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Although forever identified with Algeria and its former colonial ruler France, Henri Alleg was originally a Londoner, his Russian Jewish grandparents having fled the poverty and pogroms of the 19th century to install themselves in the East End.
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At the end of the First World War Alleg's newly married parents decided to follow the well-trodden path to a new life in the United States, but first went to Paris for their honeymoon. There, the young couple lost the jewellery which constituted their savings, but also fell in love with the joie de vivre of Paris. Alleg's father set up as tailor in near the Place de la République. The young Henri didn't excel at school, was an ardent supporter of the defeated Spanish Republicans, began to dream of travel.
Much saddened by the death of his beloved wife Gilberte, Alleg was a modest and unassuming figure. When I interviewed him aged 90 in 2011, he insisted on making the train journey from his home to a café by the Place Denfert Rochereau, instead of letting me come to him. In an Algiers he still visited occasionally, there was speculation that his name, like that of Maurice Audin, should finally be given to a street, or even a boulevard.
Censorship in France - Wikipedia
The young Alleg was drawn too to Algerians, who he felt welcomed him particularly as an open-minded Parisian rather than colonialist, and one who addressed them by the respectful vous form of you, rather than the familiar tu used for children, social inferiors and natives.
Censorship in France may be traced to the middle ages
In Algiers Alleg began to work for trade unions, then the Communist party newspaper Alger Républicain, which, in spite of the ambivalence of the French Communists to the simmering Algerian independence movement, was seen as anti colonialist and thus dissident. By 1955, when the paper was banned, Alleg had become its editor. Like many of the French sympathisers of the independence struggle, about to enter its bloodiest years, Alleg went into hiding. In 1957 the 10th Parachute Division under General Massu took over the policing of the insurgency, the period described as the Battle of Algiers, and, against a backdrop of terrorist bomb outrages of civilian targets, began a ruthlessly successful repression.
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On 12 June Alleg was caught in a trap visiting the apartment of the pro-FLN mathematics teacher Maurice Audin, who had been arrested the previous day, and taken by the paras to the interrogation centre of El Biar, in Algiers. There he was tortured with beatings, water and electricity – the sinisterly famous Gegene portable generator – for a month, along with other prisoners who were summarily executed.
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That Alleg escaped this fate was probably in part due to the outcry raised in Paris and Algiers by the tireless efforts of his wife. Instead he was transferred to the internment camp of Lodi and subsequently to the civilian prison of Barberousse, location of the guillotine which despatched hundreds of convicted terrorists, before being sent to a prison in Brittany – which he likened to a holiday camp in comparison – to spend the rest of a 10-year sentence for illegal publishing. Escaping from the prison hospital he made his way to Czechoslovakia, where he awaited the amnesty at the end of the Algerian war.
Algerian Revolution, 1954 | teachwar
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