It was one of the darkest days in France’s history. On October 17, 1961, as the Algerian War of Independence was nearing its end, the Paris police brutally repressed a demonstration of French Algerians in the heart of the city.
That night, and over the next few days, demonstrators were beaten, killed or thrown into the River Seine, where they drowned.
The protest was called for by the French branch of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which was fighting for Algerian independence, against a curfew imposed on Algerians by the head of the Paris police force, Maurice Papon.
Police, politicians and the media covered up this massacre. It was the “most violent” repression of a protest in Western Europe’s postwar history, noted British historians Jim House and Neil MacMaster in their seminal 2006 study, “Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror, and Memory”.
It remains a touchy subject in France.
For several decades, the official death toll was three. Today, historians concur that at least 48 people were killed just on the night of October 17, although many historians believe the death toll is well over a hundred.
In 1999, the Paris prosecutor’s office officially acknowledged that a “massacre” had taken place. But on the 60th anniversary of the Paris massacre, many people would like to see President Emmanuel Macron officially acknowledge the French state’s responsibility for the atrocity.
Historians are now calling for recognition that the French state was responsible for what happened and an acknowledgment that it was a “racist crime”. Their calls are echoed by survivors and bystanders who witnessed the massacre. FRANCE 24 spoke to some of those people who lived through the horrors of October 17, 1961.