Marnia Lazreg on the May 8, 1945 French Massacre of Algerians.
On May 8, 1945, as France celebrated its victory against Nazi Germany, simultaneously, its colonial army was busy massacring tens of thousands of Algerian civilians in Sétif, Guelma and Kherrata. The tragic events provided the spark for Algeria’s war for independence nine years later.
Le Monde Diplomatique writes of the massacre, “The army’s actions caused a military historian, Jean-Charles Jauffret, to say that its conduct “resembled a European wartime operation rather than a traditional colonial war” …The final toll is speculative, as the French government closed the commission of inquiry directed by General Tubert and the killers were never tried. We know all about the judicial measures that were taken and the number of Europeans who died, but the number of Algerian victims is a mystery and is still debated among Algerian historians (5). The figures released by the French authorities are not reliable. Pending impartial investigations (6), we must agree with Rey-Goldzeiguer that, for 102 European dead, thousands of Algerians paid with their lives.
There were many repercussions: any hopes of a deal between the Algerian people and the European colony were off. In France the political forces of the wartime resistance movement failed their first test on decolonisation, allowing themselves to be taken over by the pro-colonial party.”
This week, to mark the 70th anniversary of the May 8 massacres, we speak with Hunter College Sociologist Marnia Lazreg about the gruesome events of that fateful day and its continuing moral and political implications for non-european victims of genocide. Marnia Lazreg is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College. She is the author of several books, including her most recent, titled Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad.