liberal community where there is a woman Rabbi. And that, I like that! It suits me. Because I don’t like the idea of the woman’s place in the Jewish tradition, traditionally.
JS : And so you went back, and did you go back to the cemeteries of your …
ANON : Yes. Yes.
JS : They’re still there.
ANON : Well, the cemetery in Oran is half destroyed, uh … it seems that there were some works, at one point, building a road. They asked permission from … well, it’s half destroyed. It’s a real jungle, there’s a keeper but he absolutely does not take care of it. We visited with my daughters, we looked for names, we found practically nothing. It’s very complicated, eh … but we saw, we went to the Jewish cemetery in Oran, but found practically no one from our family. So, coming back, in one corner a big heap of marble, so it had been exhumed and damaged. While they say it was for building a road which was build, they asked permission because for Jews it is a terrible thing to exhume the dead. It’s total sacrilege! Eh … and so we visited the cemetery and found nothing. On the other hand, we went to Tlemcen, there was this incredible thing, for starters, there’s the tomb of the Rabbi of Tlemcen. Which is very well known, he was a Spanish Jew, who came from Spain in the 14th century, the Rabbi Okaoua, who … which is thought of as a Saint by the Jews, but by the Muslims as well. And this tomb is in a very special place, it’s been preserved and protected, it was conserved in this remarkable way … and all the Jews from Tlemcen who go back go to see the ‘Rab’, they say the ‘Rab’! But it seems that there are Muslims who come to see it. And in my time, I remember my mother saying, when we go to see then tomb of the ‘Rab’, it was a real pilgrimage for all of Algeria, to see the Saint, which was really good vis-à-vis everyone. And she said, you see, there are many Muslim as well, who take part in this pilgrimage. So there was a kind of a coming together. And next to it is the Jewish cemetery, which has been preserved in an amazing way. There’s a caretaker who is, well, they explained, it’s a young person, he said we have been the caretakers of Jewish cemeteries for 10 centuries, our family! He is very proud of it. They have a job and they are very proud of it. And as soon as we got there, he got me out a book – no, it’s not even a book, it’s a notebook, like a school exercise book – where they have noted down all the tombs, it’s all … and straight away they found what we were looking for. It’s incredible how in Tlemcen there’s this respect and memory of … I think in Tlemcen there’s really a …
JS : A large Jewish community, as well!
ANON : A large Jewish community, and which was very close, they were very close, and with this pilgrimage to the ‘Rab’ of Tlemcen, where the Muslims went as well. I mean, it’s quite incredible in the history of Algeria, there’s a lot of coming together. And in contrast, I went to the synagogue as well, that I couldn’t visit the first time. Because I’ve gone to Algeria three times. In 1974, 1988, and then with my daughters. And the first two times, I didn’t go to the synagogue because it had become a Mosque, the great synagogue of Oran, a very beautiful building. And I asked the people who welcomed us, I had said, I know that the synagogue has become a Mosque, and usually you can’t go in a Mosque. The man who welcomed us in Oran, he was a high-school teacher in Oran, and he said, but I think you can visit, you know why? Because the Mosque is undergoing renovations, it’s in the middle of being renovated. And the architect is my best friend. And so, we had a meeting with the architect, and we were, I think, the only Jews to see the inside of the great synagogue of Oran since Independence. And the architect didn’t stop to tell us all that he was going to renovate it, but he said, it’s an absolutely extraordinary building. It’s an amazing building how, at the time, the architects knew how to build things. They’re going to rebuild a magnificent monument, he said, it’s a lot simpler that transforming a church into a Mosque. Because they keep everything. And I was even surprised to see at the back a start of David, and he said to me there’s no contradiction. Because Sidi Daoud, for the Muslims, it’s in the Bible and in the Coran, David is … there’s no contradiction, you can have a star of David in a Mosque, it’s … there’s no problem! There’s no problem because both forbid the representation of images, and all the rest you can represent with no problem. So they’ve kept the stained-glass windows, all the … the only problem they have, they asked me, he said, I would like to know, underground, there are these kinds of tombs, we don’t really know what they are. Did they bury Rabbis in the synagogues? I said, no, never. It’s not right. And, actually, I understood what it was, it was … in the synagogues, you bury old books. Which are too damaged to be read. The Bibles, you never destroy them, you never destroy a book! I said, it’s all that it is. Everything there, that must be it. It must be the old books, that’s all. So, he said, that’s good, because we were afraid to touch it, we could have problems with people saying we exhumed things, but … And I think they didn’t touch any of it! But if it’s some books, it’s a not a problem for them!
JS : And so the … your relationship to ladino music, it’s developed quite late, is that what you said?
ANON : It came back to me late. All the same, it’s not entirely late, because I would sing to my daughters the songs my mother had sung to me! Of course, I sang them French songs, I mean, everyone sang Frère Jacques, Fais dodo … All these little songs, little nursery rhymes which are lullabies, but as well as that, like by accident, the ones that worked the best, and that work with my grandson now, are my mother’s songs. Because I think that when I sing them, there’s something else going on and that … so, anyway, these songs that we called ‘Tétouanaises’, I’ve always sung them, especially as lullabies for my children. But singing them in front of other people, and doing something else with them, other than as lullabies for children, that came to me not so long ago. I said to myself, there such a wealth in these melodies, in these words, so … there was something to make of them.
JS : We haven’t actually spoken about your professional trajectory, has this ever been affected by your experience as a ‘pied-noir’ or not? Are there any relationships, connections with other ‘pieds-noirs’ that have been made … You’ve talked a little bit about integrating after 1968, and then …
ANON : Yeah, yeah. What relationship between my history, my professional trajectory, uh … I think that I was really, really influenced by grandfather’s story, I was very influenced by Mysteries of the People, does it have anything to do with the ‘pied-noir’ experience. I couldn’t say. In any case, that side really influenced me because I didn’t become a sociologist by accident, there are not a lot of accidents, eh. At one point, it really influenced a whole part of my life. I was an activist through the theatre, I was at the Théâtre de l’Opprimé [Theatre of the Oppressed]. It was incredible, when I went to the Théâtre de l’Opprimé, it was on Rue Eugène Sue in Paris, if you can believe it! So, notably because it was Rue Eugène Sue but also the Opprimé, because if you go back to the … fundamental idea of Eugène Sue is that the ‘oppressed’ must free themselves of their oppression! And so, it’s not an accident, I was influenced by my father, and my grandfather in this way! If I studied afterward, if I became a doctor of sociology, it was, in part, because of that – and I put this in my thesis. I became a doctor of sociology and I think I really disappointed my parents, and especially my father, by not becoming a doctor. I mean a medical doctor! But I have this history, which is told in many Jewish homes because all the, many Jewish people of this generation wanted their children to become doctors. And there was a story like this, which said, doctor of whatever you want, even an animal doctor, but a doctor [He laughs]! And eventually, I was a doctor of sociology, and there was something which pushed me to do it, but a lot later in my life, and my father didn’t see it, eh … I had to become a doctor, somewhere. And not whatever kind of doctor, because sociology is also somewhere in this tradition of understanding society, of understanding class struggle, of being in that, in the social values that were passed on to me by my father and, surely, by my grandfather who I didn’t know. I see that as a trajectory.
And, on the other hand, music, that yes, there’s a connection to what you said, this atmosphere of … in which I was submerged as a young person, the atmosphere of rock’n’roll which was very strong in Oran. Because there was the American sailor in Mers el Kébir, who really, really influenced us, we were very, very … and so, the fact that I was influenced by music, and especially American rock, is something which is essential. But otherwise, I was a teacher until my retirement, I still teach a little at the University. And at the same time I do this work in social theatre. I don’t know if you can say that this is influenced by the ‘pied-noir’ side, but in any case, from among my familial influence, surely!
JS : Just a few small questions like that, I had spoken about it a little on the phone, uh … do you think there would be any documents, things that could …
ANON : I didn’t manage to, I don’t have much. What I did get out, is a piece of writing I did, I don’t know if that might be important, which explains a little bit … So what I can, there are my songs, my song in Ladino, I don’t know how to transfer them but I would like to send them to you, there’s the text that I wrote which explain a little bit the atmosphere in which we found ourselves from the start of the Algerian war, which was an atmosphere rather … influenced by … what did I do with it … here it is … well, you can read that, I dunno, but how my father influenced us so that we would understand everything that they would say about the Arabs, the FLN are the … simply, that they’re blood thirsty terrorist who want to massacre the French, and that’s it … it’s rather what the ‘pieds-noirs’ would say to us, you know! They’re bandits, you know, bandits with knives to slit your throats. Why? Because they’re bad people, there you go! It’s what they told us when we were small, but this history is very, for me, very important to show how my father wanted to educate us differently. He wanted to help us to understand, to make us become aware, you know, it’s a question of awareness. To make us conscious of the fact that there’s another thing in it, more than simply this ‘pied-noir’ Manicheanism that they are nice and the FLN are the baddies. You’ll see this text, now we won’t …
JS : No, No.
ANON : No ? Well.
JS : Also simply, childhood pictures, eh, is you have any, I don’t know.
ANON : Photos?
JS : Yes!
ANON : Photos, well, the only photos that I have are the ones in which there are, in fact, they’re photos of characters, you know, photos of …
JS : Yes, but yes. It’s about life histories in any case …
ANON : Okay.
JS : Unless it’s a bother …
ANON : It’s no bother to me, not at all!
JS : For example, I see, you see, it goes to show how useful it is to go to people’s homes, that you’ve kept a note – the bank of Algeria, 20 Francs – I see it right in front of me [Laughter]! Maybe you brought it afterwards, but … [Laughter]
ANON : No! It’s dated to then. You see!
JS : Why did you keep it, this note, for example?
ANON : I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s all my father had as an inheritance, 20 Francs. There are photos, the only photos that I have of my maternal grandmother. The only photos that we have. So … she had a Spanish background, she came straight form Sevilla. So I have a photo of baptism, well that, it might be important. That’s my grandfather, and it’s a ‘republican baptism’ [Civil naming ceremony]! You see. They’re baptising the child, you can’t see much, but at the same time, it’s a republican baptism so my grandfather was very attached to the fact that, there you go, it’s the story of the Mysteries of the People, since there was this break from religion. He was – so I discovered this after when I was learning about sociology – he was very Durkheimian. You know, Emile Durkheim, he was the son of a Rabbi. He spent his life writing things on how to connect people without religion. The fundamental question, in fact! Because, abandoning religion, you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater! And his whole life, Durkheim tried to explain how every human community has invented religion to link people together [se relier], it’s even in the word, religion, it comes from that. And that if you abandon belief in God, well, we’ll have to find other rituals, other ways of connecting us, be they republicans. And Durkheim used to say, you have to establish secular and republican rituals: the flag, the national anthem, things that bring people together which are not based on religion. Well, that was also what my grandfather thought. He was also a freemason, so he had that idea, a kind of religion without God. And this is an important photo from that perspective, the side of … so, the republican baptism. And this is a photo of my grandparents, I mean … the parents of my grandmother. And you can see the tradition of women who wore the veil all the same, or at least, veiled, who had a headscarf, like that, that you used to see in Algeria. Jewish women dressed in a certain way and would wear a scarf, you know. A traditional scarf. So I don’t know, I can leave you these photos, or how do you want to do it?
JS : Actually what I can do … what might be usefully in the end, if you agree, if I come back to get them and that you keep them for me and maybe include a short note, and then I’ll … or I photocopy them, or I borrow them and I can scan them, or something like that!
ANON : I don’t know, as you like! Because there are some interesting things all the same, because, well … Je ne sais pas, comme vous voulez ! Parce qu’il y a des choses intéressantes quand même, parce que, enfin…
JS : Because I would be just as interested in having your notes on the photos as the photos themselves, of course.
ANON : Sure, sure. So I’ll try to write …
JS : I’m making you work, but [She laughs]
ANON : No, not at all, with pleasure. In any case, what you’re making me do there, I’m also doing it for my children, so …
JS : So there you go!
ANON : Because maybe they don’t know about all things that I’m telling you, eh! So, you’re making me say thing … Oh, that’s interesting that one. Holiday camp in France. A young group of people who come from Algeria. And we have young Arab who are there, and all the young non-Arabs, who are there. It’s not bad, is it. You see? Look! We took the photo, there’s the instructor who is there, we’re in Luchon, I think, in a holiday camp. Young people from Algeria. And how the separation is made, it’s very clear, eh! Us, we’re either of Jewish origin, or Spanish origin, or French, that’s my cousin … all the whites …
JS : Yes, you can see it. The ones with darker skin are on the lower rows.
ANON : And all the Arabs are lower down. It’s unbelievable! It’s things like that. That was in my grandfather’s huge house. The famous, immense house, that I saw again recently, it’s magnificent. So I can make a little thing where I’ll put a note, that’s it?
JS : And so after, it’s however you’d like to do, but either I can borrow the album once you’ve written your comments and I scan them in peace and quite at the écomusée, of I can take photos of them here. As …
End of Part 1/Beginning Part 2
ANON : So the concentration camps, eh … I’m looking for it … You want me to explain it?
JS : Yes, well, what’s the connection with the bank note?
ANON : No, because I said to myself, the note and all of a sudden I saw 1942. And in 1942, my father came back from France, because he had fought in the war, he came back from France as the Débâcle, eh … they took his Croix de Guerre, because he was Jewish, they took his nationality because he was Jewish, and they even took him. So, at the time, you have to know that my father was a Tax inspector, he had sat all the exams! And they took away his role in public administration. And so when he saw that, he came back to Algeria and in Algeria, when he got back, all the soldiers coming back from the Front, demobilised … [Someone knocks on the door – the tape cuts].
Jewish soldiers who came back from France were, by the Vichy administration – since Algeria was under Vichy administration at that time – put in a concentration camp in Bedeau, guarded by the Foreign Legion. And the surprising thing was that father stayed there until 1943. And I often asked him, but by 1943 there had already been the American landings! How could they have kept up this aberration! And he explained to me that when the Americans landed, they had a choice. The American landings in Algeria were not violent! But a choice was made, by the administration and the Vichy army at the time which was in Algeria, either to fight the American landings, or to hear each other out. And they heard each other out to the point that the Vichy administration stayed in place …
JS : I had no idea!
ANON : And stayed in place, in fact, as if there was no conflict. They got on quite well, the Americans said, well, you carry on with your administration like before, we won’t roll any heads, etc. but you will let us land in Algeria because that will the base, in fact, after France is recaptured. And there was an agreement! Which meant that the concentration camp wasn’t closed until 1943. A year after the American landings.
JS : That’s crazy!
ANON : And so my father was … so, it wasn’t really a concentration camp like we can imagine, run by the Germans, there was even, from time to time, leave. Since that’s how my father got to know my mother and meant that they had a child in 1943. But when my sister was born in March 1943, well, my father was still in the concentration camp. He only had leave to go and get married and then they put him back in [ He laughs]. It wasn’t really the usual concentration camp, but it was a concentration camp all the same, where they put Jews, it was … [Someone knocks on the door – the tape cuts]. Third draft, then the war, then the return to Algeria to the camp, anyway I mean, he really went through it in those years … You can say that it’s not a German concentration camp, there was no extermination camp etc., but it was all the same a camp administered by Vichy which shut up all the Jews coming from … from France and who had been drafted. It wasn’t a camp, there weren’t any women, children, there were only men, soldiers. Bedeaux it’s called. And it was in the Sahara. B, E, D, E, A, U, X. You can find it online, if you type in Bedeaux, you can find it.
JS : And the note, why did you conserve it?
ANON : I don’t know [He laughs. I found it recently. I don’t know. But maybe when finding the documents, there was something that I’ll get out for you, notably, that the Badache were very proud to not be French via the Crémieux Decree. To have become French before. They had their nationality because the grandfather of that grandfather, the one I told you about, before the Crémieux decree, he was in the army. And he was ‘Francisé’ [became French] because of service rendered to the nation. So, they were naturalised before. They were very proud of it, but that didn’t help when it came to the abrogation of the Crémieux decree, because for the Vichy administration, if you’re Jewish, you’re Jewish, they didn’t give a damn. I remember, I have the document where it’s marked – because my father, my grandfather tried to assert this at the time and had a document that the Badache family hadn’t become French because of the Crémieux decree, but for service rendered to the nation. But it was pointless, that’s for sure. Which meant that, I remember very well, again, recently some uncles were arguing, my uncle who was the last of my father’s brothers, who died recently. He was arguing with other Jews in the family, like that, saying that we had never been ‘indigenous Jews’ [ juifs indigènes]! Because being native, it was an insult, you know … we, the Badache had never been indigenous Jews! Because it was the indigenous Jews who were naturalised as French by the Crémieux Decree, which came back, and brought them down to the state of ‘native’ when the Decree was abrogated.
JS : And at the same time, there was all the same a great deal of inequality between the Jews and the others. Since they were French and …
ANON : Oh yes. Yes. Yes. There were … and the children were taken out of school, eh, it was … in Oran there was the creation of – I have cousins, not my generation, they’re a little older than me, who were chased from public school, who were placed in private schools organised by Jews, eh. In Oran, it was the people called Bénichou who started the … people called it the Bénichou classes, but in fact, they had called it the Descartes class! And they gathered all the Jews who had been chased from schools!
JS : Yes, no, but I was talking about the inequality in status. Of the Crémieux decree itself!
ANON : Oh yes, yes! Of course! Of course! Oh well, the inequality in status in the sense where the Crémieux decree made one community French, the whole of a community which doesn’t have any French background, for the most part, at 90%, they’re Spanish, Berber, or … or other, and to make them all French in one go, to naturalise them all in one go. Oh yes! Is that what you were talking about?
JS : Yes!
ANON : Yes, of course. An inequality which created many problems down the line between Jews and Arabs, because at the end of the day, there was, as the coloniser garners the support of one part of the population against the other! There you have it, the coloniser uses the minority to eventually … to pit one side of the Algerian people against the other!