The mur des disparus is a large public monument recording around 2,619 names across large ten bronze plaques (details below, courtesy of Fiona Barclay), located in the site of a former Perpignan convent and prison, financed by the cercle algérianiste.
Inaugurated on the 23 November 2007, the monument cost €55,000 and was the first in France to acknowledge French military and civilians losses by listing the names of those reported missing or dead during the years of the Algerian War and just after (1954-63).
The list of names is based on documentation provided by the Ministère des Affaires Étrangères which has served as a record of those who were reported missing in the last months of French Algeria. A plaque also acknowledges the ‘harkis’ as a collective group whose deaths were not always recorded on official lists.
Laura Jeanne Sims, who has studied the Centre National de Documentation des Français d'Algérie , notes the site’s importance as a ‘proxy monument for those who cannot visit the graves of loved ones who disappeared during and immediately following the Algerian War’ (Global Mobilities ed. Amy K. Levin 2017: 132). However, the centre and its memorial have also been a flashpoint for considerable controversy over the place, shape, and manipulation of colonial memory in early twentieth-century France.
The project provoked criticism as a glorification of French colonialism and for the political partisanship of the monument and its associate groups. For others, the controversy is more personal and one (reactionary, so not linked here) pied-noir blog claims that there have been cases where family members have requested that the names of loved-ones be retracted from a monument that they have associated with the terrorist OAS.
For historians of colonialism, the framing of the monuments in terms of a unique and overlooked history of pied-noir suffering recalls, once again, the politicisation of this memory. By electing to memorialise the quantifiable number of disparus from the last months of the war, rather than the uncounted dead of the entire war – on all sides – the monument clearly demarcates a line between the dead of l’Algérie française and all others.