The widow who asked eight French presidents for the truth

By Charlotte McDonald
BBC World Service
17 January 2019

 Josette Audin spent more than 60 years asking French leaders to admit responsibility for her husband’s death in Algeria. Finally, last year, Emmanuel Macron acknowledged that he had been tortured and killed in custody. At the same time, he said the archives would be opened to researchers – was this an empty promise?

“This is the university where we were studying in Algiers,” says Josette Audin, pointing at a photograph of a grand building with classical columns on a tree-lined square.

The 87-year-old is telling me about her life with Maurice Audin, a fellow maths student at the University of Algiers in the 1950s.

They met during a lecture, fell in love and got married. Both were of European descent – as were one in 10 of Algeria’s population after 120 years of French rule – and both were communists who supported the fight for Algerian independence.

“My parents were not fighting with arms,” says Josette’s daughter, Michèle, “My father was doing propaganda.”

In 1957, Maurice was teaching maths at the university and working on his doctoral dissertation, while Josette was bringing up their three young children.

By this point the Battle of Algiers was raging. Pro-independence groups were carrying out violent attacks and the authorities were struggling to keep control.

When it became known that the Audins had given shelter in their home to a wanted communist leader, soldiers arrived one night and took 25-year-old Maurice away.

The French in Algeria
1830: France occupies Algiers
1848: After an uprising led by rebel leader Abd-el-Kader, Paris declares Algeria to be an integral part of France
1940: France falls to Germany in World War Two – allied landings in Algeria follow in 1942
1945: As WW2 ends, thousands are killed in pro-independence demonstrations in Sétif
1954-62: Algerian War – the Battle of Algiers lasts from 1956-7
1962: Algeria becomes an independent state

“My mother asked them, ‘When will he be back?'” says Michèle.
“‘If everything goes well,’ they said, ‘he will come back in half an hour.'”

But he never returned. A close friend who was arrested the next day said he saw Maurice strapped to a table, being tortured.



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