A2 FILM STUDIES – URBAN STORIES – LA HAINE THE FRENCH MASSACRE AT SETIF (ALGERIA) How the French celebrated VE- Day in 1945 Despite the fact that most of the fighting against the Axis forces and Vichy France in North Africa had been conducted with honour and dispatch by Algerian troops the French decided to celebrate the victory of the Allies (a small part of whom were French) by committing an act of barbarism and genocide that echoes to this day. In one weekend of violence they murdered 45,000 Algerians. Peaceful demonstrations had been taking place across Algeria for some months against the unfair treatment of indigenous Algerians (an oft- mentioned example was the reservation of bread for Europeans, the others only having the right to barley) and 15,000 people had protested in the streets of Mostaganem earlier without anyincidents.On May 8, 1945, a day chosen by the allies to celebrate their victory over NaziGermany, thousands of Algerians gathered near the Abou Dher El-Ghafari mosque inSetif for a peaceful march - for which the sous-prefet had given permission. It was amarket day.At 9am, led by a young scout Saal Bouzid, whose name had been drawn for the honorof carrying the national flag, the demonstrators set off. A few minutes later the crowd,chanting ‘vive l’independance’ and other nationalist slogans, came under fire from troopscommanded by General Duval and brought in from Constantine.Saal Bouzid fell dead, becoming a national martyr. The scene soon turned into amassacre - the streets and houses being littered with dead bodies. Witnesses claimterrible scenes, that legionnaires seized babies by their feet and dashed their headsagainst rocks, that pregnant mothers were disemboweled, that soldiers droppedgrenades down chimneys to kill the occupants of homes, that mourners were machinegunned while taking the dead to the cemetery.A public record states that the European inhabitants were so frightened by the eventsthat they asked that all those responsible for the protest movement should be shot. Thecarnage spread and, during the days that followed, some 45,000 Algerians were killed.Villages were shelled by artillery and remote hamlets were bombed with aircraft.
A Colonel in charge of burials being criticized for slowness told another officer ‘You arekilling them faster than I can bury them.’ These incidents led to the upsurge of the PPAand ultimately, 17 years later to the country’s independence. In the retaliatory violencethat immediately followed 104 Europeans were assassinated, but by the end severalthousands were to die.These incidents were particularly hard for Algerians who had fought the Nazis alongsidethe French forces, some of whom came home to find that their families had beendecimated by the troops of General de Gaulle.Led by the FLN (the national liberation front) the independence struggle caused Franceto draft in thousands of troops. In spite of opposition by Europeans living in the country acease-fire was agreed to in March 1962. An extremist wing of the Army, the OAS,expanded its campaign of murder, torture and destruction, carrying on despite thecease-fire.Survivors say that to this day France as a colonial power ‘has not had the courage torecognized its crimes. carried out in its former colonies and that it pretends to be achampion of human rights’.Ending the liberation war, the Evian Agreement declared that extremist French soldiers(both regular, OAS and pieds noir irregulars, would not be prosecuted for crimes carriedout in Algeria.Both Chirac and Le Pen served in Algeria in the French Army.