Henry Allag… Between “Memories of Struggle and Hopes” and “Torture Methods in Barbaros Prison”

Mohammed Abdul Rahman Arif

    It is a book: Algerian Memoirs, Memories of Struggle and Hopes by Henry Allag. Author: Henry Allaq. Translation: Jinnah Masoud and Abdul Salam Azizi. Publisher: Kasbah Publishing House – Algeria. Release date: 2007.

     The name “Henry Allag” was associated with his book ( La Question ). This book, which was banned when it was published for dealing with the witness from the standpoint of the issue of torture during the war of liberation, was the cause of overturning and changing public opinion, which then allowed the war to end.

      But “Henry Allag” is above all an actor and a skillful witness along the long march towards independence. He enters Algeria in 1939 and soon falls in love with this city, which becomes his city, lively and diverse, then revolts against the colonial regime and commits to the cause as a journalist in the newspaper ( Alger Républicain ). A member of the Algerian Communist Party.

     He returns with these memoirs about the years of struggle: clandestine work under the Vichy regime , the difficult and tense relations between the Algerian Communist Party ( PCA ) and the National Liberation Front ( FLN ), the Battle of Algiers, the criminal attacks, extrajudicial executions, the conditions of his detention. Torture, imprisonment, escape…

   As long as the life of “Henry Allag” will remain deeply connected with the Algerian tragedy for more than a quarter of a century, this distinguished and rare book is very necessary for anyone who wants to understand these dark and burning pages of our history…

   Henry Allag mentions that this testimony (Algerian memoirs) is not only dedicated to Algerians who lived the “years of embers.” It addresses all men of good will who wonder about the future in this current turbulent era in which we live.

      Here comes the role of the question (in French, “ La Question ”) is a book by the writer Henry Allag, published in 1958. This book is famous for describing the exact methods of torture used by the French paratroopers during the Algerian liberation revolution from the point of view of the victim. The question book was censored in France after selling 60,000 copies in two weeks.

    During his detention in Barbaros prison, Henry Allag secretly wrote his book “The Question,” in which he documented the brutality and methods of torture and explained the crimes of French colonialism against Algerians and Europeans who believed in Algeria’s independence.

     Henry Allag’s lawyer, “Leo Mataraso”, smuggled the pages of the book from prison, to be issued by the French “Minoy Publications” in 1958, and more than 60,000 copies were distributed, but the French authorities confiscated it from libraries and prevented its circulation, and before that, some publishing houses refused in France and others published it because of its contents.

    Henry Allag remained faithful to the Algerian cause and the right of its people to self-determination and to live in freedom and dignity away from the French colonialists.

    After that, the book was re-published in Switzerland, and despite the blocking of its promotion by the French authorities, it succeeded in exposing the ugly face of French colonialism and alerting French public opinion to the reality of what is happening in colonized Algeria.

    Henry Allag, a journalist, had earlier worked as editor-in-chief of Algee Republic, which became classified when it faced a publication ban. The investigation that followed the ban was aimed at identifying the people who supported him, whom Allag insisted on protecting.

    Henry wrote an autobiographical novel while in Barberos Prison, Algeria. He managed to smuggle the pages of his novel with the help of his lawyer.

Henri Allag revealed in “The Question” the brutality of French colonialism

     On July 17, 2013, the French journalist and communist fighter Henri Allag, who was one of the most reliable historical sources documenting torture during the war to liberate Algeria from French colonialism, passed away.

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    In a report within the “French against colonialism” file, we will discuss together the personality of this human rights defender, who is one of the most prominent defenders of the Algerian revolutionaries and the revolution during the French occupation and one of the most important contributors to exposing the crimes and violations committed by the French colonialism in Algeria.

Adoption of the Algerian case

    Henry Allag was born on July 20, 1921 in the British capital, London, to Jewish parents of Polish-Russian origin who escaped the massacres in their countries. After that, Allag moved with his family to Paris, where he spent his childhood and adolescence.

   In October 1939, just a month after the start of World War II, Henry Allag moved to Algeria, and there he witnessed the crimes of French colonialism against the indigenous people of the country and witnessed the extent of violence and oppression practiced against them.

    During his detention at Barbaros Prison in Oran, Algeria, Henry Allag secretly wrote his book “The Question,” in which he documented the brutality and methods of torture.

    Upon his arrival in Algeria, Henry Allag realized that there were two categories of people in the French colony: centenarians and colonizers, to decide after that to join the Algerian Communist Party, which included Algerians and French and defended the rights of Algerians.

   In Algeria, jurist Henry Allag met Gilbert Sarfati, who would become his wife in 1946, and she would join him in the Algerian Communist Party and they would fight together for the independence of Algeria and the exit of the French colonialists from these Arab lands.

     Henry Allag carried the Algerian cause in his heart and conscience and believed in the necessity of the country’s independence and abandoned his French in exchange for his humanity, when he challenged the French occupation authorities and became involved in the Algerian revolution and Nasser revolutionaries in their march against the colonizer.

    This book is a novel that narrates in chronological order the period the author spent in prison and the harsh experiences he lived in Al-Biar (Algiers) and then in the Lodi camps. The question book opens with the phrase: “After the attacks by the corrupt French, here is the France I defend.” ( En attaquant les Français corrompus, c’est la France que je défends .) The question book then details the arrest of Alaq on 12 June. 1957 by the Parachute Team 10H, led by Jacques Massou. Allag was visiting Maurice Auden, who had been arrested the day before his arrest; And paratroopers made his apartment a trap to hunt his followers.

     Consequently, Allag was arrested in Al-Abyar; There he was tortured. The paratroopers first tried to intimidate him by bringing in his friend Udan, who had been tortured the previous day. “It’s hard, Henry” ( c’est dur, Henri ) Odin told Allag . Allag writes that he did not know that this would be the last time he would see his friend. However, Allag refused to speak.

    In particular, Allag was subjected to water torture, which he described in his next novel as what is now known as drowning to the point of suffocation.

…they picked up the piece of wood I was still tied to and carried me to the kitchen. …and they screwed a rubber tube into a metal faucet just above my face. They wrapped my head in a piece of cloth… When everything was ready, someone said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.” Then he turned towards the faucet. Then the rag was quickly dipped in water. Water flooded everywhere: my mouth, my nose, and all over my face. But for a moment I was still able to breathe a few small breezes. I tried, by clenching my throat, to swallow as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by holding the air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t go on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a sense of the terrible agony of death itself seized me. Against me, all my muscles struggled in vain to save me from suffocation. Despite me, my fingers were shaking uncontrollably. And I heard a voice say, “That’s it! He will now start speaking.”

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     He has suffered torture, and is threatened with a summary execution. Allag described in meticulous detail the two types of hand-held generators (called “Jijin”, in Army stores, where they are used to power radio communication equipment) used for this purpose and to produce such an effect on the body.

    I could feel the difference in quality. Instead of being subjected to sharp, rapid pulses tearing my body apart, now the pain is so great that it engulfs me more deeply in all my muscles and twists them for a longer time ( je sentis une différence de qualité. douleur plus large qui s’enfonçait profondément dans tous mes muscles et les tordait plus longuement ).

     After physical and psychological pressure proved ineffective in achieving the desired goal, Alak was injected with Pentothal, which also failed to make him speak.

    Allag notes that he heard the screams of other detainees, especially the voices of a woman he thought was his wife. He also referred to hearing what he thought was the voice of his friend Auden at the moment of his execution.

    After all attempts to make him speak failed, Allag was threatened for the first time with the death sentence, and he decided that he would be executed. In fact, one of the officials tried to barter between returning his trial before the civil court in return for signing a certificate of good treatment from the paratroopers; Allag refused to agree to this swap, and was eventually returned unconditionally to the civilian judiciary.

Editing, publishing and censorship

    Allag was transferred to Lodi camp for a month, then was transferred to Barberhaus Civil Prison, where he was returned to the regular legal departments. There, he secretly hid the text of the case book and began to pass it on to his lawyers little by little.

    On February 18, 1958, Edition des Minot published the book of the question, accompanied by an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre; The police confiscated the editions of several newspapers that put it up for publication, at the request of the Paris military court, and the book itself was censored on March 27, after selling 60,000 copies. The motive that was aroused to justify such a measure was to “contribute to the effort to weaken the morale of the army, with the aim of impeding the national defense establishment.”

    Two weeks later Nils Anderson published the book again in Edition de la Cité in Lausanne, Switzerland.

     Despite the availability of relevant articles and book citations, the memoir itself was “on the verge of becoming a bestseller and a fertile subject of lively discussion” in France. As a result, the French government confiscated one of the articles published in Express in which Jean-Paul Sartre mentioned the effects of Allag on the French state. However, the article was secretly distributed as an introduction to English translations of the books.

     Officially, the French government has banned the case book in response to the increasingly tense political climate. And on the order of the military court which had begun to take legal action against what it claimed was an “attempt to demoralize the army with the intent of harming the cause of defending the nation; The French authorities confiscated the remaining 7,000 copies of the Edition des Minots on March 27, 1958; Nevertheless, distribution of the 60,000 copies already sold continued, and thanks to the brave publishers who kept working during the Algerian war, there were over 162,000 copies in France by the end of 1958.

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     This book was instrumental in revealing the brutality of the torture that was used in Algeria by the French army; the methods used; how she avoided drawing public opinion to her; and how cases of torture have declined and are no longer widely used on terrorists; Under precautionary pretexts represented in the experience of the “ticking bomb scenario” to be used freely on terrorist political opponents and the general public.

Post-disaster effects

     This was followed by inquiries through which Allag proved that he was able to accurately describe parts of the wells; Where detainees are not allowed to visit in the context of normal detention, such as the kitchen where he was tortured with water.

    In this book, Henry revealed the inferno of detention centers and prisons and exposed the methods of torture practiced by the French occupation against the revolutionaries and their sympathizers, in an effort to condemn colonial France and the internationalization of the Algerian cause.

    According to what was stated in the book, Allag was specifically subjected to water torture, describing this process as “drowning to the point of suffocation.” He also recounted the precise details of being tortured with electric generators from the French army, which caused negative complications on his body.

    Allag says in his book The Question: “I experienced so much pain and humiliation that I did not dare to relive the memories of torture. I would not have done it had it not been for my belief that it contributes to revealing the truth, and helps in reaching a ceasefire and achieving the desired peace.”

     Elsewhere in the book, he adds, “Charbonnier (a French paratrooper) was torturing me with electricity, raising his voice, repeating the same words: Where did you spend your night before you were arrested? They also used to take fuel and ignite it and put it on my chest and the tips of my toes, and from so much pain I could not feel what bothered them so much.”

    Charbonnier had sent the first electrical charge in my body, a long spark was emitted near my ear and I felt my heart leap in my chest, I shrieked and stiffened until I cut myself, while the electrical vibrations continued without stopping at the behest of Charbonnier, the magnetic generator in his hand.

    The paratroopers would prevent food and drink from the detainee and put electricity in his mouth without any mercy or humanity, even if his saliva had dried up and they knew that he had reached a point beyond which thirst was unbearable, they gave him a quantity of very salty water, to push them to speak and confess.

     French torturers had no hearts or perhaps died, according to Henry Allag. Torture has become their profession and their daily strength. They take pleasure in what they do and strive to invent new types and types of torture to humiliate and humiliate the Algerians and the Europeans who support them.

     Henry Allag remained faithful to the Algerian cause and the right of its people to self-determination and to live in freedom and dignity away from the French colonizer. Throughout his life, he worked to expose the crimes of the occupier, leaving behind a rich archive that testifies to the systematic torture practiced by the French during the Algerian revolution.

    The Question Book has been adapted for cinema release in 1977 by Laurent Heinemann.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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