Papon and the killing of 200 Algerians in Paris during 1961

Paris massacre of Algerians, 1961
Paris massacre of Algerians, 1961

A short history of the massacre of scores of Algerians in Paris on 17 October 1961 under the command of a Nazi-collaborating chief of police.

Submitted by Steven. on October 17, 2016

states have their dark secrets, too painful to behold,
ours in Ireland, the Swiss in their bank vaults,
Frances - perhaps the most interesting case in
post-war Europe - in uncovering what happened to at
least 200 Algerian demonstrators in Paris, said to
have been murdered by Police and secretly buried
outside the city in 1961" Michael White, The Guardian,
5th January 2000

In October
1999, the former Vichy official Maurice Papon, went into
hiding in Switzerland rather than face ten years in prison
for helping in the wartime murder of over a thousand French
Jews. He was soon found by the Swiss authorities (amid
allegations that he had once been a spy for MI6) and sent
back to France to serve his ten year sentence. In 1998, he
was found guilty of crimes against humanity in connection
with the wartime deportation of 1,690 Jews (including 223
children) to Nazi Germany in 1943. He was the Vichy official
responsible for Jewish affairs in Bordeaux between 1942 and

There is one
crime, however, which he has never been tried for: After the
war, he escaped prosecution and between 1958 and 1967, he
was the chief of police in Paris. In October 1961, at least
200 Algerian civilians, were killed in Paris by French
Police. In the three months preceding the protest, over 30
Paris policemen were killed by the Algerian National
Liberation Front (FLN), a group fighting to end French
colonial rule in Algeria. In response, Papon ordered a
violent crackdown on Paris' Algerian community, explaining
to officers that they would be protected against any charges
of excessive violence. Police searched the Algerian ghettos
for FLN members, indiscriminately killing at least five
innocent Algerians. This led directly to the huge march that
was organised by the Algerian community to protest at
France's Nazi-like treatment of it's citizens living in

The 200 deaths
occurred after a peaceful march by some 30,000 Algerians was
attacked by a 20,000 strong force of French police, and
scores of bodies were later found in the River Seine, after
it is believed, the French police killed them, and dumped
their bodies in the river.

According to
Sans Frontières
on 19 October 1998, French police seized the 17 October
edition of the Algerian daily Liberté at Lyon
airport. No official reason was given for the move. However,
Reporters Sans Frontières believed it to be connected
with an article by Hakim Sadek entitled "When the Seine was
full of bodies". Liberté was publishing this article
to mark the 35th anniversary of a demonstration by Algerians
in Paris that led to an estimated 200 Algerians being killed

These were not the last
controversial deaths caused by police under Papon's
responsibility. Four months later, in February 1962, Papon
went too far even for the French President Charles De
Gaulle, when French police killed five white French citizens
at a Communist-led demonstration against the war in Algeria.
700,000 people marched at the funeral of the five protesters
while a general strike shut down Paris. However, while the
five killed in February 1962 became prominent martyrs for
the Left, little was done to raise the issue of the 200
Algerians murdered by Papon's men in October 1961.

In her memoirs, one of the
leading French opponents of the 1954-62 Algerian War, the
feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, singled out Papon's
role as Paris police chief in October 1961. She compared
France's treatment of the Algerian's in 1961 to the fate of
Jews of Drancy

during the Nazi occupation, who like the Nazis and their
Vichy collaborators herded the Jews into the Vel' d'Hiv'
stadium before deporting them to the death - ironically also
the place of detention for 10,000 Algerians arrested by
Papon's men in 1961:

"The police waited
for the Algerians to come up out of the metro stations,
made them stand still with their hands above their heads,
then hit them with truncheons.... Corpses were found
hanging in the Bois de Boulogne, and others, disfigured
and mutilated, in the Seine... Ten thousand Algerians had
been herded into the Vel' d'Hiv' [stadium], like
Jews in Drancy

once before. Again I loathed it all -- this country,
myself, the whole world" (
Force of
, p. 599).

Although the
French authorities have shown no hesitation in prosecuting
other Nazi war criminals - such as Klaus Barbie (jailed for
life in 1987) and Paul Touvier (also given a life sentence
in 1994) - it seems reluctant to investigate events that
happened in Paris during 1961. In fact, there has more
secrecy over the background to these allegations compared to
Papon's role in the Nazi's so-called "final solution"
against France's Jews during the war. When Papon escaped to
Switzerland it was reported in the media (The Guardian,
October 22nd 1999) that the Algerian government would also
like to put him on trial for "repressive measures" used when
he was a French governor in the war of independence and

Killing of scores of Algerians in Paris when he was De
Gaulle's police chief"

It was during
the Nazi occupation of France, that following a partisan
attack on German soldiers, SS troops would massacre French
civilians in reprisal (one such event happened in the
village of Oradour
sur Glane

in 1944). Thus, the same happened in Paris when the police
where under the control of the wartime quisling Maurice
Papon. Before the massacre, 14 French police had been killed
by Algerian guerilla movement, the FLN (which rose to become
the first government in Algeria after the French were driven
out in 1962). Over a million Algerians would die in the
struggle to liberate their country from French colonial
rule. French atrocities are well documented in Algeria, but
few have suspected that a crime had been carried out in
Paris comparable with the Nazi atrocities during the second
world war.

Three months
before the protest in Paris in 1961, Papon had publicly said
that the French police would respond with "10 blows to every
Algerian blow" (2). Are the 200 dead Algerians dead as a
result of this policy ?
As with
some senior other Nazi collaborators In France, Papon was
not put on trial at the end of the war. The official
statistic of two dead in clashes in police have long been
contested by historians. Papon himself said that "only" 15
or 20 protesters had been thrown into the River Seine by
Police. The real figure is not known. However, recently, a
police participant in the massacre contradicted this in
1998. Raoul Letard, who as a young policeman took part in
the killings told L'Express magazine:

went to the upper floor of buildings and we fired on
anything that moved . . . It was horrible, horrible. The
man hunt went on for two hours - it was terrible,
terrible, terrible. We finally went home because there
was nothing left to fight" (2).

The violence
against the demonstrators took place in several incidents.
The French police opened fire on the streets killing
Algerians, after which they are alleged to have dumped the
bodies in the River Seine. Out of 10,000 Algerians that were
arrested, some demonstrators were not heard of again, and it
is presumed that these detainees were taken to a stadium and
to police headquarters next to the Seine River, from which
dozens of bodies were later recovered. One police chief said
his men had responded with "understandable aggression",
feeling they were finally able to confront the FLN. They
"took good advantage" of the opportunity to "liquidate their
dispute," with the Algerian population of Paris.

Papon had
publicly declared three months before the massacre that the
French police would respond with "10 blows to every Algerian
blow". Following the massacre he is alleged to have assured
the Paris police that he would cover up any human rights
abuses: one police participant in the killings, Raoul
Letard, said:

was horrible, but Papon said he would cover for us" (1).

On the night of
October 17th 1961, Mr Letard said that he heard on the
police radio that some of his racist colleagues had been
surrounded by "little rats" as they referred to the
Algerians. When they rushed to the site, they said they
found hundreds of Algerians protesting against a curfew
imposed on their community in Paris. Letard

was no reason to hold back"

Later, there were so many
bodies on the streets afterwards that police officers and
their commanders argued over whether to leave them on the
spot or to try and get rid of them. Most historians now
agree that the police simply threw them into the River

Only Papon had
refused to accept this: in 1998 he astounded a French court
by inferring that it was the FLN that had caused the deaths.

Papon's actions
in 1961 are covered by a general amnesty and the whole
incident have never been the subject of an official inquiry.
Although he became a French cabinet minister in 1978, he was
forced to resign in 1981 over revelations of his wartime
collaboration with the Nazi's.

However, newly
opened secret records prove that the French government and
Police lied about the extent of the massacre of the
Algerians.(1) Police registers showing at least 90 dead came
to light after the French government gave researchers
permission to look into archives that would normally have
been kept secret for 25 years. These records were initially
harder to get hold of than those concerning the Vichy
period. One researcher David Assouline said that the count
of dead made in the 1961 police reports had not yet been
completed. He said of the records:

pages for October and November (1961) are full of
names of Algerian-French Muslims followed by a rubber
stamp saying 'mort' (dead) . . . against some names
there was an indication that bodies had been recovered
from the River Seine".(3)

This has also
been corroborated by some French police at the
demonstration. They later stated that Algerian demonstrators
had been thrown into the River Seine. There appears to be an
inconsistency with Vichy collaborators being tried for war
crimes - whereas there are no prosecutions for those
involved in the Paris massacre of 1961 ? Confirmation of the
sensitivity of this subject was revealed in October 1998
when French police seized the edition of the Algerian
newspaper Liberté
that contained an article about the massacre to prevent
distribution in France. The incident confirms a long
disturbing history of brutal racism that prevails amongst
senior levels of the French police and the establishment,
notably against France's North African

According to a report posted on
the website of a South African Daily
Mail & Guardian

newspaper (February 11th 1999), a mass grave which could
contain the remains of Algerians massacred by French police
during the independence war has been discovered by two
journalists in a Paris suburb. The remains were found in a
former rubbish tip and may be those of Algerians who took
part in a demonstration in Paris on October 17 1961. The
newspaper reported how "the protest was violently put down
by the police and many bodies were later recovered from the
Seine River while hundreds of people disappeared". It
reported the official death toll of the demonstration as
seven people but this was updated to 32 people in 1998. The
grave was uncovered after a retired police officer told
journalists that he had taken part in an operation to dump
bodies on the day after the demonstration.

The weekly published its story
about the grave on the day of the resumption of a libel
action brought against French historian Jean-Luc Einaudi by
the prefect of police at the time, Maurice Papon. In an
article in the daily newspaper Le Monde, Einaudi
accused Papon of ordering the killings. At the libel case,
Papon admitted that repression of the protest was "tough"
and that 11 700 out of 20 000 people were rounded

Clearly the French authorities
are still sensitive about this whole matter and it remains
to be whether any steps will be taken by Paris to remember
permanently the 200 victims of Police repression in October
1961. Either way, the Nazi-collaborator Maurice Papon was
never prosecuted for these crimes, and it is shameful that
De Gaulle, who led the French resistance against the Nazi
occupation should have allowed the political rehabilitation
of this war criminal after the war when he should have been
put on trial for his participation in the


1 New York
, October 17th 1998

2 Irish Times, October 17th 1998 and Reuters,
Paris, France, October 17th 1998

3 The Observer, 24th August 1997. 

Taken from