Between Algeria and France, missing persons and silences


Ten years after having made a documentary film rich in archival images, « Algeria 1962, the summer when my family disappeared », Hélène Cohen continues her work of memory by writing a poignant story that combines this story family to the violent upheavals of Franco-Algerian history. A woman of theatre, cinema and television, the author tells how she discovered, on the death of her father in 2002, the names of several members of her family engraved on the tombstone, all reported missing in 1962, then that she herself was not yet a year old. Beyond her family, she undertakes a breathless investigation into this « over there » that she knew so little, about these ghosts and these silences which have weighed down so many lives of « repatriates », in particular that of her father. , but also on “the fact of belonging to this noisy and folkloric tribe that we called the pied-noirs”.

The twists and turns of oblivion

From Oran to Béni Saf, from Argelès to Perpignan, she experiences the twists and turns of oblivion among those of her family who have returned, starting with her mother. “How can human beings evaporate in broad daylight? » » No comment. Blood as in earth. Without being buried. Without, how to be silent? Hélène Cohen questions the silence of the authorities, both Algerian and French, concerning nearly 3,000 European civilians who, between the Evian agreements of March and December 1962, « will have disappeared », and whose trace will never have been found. .

“Propelled in full polar”

Abducted and murdered by political groups or by mobsters taking advantage of the general disorder at the end of the war, these civilians were for the most part forgotten, their disappearance left uninvestigated by the governments on both sides of the Mediterranean. Only the Red Cross will carry out, in 1963, a search mission for some of them. “From an identity investigation, I am propelled into the middle of a thriller! launches the author in the face of these « enforced disappearances ». From this term, Hélène Cohen tries to trace the history of the members of her family, from their apparently happy and prosperous existence in Béni Saf until their dispersion, their uprooting, even their madness and their suicide. Throughout this investigation with accents of the most everyday and authentic, it is the refrain of Rina Ketty that the author resonates in the memory of those who have hoped for years for the reappearance of these disappeared. “I will always wait for Your return…”

Without forgetting his own pangs, between the legitimate desire to understand the history of his family and the fear of finding himself tossed around, even manipulated, between two sufferings, that of the Algerians during colonization and that of the Pieds-noirs after independence. She even finds herself “unconscious of the ideological weight of the question of the disappeared”. Not to mention the additional difficulties linked to the condition of the Jewish pied-noirs made French by the Crémieux decree of 1870, which « is felt, rightly, as an injustice by Muslims ».

By moving from the documentary film to this story, Hélène Cohen shows how much the power of the written thing can make words play in the face of silences and secrets.

The story of a family destiny sacked by this « dirty war » allows her to express her own tendency to denial and silence, the survival within her of those who disappeared, as well as the relationship between the history of families and the history of two countries that have lost so much by not accounting for their missing and a common past that does not pass.


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