Les Égorgeurs (Cut-throats) by Benoist Rey: Censored Memories of Algeria

We were brutes under the orders of bastards, What Benoist Rey witnessed in Algeria1 when he was called to the colours in September 1958, he will never forget. As a tradesman volunteer, he was assigned to an elite unit, the pursuit commandos, with whom he was to take part in operations mounted in the Constantinois area. He was just twenty-one years old, For a full year's orgy of crime he was to bear impotent witness to that war, which, if it had a name, was barbarism itself and, if it had a face, was the face of terror. Go ahead and rape but exercise a little discretion, one of the torturers, Officer Cadet P., told his section before they entered the villages. And it was the very same P, who added: That's what pacification is all about. Be that as it may, the only good Arab was a dead Arab. Returning to base on that first evening, Benoist Rey was to discover that one young Muslim girl, aged fifteen, had been raped by seven troopers, and another thirteen year-old by three men…

Out of a duty to remember and in an effort to escape this nightmare, the young conscript kept a daily journal of an army butchering and torturing in systematic fashion, torching and cutting throats with laughter on its lips, annihilating everything that fell within reach of its delirium and its rationale. He returned to Paris physically spent, his heart wounded beyond repair. This sense of collective guilt no doubt accounts for the silence maintained by the conscripts after their return to France.

First published in 1961 by Éditions de Minuit, Rey's story, Les Égorgeurs, was promptly banned by the authorities and impounded at the printers. Why the censorship when Henri Alleg had already published La Torture four years before and when other documents of the same sort had been allowed? Neither Benoist Rey nor Editions de Minuit were ever to discover that. Be that as it may, his first-hand journal has now been republished, unaltered, by Éditions du Monde libertaire - Los Solidarios and deserves to be read.

As we know, France, faced with the painful labours of remembering, opted instead for the official amnesia prescribed, so to speak, by a flurry of amnesty laws2 , Thirty eight years on, the butchers who officiated in Algeria still go unpunished. We know their names, but they have never been called to account by anyone at all. They have even been feted, honoured and invited to parade on 14 July. Which of their names will bring us shame? What sort of remorse will we feel? the young Benoist Rey used to ask back then. And nobody said a thing, but they closed ranks. No one owned up to his responsibility. We lost every vestige of dignity, of honour. Who can ever gauge the impact of such barbarity upon the Algerian people?

Florence Beaugé Le Monde Diplomatique,

January 2000 - p. 29

1 Benoist Rey, Les Égorgeurs  Guerre d'Algerie, chronique d'un appelé, 1959-1960, Editions du Monde libertaire - Los Solidarios, 145 rue Amelot, 75011 Paris, 1999, 120 pages, 60FF

2 In 1991, with La Guerre sans Nom, Bernard Tavernier and Patrick Rotman, however, reminded everyone of these still-open wounds

Translated by: Paul Sharkey.