Camps of regrouping - Algeria-


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By looking for on Internet my family tree , I fell, accidentally, on the site "gouffi2003".
This fortuitous and unexpected discovery, woke in me painful and strong memories lived in one of these camps, called by euphemism and not without back thoughts in the vocabulary of the colonial army, " camps of regrouping ".

The word « camp » does not report the variety of the situations: certain camps are closed, quasi-prison, the others are opened but nevertheless coercive.
This hypocritical naming is neither fortuitous nor innocent, as all the colonialist terminology. The obvious goal is to conceal with an acceptable word their true prison. Evident purpose is masked the real concentration camp name and quasi-prison character.

The camp of "Kalitous" at Zitouna, ex--Bessombourg, where I have spent more than a year of my child's life, was a concentration camp, where the thousands of people have been heaped, behind barbed wires, the thousands of the persons in an promiscuity and an indescribable misery.

We were some starving hostages and belittling to the rank of beasts. A reserve of scapegoats in which, the French army came to take her victims to quench the instinct of vengeance of its troops every time that they felt threatened or attacked by the ALN.

It is the famous " chore of wood" that the French army used to perform, to the name of the France. At the day rise, the survivors, who waited in the fear their turn, the fear to the tripes, were going to collect the corpses in the blood, in the forest adjoining the barracks or at the Zitouna-Collo roadside.
The war of Algeria has the specificity, among the wars of the second half of the 20th century, to be one of those that, to the highest point, brought a state army and a completely deprived population, face to face. For the colonial army all the Algerians were of the "fellagas", fighters of the ALN. Unable to seize this last, who were as a ball of mercury, imperceptible by definition, she hit the peaceful and defenceless civilians .

Indeed, the heavy tribute, that the Algerians didn't stop paying on the altar of his freedom and his independence during the long colonial night of 1830 to 1962, is linked to the colonial system that bore in Algeria his most hideous and monstrous mask.

Being a colonization of "populating" having the tendency to substitute by the sword a foreign European population to the autochthonous people establish on his soil since many centuries, the colonial system in Algeria is in her gasoline a cannibal system that can only survive that while devouring human beings.

France went as far as declaring the Algerian land "Terra Nullus" an uninhabited land and without people.

The destruction of the Algerians is the main stake in the conquest. To conquer the ground, it is necessary to eliminate his inhabitants. Those who survived the conquest, the massacres and the massive filling with smoke in the caves were moved and thrown back as the wild animals, - these terms are not of mine but those of the founding fathers of the colonialism- towards the desert, the mountains or the arid lands. The fertile lands and the plains are exclusively reserved for the colonists, the new masters of the colonial era.

" Compared with the Europeans, the Arabs and Berbers are certainly the inferior human Races and especially the degenerate human Races ". Wrote general Pélissier.

Thus these concentration camps are not the fruit of the hazards of war. They join the logic of the colonization, decreased the population, which makes some extinction of Algerians people as sociocultural and political entity its final objective. We are sorry to declare to the cantors and theorists of the colonization that dreamed to re-tie with the Roman empire, that the Algerian people is still here and alive . Because in spite of all the committed atrocities, their intention to "re-Latinize" Algeria was failed by the force of resistance of great people who had behind him many centuries of stories. There where the other peoples, having undergone the same fate as him, succumbed (the Indians of America, the natives of Australia etc.), the Algerian population by his faith in God and his strong different personality showed herself inflexible and indestructible.

this says, concentration camps were only an avatar of the entreprise of devastation and massive destruction of the Algerian population by the colonial army. Defeated in Vietnam by the revolutionary war of the victorious Vietminh to Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Officers of the colonial army wanted to take their revenge in Algeria by a against revolution war.

Their idea was simple. It consisted to put end to the symbiosis between the Algerien's population and fighters of the National Liberation Army (ALN). Since, they lived within the first (population) as an fish in the water according to famous formula of Mao. For them, it would be enough in their spirit to dry out this water to suffocate the resistance, thus rarefy at all costs this oxygen of food and the assistance to the Algerian Resistance fighters and immortalize so the colonial yoke.

Generals thus, for to make their military operations, displaces populations to their manner, by the fact that they is suitable for to make the sets of operations, one disastrous and crazy project : the vast regions of the Algerian territory are declared forbidden zones where the life of any human, animal and the vegetation has to disappear. Villages, mechtas are completely erased of the map, the plundered fields, the animals and the livestocks are annihilated, the forest burnt with the napalm. Those who had the luck among the inhabitants, of to escape at the death are to coop up in this "camps of concentration" as the cattle.

According to the historians "about two and a half million Algerians are imprisoned in the camps of regroupings during the war of Algeria, not counting "re-housing" and the other types of centres, or all in all three and a half millions which had to abandon their place of residence, that is 40 % of the Algerian population of period ". Michel Cornaton..

Click picture to enlarge

Before arriving there me and my family, my life as a young child was magnificent. Descending of a relatively comfortable family, I lived in a paradisiac landscape with an open view, on the plain of Oued Zehour and her big beach, one the most beautiful of Algeria and the other one, on the mountain massif dominated by the summit of Koufi (people pronounce incorrectly Goufi) with his white and snow-covered coat in winter and green in summer.

At the twilight we contemplated every evening this beach with its small harbor, " El mersa", the beauty of the solar halo which came down little by little before disappearing completely in sea. This is the moment when our cattle, among which each had the own name and to whom we were very attached, returned and moved towards in well ordered rows, as well disciplined pupils, their stables.

These olive trees, has loss of view, the pickup of olives and the mode ancestral bruising, the fishing in the oued, it is something unforgettable. I still feel this particular smell of our land which we liked so much and which my father deforested regularly and ploughed with love to tender it as wheat fields. How many things I would never have understood and how many lights I would never have discerned without those memories there. One day this quietude stopped suddenly with arrived him of soldiers in weapons , without that one knows holding them and results.

They were all the colors: blond, brown, black. After having failed to kill the younger child of my brothers who owes his safe life in the intervention thanks to the ultimate at the last minute of one of theirs - one learned later that he was a Parisian they took dad. Towards the nightfall we see him coming down from the hamlet "Ouled Al Nasser" perched on the top of the mountain of "Chouf" or "Tahira", the hands in the air shaking a paper. My mother who spoke loudly said " I hope they see it's him and that they are not above going to shoot him ". God, thank you.

The following day the garrison of soldiers that had stayed on our fields left toward 10 o'clock in the morning..
Some weeks passed without a problem, and one day in after noon, planes (P38) arrived in massive waves, with bangs, explosions to wake a dead man, shooting in all directions and dropping bombs of all sorts, including napalm .
In one instant it was hell.
It was necessary to leave quickly we found shelter in stream one kilometer from here was small natural cave. We spent the night there, shriveled up, every one pressed against the others. The following day, everything was calm and we returned at home.
After some days of calmness, planes (P38 and B26) come back has loads while dropping thousand of paratroops that blackened the sky.Even however days of peace and one morning planes P38 and B26 returns to the load, followed by the parachuting of thousand soldiers who darken the sky. The plain of Oued Zehour was crammed of parachutists, I had never seen one before .

Taken by panic and terrorized by the scenes which took place under my eyes, I abandoned my parents, my brothers and sisters. I saw people that left the plain hurriedly and who went that towards "El melaab", I joined them and followed .
After wandering during miles, a woman said to me, " Rabah, that what are doing here? Return to Zriba (the name of the place where was our house, away from all other mechtas) with your parents, they must look for you at the moment ", I listened to her advice and come back.
Arrived a few hours after, more parents, more brothers, sisters, the place was totally deserted, it was the total desert.
I had to live all alone in the scrub during 8 days, then, relatives of my village found me completely voiceless and thinner, they knew where my family was hidden and brought me back to them. My mother fed me only with some olive oil and soups of wheat while hoping that one day I would recover speech .
Bombardments on Béni Ferguen, M'Chat, Oued Zehour and all Ouled Attia as a matter of fact, napalm bombs that put which set fire to the vegetation and killed at the same opportunity some people, forced us to change hiding place daily.

Then one day we heard somebody shout at the summit of the " Tahéra " mountain, that is necessary that we left our hiding places, that if one now surrenders, the army won't make us any pain or hurt, the place of gathering has been fixed mainly on the side of the road that leads toward Collo. It was one after noon, around 15 hours GMC trucks stopped near us at the meeting point. There were already many old men, of women and especially of children aboard these trucks which I discovered with curiosity, for the first time of also near.
has our tower to go up, destination: unknown.
After some hours of road and the collection of the other families on the route we arrived at Tarres towards the nightfall. We were parked in unspeakable conditions in a kind of camp hard where we slept on the floor. The fear not to know what will happen to us, annihilated us and the sleep was not to the appointment.
The following day my brother and I could have gone to about one hundred meters from there, to collect ferns in quantity to make an appearance of mattress.

The bangs of submachine-guns reminded us that you should not to go too far away indeed, servicemen were shooting down cows which passed peacefully there. I knew afterward that our livestock to Ziabra had undergone the same fate. Too many men are led by the training of the cynicism, otherwise the bestiality. The life continued for us in very painful conditions, the famine and the diseases raged.

Some months later, same scenario, the army embarks us aboard trucks GMC in the direction of Zitouna, we arrived in the after noon. has my coming down, I recognized the cousins who were already there, dressed in clothes in fragments and made thinner, but the fact of seeing them alive reassured me somewhere, in spite of the notion of the life or dead had no sense for me, I think that for the quasi-totality of the persons who were there it was the same thing .
They indicated us the tent under which we have to put themselves. One average 15 has 20 persons by tent ( four families).
To sleep it's well, the first concern, it is how us let's go to survive? We had no money to feed us.
Then people would die every day simply. After some days, I accompanied my mother, to Béni Ishaq who adjoins the camp of "kalitous", these nice people helped us with the maximum of their possibilities.
Food, kitchenware, pots, buckets, etc..... I would never forget this brotherly generosity which made that we survived in this camp, with a certain confidence and an innocent spirit of child which does not see the concerns of life every day.
I must here pay a particular homage, to the family BOULEMAIZ Ali , he was a gendarme before being killed by the French army. May God have his soul. Thanks to him.
My grandfather Tahar ben Messaoud, knew the region perfectly and were very known of his inhabitants. He began making a little of commercial business outside of the camp, which saved us from a sure death, but unfortunately it was not the case of all the rest of the population uprooted of Ziabra (almost 2800 persons whose majority was children).
I always keep in my mind the starved children picture that waited impatiently every day for the jeep which brought the trash can of the army in the hope to find there, we could in order to survive!
A member of my family, one of my twin sisters (knaouech as we say at home) was struck by illness.
After some months of agony, the cold weather and the disastrous conditions of insalubrities of life in which one vegetated, were stronger than tablets of aspirins distributed by SAS (a kind of clinic) near the town hall of Zitouna and we saw her dying out, at the age of 3 and half, one night toward 2 hours in the morning.
That your soul sleep in peace my love, you were marvelous, we shall never forget you.

The frisk in tents was regular, for the slightest reason all the camp had to suffer from hit and at any hour. Control of the number of no one, to search in every inch of the body, etc... it was infernal.
Executions, tortures, rapes, people disappearances, etc... Algeria lived under a regime of illegalities and exactions almost generalized.
When France let to die per day more than 500 children through Algeria, how you call up this? For me it is of the extermination. To Zitouna we only had 120 grams of semolina per day and 1 to 3 liters of milk per week and by child. Of Medicines, non-existent sanitary facilities.
The school ? no mention, the starved people with no food ? Was it necessary to make of us of the illiterates and of the starving men?

See Decree 56-274 of 17 mars1956.

" During eight months, there was no assignment managed to fat matter, for to minimize this distress, the red cross was distribute 100 Liters of oil. But what can a hundred liters of oil do for 2774 people? Therefore, hundred liters were thus distribute between hundred kids."
Pierre Macaigne of the Figaro in 1959.
I greet Mr Michel Rocard who had the courage and the dignity to make an inquiry in 1959 and to reveal the horror.
Mr Edmond Michelet to have published in the newspapers of time what happened in Algeria and more particularly in these camps.
I am only one who had the luck to leave this camp by God's help and God knows with trick from my father ( God has his soul).
I had a lot of luck, otherwise me would not be here today to say to you what I lived in these difficult times, how many families, women and children died in these Nazi concentration camps, the french way in Algeria?!

My father succeeded in getting out all the family of this camp toward the month August 1958.
We left to Collo, after by boat towards Skikda and from there by bus to Constantine where restarting was very rough.
My first comeback of class took place at the Michelet school in October, 1959.
At the end of 1959 the majority of uprooted people from Ziabra and deportees to Zitouna returned on their own lands further to the revelations in the Figaro on the conditions of existence to the camp of Zitouna Ex:Bessombourg.
This movement of population is one of most brutal in the history.
Thousand of children that knew these camps, are only sixty's and I ask them urgently to testify on this insidious and deadly form of the war.

Everything was done, of the two sides of the Mediterranean Sea, so that nothing oozes anymore or the least possible, once the war is finished.
At date of the year 2006, there are still people, victims of the banishment and the deportation, in the same place, who live in the conditions more than pitiful, don't they have enough endure? Is that they don't deserve something else than that ? The question is still asked.
No Nation can easily face the outlook on her own state, not mentioning less has make her own self-criticism. Feels at ease in the exercise of the glance on one and even less to make its self-criticism.
To have faced the misery of camps and the horrors of the war, I knew the price, I always had it in my mind every day I lived and see that my children are full bloom without ever evoking this drama with them.
For the main part, we managed to learn very fast, to catch up the time lost without never forgetting this that us endured.

"" The damages of the war of Algeria are two sorts : The first one, it is because there were many persons killed, tortured and civil victims.
The second, is because through the politics of the regroupings, France totally changed, transformed the geography of the farming Algeria.
When I made my report in March 1959, I estimate the number the grouped together in a million, it will rise up at two millions.
thank you God, with the debate which followed this publication, we found the means to align credits, to organize something. People did not die from hunger any more.
In my opinion, the people who died from hunger is of two hundred thousand.... "
" Michel Rocard.25 in June, 2003 France culture.

Only writers and thinkers will reexamine the collective unconscious, otherwise the popular memory itself with the oldest where they will draw the indispensable energy to protect the most ancient facts to provoke a really new reflection .

The equality of duties existed and notably the tax of blood but the equality of all the citizens before the law which is the basic principle of constitution of human rights was never practised.
The Algerians, particularly those of my generation, don't feed any feeling of hate, nor towards official France, nor towards her people or culture.
We the difference between colonial France and France of brotherhood as it always was. the people who are building the future of France and Algeria bear no responsibility in the fights of yesterday.


"ibn" Mohamed /"ibn" Tahar/ "ibn" Messaoud.


Cf. " Speak about camps, think of the genocides ", Sadek Sellam Albin Michel 1999.
Cf. " Report on the camps of regrouping and the other texts on the war of Algeria ", Michel Rocard, mille et une nuit, on 2003

Réalisé par
Rabah Driouche
Mise à jour: 03/12/2006

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