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A community of women in prison during the Algerian War. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber interviewed by Michelle Zancarini-Fournel

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber and Michelle Zancarini-Fournel
Translated by Siân Reynolds

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  • 1 Hélène Cuénat, La Porte verte, Saint-Denis, Editions Bouchène, 2001. (The green door of the title (...)
  • 2 Didar Fawzy-Rossano, Mémoires d’une militante communiste (1942-1990) du Caire à Alger, Paris, Gen (...)

This interview with Christiane Klapisch-Zuber was held in Lyon on 2 February 2013, after a meeting of the editorial board of Clio FGH, of which we have both been members since the journal started in 1995. Conducted over three hours, its purpose was to hear Christiane’s account of her commitment during the Algerian war on behalf of the Algerian nationalists, and in particular of her time in the women’s prison La Roquette, where she was held after her arrest. In preparation for the interview, Christiane had suggested I read several books, in particular Hélène Cuénat’s autobiography La Porte verte,1 and Didar Fawzy-Rossano’s Mémoires d’une militante communiste (1942-1990), which she quotes several times.2 The latter author, one of Christiane’s companions in the wing reserved for political prisoners under arrest for their support for the FLN, provides a precise account (p. 138-150) of the organized escape of six women prisoners in February 1961. Christiane did not take part in the escape, but helped plan it.

MZF: How did your commitment to the Algerian Nationalist cause begin, and how did it fit in your professional and intellectual career? How did it lead to your imprisonment in La Roquette?

  • 3 The École Normale Supérieure (Sèvres) was at the time an all-women higher education institution, (...)

CKZ: I graduated from the École Normale Supérieure of Sèvres in 1960, having sat the agrégation in 1959.3 The year 1959-60 was a year of freedom. After four years’ study, I had been granted an extra year at Sèvres to start doing research, and was embarking on a doctoral thesis on Italy: the political history of the medieval city-states – a subject that didn’t greatly enthuse me, incidentally. During my time at the École, 1955 to 1960, I had joined the Union des étudiants communistes (UEC: Union of Communist Students). The entire student movement was opposed to the Algerian war. Our fellow-students in the men’s École Normale Supérieure had no wish to obey their call-up. Young people lay down on the rails in front of the troop trains to stop them. In November 1954, [when the first hostilities began] it was a friend of mine in the khagne (the post-bac preparatory class for ENS) more politically conscious than I was, who had alerted me to the gravity of the events. I can still see her standing in front of the news stand with the headlines about the events in Algeria: “It’s going to be Vietnam [Indochina] all over again”.

My family was not at all inclined to discuss politics with me. There were never any discussions between my father and mother, and in any case we children were always kept out of such things. My family was from a solid middle-class background, not remotely involved in politics, and if anything conservative in their views. I spent my childhood without any notions of politics, except for the terrible experience of the German occupation during World War II. My memories of that war are about the men from Alsace who had left their province, so as not to be drafted into the “Boche” army, and that was what my father had done in 1939. The family followed, and when he was demobbed (from the French army) we settled near Paris. So in 1954, I knew next to nothing about politics. The Algerian war broke out as I was just starting at the ENS and it was the École that gave me my political initiation. We discussed politics a lot there. Among my friends was another historian, Fatma Zohra Imalhayene (later known as the novelist Assia Djebar), the daughter of an Algerian politician. She was a committed supporter of the FLN. And she certainly had an influence on the women at Sèvres, going beyond the historians in our year. Through her, and thanks to Lucie Prenant, the school’s director, expert speakers such as André Mandouze and Charles-André Julien were invited to come and talk at the École, and through Fatma we learnt about the difference between the MNA [Mouvement National Algérien] and the FLN [Front de Libération Nationale]. The Sèvres students in the UEC and left-wing Catholic groups joined in the demonstrations against the war, especially those organized by the UNEF (the Union Nationale des Étudiants de France = national students’ union) although the UEC’s line was actually rather hostile to draft-dodging – demonstrations that in the end amounted to getting beaten up by the police in the Latin Quarter, but which didn’t have much impact otherwise. I stayed in the UEC as long as I was a student, and later joined the communist party – which I left in 1968.

  • 4 The network around Francis Jeanson had organized support for the Algerian cause in France, notabl (...)

1 In January-February 1960, members of the Jeanson network were rounded up and arrested.4 Since I had some freedom as a fifth-year student in Sèvres, I decided with another friend, Anne Zink, to go and visit Fatma Zohra in Morocco. Her husband’s cover had been blown, so he had had to leave France: he was working near Rabat in a home for orphaned Algerian children, run by the FLN. While I was there I met Étienne Bolo and his wife Paule, friends of Francis Jeanson and of his now-dismantled network, and also friends of Henri Curiel. Almost as soon as I got back to France, I accepted Bolo’s invitation to become part of the Curiel network, which took over from the Jeanson one. For a few months in the spring of 1960, I got to know Curiel, his wife Rosette, Didar Fawzy (née Diane Rossano) and Jehan de Wangen. I took part by helping Algerian activists reach Luxembourg. The person or persons to be escorted would be in the back seat of Bolo’s car, and we would drive them to the Luxembourg border, using two vehicles, one going ahead as lookout. So I didn’t do a huge amount as a “suitcase carrier”, I didn’t have time. We did transport suitcases, as well as money, papers, and pamphlets, but not arms, the network forbade that. I also had to look out, when I was on holiday in the countryside, for places from where it would be easy to get across the border into Switzerland – which meant that the cops later came and searched my respectable family’s holiday house.

My brief career in this network ended when I lent someone my bedsit in the Place de l’Estrapade, near the Pantheon, in the Latin Quarter. I had offered to put up an Algerian activist, for one night only, and he came back very late that evening, possibly after having a bit too much to drink. He mistook the landing, and kept ringing the bell at the flat belonging to the owner’s son, who immediately called the police. They came and picked up the clandestine lodger. When I turned up next morning, they grabbed me at the top of the stairs.

MZF: What was the date of your arrest? Did you know the name of the Algerian?

CKZ: I found out later: Abderramane Khaldi. But at the time, the less you knew, the better it was for you. And I never went to Algeria, and never saw him again after the session with the examining magistrate. I was arrested on 3 or 4 September, during the trial of members of the Jeanson network. It was about the time, that day or the next, that I was supposed to report to the lycée in Compiègne and sign my contract, as a probationary high-school teacher, clutching my agrégation certificate, but I couldn’t keep the appointment. For that reason, the department of secondary education wouldn’t accept me thereafter, so without having intended it, I escaped a career as a high-school teacher.

MZF: Tell us more about your arrest.

  • 5 Cf. Emmanuel Blanchard, La Police parisienne et les Algériens (1944-1962), Paris, Ed. Nouveau Mon (...)

CKZ: The cops picked me up outside my room, then they searched it, without finding anything. I joked that they would find a “bombe” [French for the hard hat used by horse-riders] in the flat. And after a moment of panic, they probably didn’t greatly appreciate the wisecrack. They took me to the police station at Alésia, but they didn’t manhandle me. Just one of them called me “an FLN whore”.5 I was transferred to a place under the central law courts, the Palais de Justice, known as “the mousetrap”, before being taken in front of the examining magistrate. It was a filthy, sordid place, but the supervisor was a nun who had been in the Resistance (as I afterwards discovered). She was a sister in the Order of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and wore a starched wimple. She whispered to me not to say anything. There were two couchettes in my cell, and this other woman tried to get me to talk. Since I wasn’t a seasoned militant, the advice was useful. To the magistrate, I said I’d just met this poor Algerian in a café, that he had nowhere to stay, and that I’d fallen for him. Nobody believed me. But they didn’t have much evidence against me. I later found out from Didar Fawzy, who I’ll talk more about later, that the police had originally mistaken me for her. I’d been in Bolo’s car to transport some FLN literature, and he had managed to shake off the police somewhere near the Place Jeanne d’Arc in the xiiith arrondissement – he was a fantastic driver. So anyway, since we both had short hair and wore glasses, Christiane was taken for Didar, and the car chase across Paris was put on Didar’s charge sheet.

When I arrived in the section for political prisoners at La Roquette, there was huge excitement. The Jeanson network trial was taking place. I was full of admiration for Hélène Cuénat, Micheline Pouteau, Jeannine Cahen, France Binard (aka Véra Hérold) and a dozen or so young women in the network, all of them intellectuals except Jackie – Jacqueline Carré, a factory worker and CGT-ist, who was in the network: she was devoted to everyone and not afraid of speaking out. These women were being sentenced to terms of five to ten years. Didar Fawzi was arrested a month and a half after me, along with Curiel and Bolo. The lawyers’ collective handling of their defence was led by Maîtres Benabdallah, Vergès, Beauvillard, Oussedik, etc., a whole team of French and Algerian lawyers, and Roland Dumas was also associated with them. My defence lawyer was a good leftwing Catholic, which reassured my parents, since he seemed more respectable, not being a member of the collective, and then later on I was defended by Roland Dumas.

The first time my father came to visit me, he predicted I’d end up “on the scaffold”, but my parents didn’t abandon me, and they paid for my defence. When I was a student, I had tried to talk to them about the war and the use of torture, but they didn’t want to hear anything about it. My mother would say: “Don’t say such terrible things”, and my father would look extremely pained but he just clammed up. Torture was one of the aspects of the war that had mobilized me, as it did many young people of my generation: my political consciousness was aroused by a moral objection to the war and all its abominations. My first reaction was to make the connection with Nazism, although at the time we knew much less about the Holocaust than we do now. But the idea that we could be repeating the same terrible things that the Nazis had done was shattering and revolting. Even if my parents stopped up their ears, it seemed to me that they were living a lie, contrary to Protestant ethics, a small-scale lie, just by refusing to recognize the truth. So my own revolt was originally an ethical rebellion, because my upbringing had influenced me, quite apart from any political education. The only memories I have of real political discussions inside my family were with my mother’s older sister, who had been a former secretary of prime minister Daladier, and she’d also been a secretary/nanny for a resistance worker during the war, and was very Gaullist, too Gaullist for my taste at the time of the Algerian war. So I had some mighty battles with her, but actually we were very fond of each other.

MZF: Can you say something about what it was like in prison?

CKZ: The group of young women in La Roquette was very politically aware, especially about decolonization. I went on reading (we were allowed to receive books related to our work/study but not of course political books). We were beneficiaries of the system for “semi-political prisoners” which had been devised by Edmond Michelet for Algerian activists. We were allowed to live as a community during the day, but were locked into our cells at night, usually one person to a cell, though some people shared. One of the fifteen cells had been turned into a dining room, so we could eat together, and we were free to move round our division of the prison during the day. We gave each other lessons: I taught Didar some Latin, and she taught me some classical Arabic; I began teaching an Algerian woman, Hafidha, to read: she was a fearless speaker-out, whose mission in life was to get “the sisters on the street” to pay subs, and she made us some marvellous couscous.

I stayed in La Petite Roquette from September 1960 to early July 1961. The [failed] generals’ putsch happened while we were still in prison [April 1961]. The prime minister, Michel Debré had called on the population to go to Orly airport and stop the putschists by any available transport! It’s true that it was a bit scary. By then, the Sisters from the Order of Jesus Mary and Joseph had been moved out of the political division of the jail and we were guarded by civilian female warders from February 1961, after the escape, which I’ll describe later. One of them discreetly told us: “Don’t worry, if the paras do land, we’ll hide you, because otherwise they’ll get you!” The nuns were looking after the common law prisoners at that stage.

In the end, I have kept a very special memory of my time in prison. I’ve experienced three all-women communities: the École at Sèvres was the first, and the original editorial board of Clio the third; but the comradeship we shared at La Roquette created particularly strong ties between us. It’s true there were some tensions, which could be quite serious between Algerian and French women. And there were different views held by Algerian women about the political situation, or differences between those who had been in the Jeanson network and the Algerians, or again between the Jeanson and Curiel networks, because of the relations between the French communist party and the FLN network in France; Curiel wanted more extension to international affairs, such as the Kurdish problem, or the jailed opposition politicians in Egypt. And while the escape was being planned, there were one or two people we weren’t absolutely sure we could trust, so they were only told at the the last moment. I was particularly fond of Cécile Decugis, who was a film editor and who had been held in preventive detention in the common law division, then released, then sentenced to seven years at her trial. She was told about the escape, but didn’t want to take part.

MZF: Which group did you belong to?

CKZ: I was the first person to be arrested from the Curiel network, Henri Curiel and Didar Fawzi were Egyptian citizens, belonging to Jewish families originally from Italy: they’d been in prison in Egypt. As you will know, Curiel was asassinated in 1978; Didar died in 2011: she was knocked down by a car in Geneva where she was living. With Véra Hérold, she was one of the “elders” of our group – she was over 40! Many of my prison comrades are dead now: Jackie, Vera, Didar, Jeannine.

MZF: Did you ever see any of them after prison?

  • 6 Hélène Cuénat, La Porte verte, op. cit. See the review of this book by Francois Gèze in the journ (...)

CKZ: I met Didar by chance, in the cafeteria in the École des Hautes Études; and the survivors of the group met up when Hélène’s book came out, La Porte verte.6 I met Jeannine Cahen by chance when I was hiking.

MZF: Why didn’t you take part in the escape, when six of the women political prisoners managed to get out of La Petite Roquette?

CKZ: I was very soon taken into their confidence, because the women who’d been arrested in February 1960 had had time to think about an escape! But when it came to it, it was agreed, in consultation with the FLN Federation in France and the various networks, that the people who should escape as a priority were the French women from the Jeanson network, who had been sentenced to ten years, plus Didar, the internationalist Egyptian woman, and two Algerian activists who were likely to get heavy sentences: Zina Haraigue and Fatima Hamoud. Zina, who had been found carrying weapons on her when she was arrested, was likely to get twenty years. Some women, Cécile, whom I mentioned earlier and Véra Hérold, didn’t want to get out by taking this “short cut”. The ones who did had help from outside, by way of their lawyers and network members who had helped with preparations. I used to know, but have now forgotten, who was supposed to throw the rope over the wall, who was going to drive the getaway cars, where the safe houses were for them to go to... They all got out over the wall. Didar has described it very well, and they all escaped without being caught. It was a night in February 1961. There was quite a lot about it in the media! “Girls” managing to carry out a daring group prison escape – that was something spectacular, unprecedented.

The toilets in our quarters had big metal grids: we had filed them through in a couple of places. The toilets were on an outer wall, giving on to the courtyard surrounded by the street wall, and this was the way they escaped. The grids were controlled twice a week by the warders, except for the toilet ones which were protected by a wooden panel. We had sawed through this to reach the iron bars, then it was put back in place again every night, so that the warders couldn’t see that the bar had been filed. Filing made a terrible din, and we played music at top volume for a few days to cover it.

MZF: What happened after they got away?

CKZ: We didn’t sleep at all that night. The cops arrived next morning. We had made a beautiful rope, all the colours of the rainbow – because for months we had been buying different coloured tights. We got some mechanical textbooks brought in so that we could adapt their strength to bear the weight of someone of about 60 kilos. The next morning, there was a frightful to-do among the warders. They had quickly spotted the rope hanging from the first or second floor, and the filed-through bars, but we had replaced the skylight over the door we’d tampered with, through which the first woman out had been able to open the door of her cell and free the others, and I’m not sure that the cops ever discovered how they got out of their cells. Véra, the oldest of us, claimed she hadn’t wanted to try and escape – although she was in for ten years – because of her size. She was questioned for a long time, without any results, obviously. They really had a go at her and at a young German woman, also serving a long sentence, who shared her cell.

After the escape, the governor of the prison was “suspended” which made us all laugh (a caricature on the front page of one newspaper showed him hanging on to our rope). Poor Sister Hermance, who was attached to our division and slept in one of the cells, used to heat up water on the central stove to make herself a herbal tea at bedtime, and that night Jackie had slipped a sleeping pill into it. Sister Hermance was accused of complicity, and that was why the nuns were replaced after that with secular warders.

MZF: Were there any love affairs between the women?

CKZ: Not that I know of. In theory it was one person to a cell. I was on my own, and so were Cécile, Hélène, Didar, etc. You had a bed, a little table, a slop pail, but no water, that was all there was. You had to wash with cold water, and now and then you got to shower. In fact it was when we were going through the prison on the way to the showers that it was possible to check out the possible escape route. We had organized our lives into something quite acceptable: as well as having one cell converted into a dining room, we could turn our noses up at the canteen food and get things bought from outside. We could have fresh vegetables, which is how we had those delicious couscous meals. We had a convivial life, interesting and full of enthusiasm, being a group of young women used to discussing things.

MZF: Did you have any contact with the common law prisoners?

CKZ: After the hunger strike by FLN prisoners who wanted to be granted political (in fact semi-political) status, we were forbidden to have any contact with common law prisoners. So we could only see the other women in La Roquette, in their workshop or in the exercise yard. Cécile Décugis, who had been arrested earlier, had spent quite some time in an ordinary prison workshop but she wasn’t obliged to work. Through her, we got to know what living and working conditions were like in the regular prison divisions. All these women are between 80 and 90 years old today. They met up with each other later, including in Algeria where some of them, Hélène Cuénat for instance, went to live after independence. I didn’t. In fact I’ve never been to Algeria: I was invited one time by the Algerian government to ceremonies celebrating independence, but since I didn’t much care for that government, I didn’t go.

MZF: So how were things after the escape?

CKZ: They escaped in February 1961. Until I was released in early July 1961, life was more tedious, there were no more escapes to plan! Didar had gone, so I had no more Arabic lessons; I read history books. Véra’s boyfriend (the painter Jacques Hérold) visited her faithfully, and so did her flat-mate. I saw them again several times in the following years. Hérold, who was a post-surrealist, gave me as a birthday present a fine lithograph which still hangs over my desk today. So we had to wait several months before anything improved. I was assigned to a new examining magistrate, who was more clued-up than the previous one. I was still sticking to my story of being a silly girl who’d fallen for someone. He didn’t believe me either. The new magistrate, Alain Simon, set up a confrontation in his office with Bolo, who had been arrested in October or November 1960. But my parents had taken it on themselves to destroy any photos of Morocco, and letters that might have been compromising. So there was no evidence of any kind, and eventually, I was provisionally released. After the end of the Algerian war [March-April 1962] I was amnestied, without ever having been formally sentenced.

I often returned to La Roquette, until the amnesty. I’d received a visitor’s permit to come and see Véra. The main prison was (still is) a hexagon, with a central tower from which the other buildings project in T-shapes. On the first floor of the tower is the visiting area, over the chapel and under the kitchens. There’s a hierarchy of places and their functions. The visiting room was round, with two long tables and thick glass panels that went half-way up. It was relatively easy to pass across letters, objects, files and escape tools. Especially to Jackie, who had a factory’ worker’s dexterity, and was very bold.

  • 7 L’impossible photographie. Prisons parisiennes 1851-2010, exhibition in the Musée Carnavalet, Par (...)

Christiane later tried to draw a plan of La Roquette, but couldn’t now remember exactly how it was: she mentioned some striking images she’d seen in a photographic exhibition designed by Robert Badinter, which referred to the escape.7

CKZ: La Petite Roquette had for a long time been a “Corrective institution for young offenders’”, but by the time I was there it was a women’s jail, and the buildings for the children had gone. On the ground floor, under the cells, there were workshops for regular prisoners, looking out on to an inner courtyard. We were sent to exercise in the courtyard when they had gone back into the workshop: I don’t know who it was that used to say “they keep the dishcloths and the towels apart”. One woman who had been condemned to death for a crime of passion was kept in the death cell, just under our windows: she was reprieved in the end. I still have the Bible, with her notes, which was the only book she read, and which she gave me when she was moved to the central prison. The governor, who knew I was a Protestant, let me keep it.

  • 8 The women’s prison known as La Petite Roquette was closed in 1974, and later demolished. There is (...)

From where I live today, I often go past the new buildings that were built later on the site of the wall my friends got over, and the kitchen garden run by the nuns. The houses in the rue Merlin, which we used to see from our division, have been renovated and done up now: but I can still recognize – and it still gives me a stab – the shape of the windows we could see by standing on tiptoe to look out of the windows on our corridor.8

  • 9 On 17 October 1961, following a demonstration in Paris called by the FLN, an unknown but large nu (...)

I don’t recall very much about my release, I remember better the ten months of shared life with my friends. As I told you, I did see for some years afterwards Véra, who’d stayed in Paris. The women who escaped had all gone abroad. Before the amnesty, I went to visit Bolo in Fresnes prison, I became a prison visitor. In the autumn of 1961, I worked for a while for Maître Mourad Oussédik, as a secretary. Mourad had an Algerian secretary who couldn’t write perfect French, so I drafted letters and edited pleas. Especially pleas by the relatives of victims of the 17 October 1961 massacre, who were trying to locate a husband or brother…9 I took their statements and prepared a compilation of all these pleas, for Oussédik to report to the FLN Federation – but I don’t know what happened to that report.

So I kept up with some of my fellow prisoners and I continued to be closely interested in events in Algeria, though without taking an active role. I joined the PCF in 1963 (my post at the EHESS started in autumn 1962) although I was aware of the problems that intellectuals were experiencing to express themselves in the party. But when I was there I met some formidable people: Jean-Pierre Vernant, Jean Chesneaux, Lucette Valensi, Suzanne de Brunhof – all of them were intellectuals who were committed to the struggle for decolonization. It really wasn’t a Stalinist cell. I spent more time being active in the SNESup [university lecturers’ union].

I got a temporary appointment at the EHESS [École des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales] through a benefactor of many wandering souls at the time, the agricultural sociologist Pierre Coutin: I was introduced to him by Anne Zink who was in his team. I had taken part in the seminar run by Jacques Le Goff and Robert Philippe, who was director of the CRH (Centre de recherches historiques) and who sent me to see [Fernand] Braudel. Braudel, after asking me four questions, hired me on the spot as a research fellow. His wife was from a French settler family in Algeria. Why did he hire me? Apparently he said: “This little girl will do very well.” That’s how he was, he hired people just like that. He quarrelled with me in 1968, but well, I owe him a lot. I stayed in the CRH until I retired. It took years of negotiating through the unions to rebuild my career: Pierre Vilar in SNESup took charge of my file, and eventually I was reintegrated as a professeure agrégée [for income and pension purposes].

  • 10 Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Les Porteurs de valises, Paris, Albin Michel, 1979. [Editor’s not (...)
  • 11 See the article by Vincent Lemire and Yann Potin, “ ‘Ici on noie les Algériens’: fabriques docume (...)

I was interviewed by Hamon and Rotman, who have written about the escape.10 There’s never been anything about it in Clio, at least as far as I know. I didn’t think it would interest the public, and I don’t like playing “old soldiers”. If I’m talking about it today, it’s because I can talk to you about the positive side of my imprisonment, though not about the war. My daughter heard about the escape from one of her friends, who’d heard about it through her mother. She was open-mouthed the day I told her about it. Now it’s my grandchildren’s turn… I followed the demonstrations at the end of the Algerian war, not the Charonne one, when I was out on bail. Much later, I went to the inauguration of a plaque on the Pont Saint-Michel commemorating the massacre of Algerians on 17 October 1961.11 And I still feel very moved when I read it today. All those people, beaten to death and then thrown into the Seine. The police brutality was terrible.

  • 12 Didar Fawzy-Rossano, Mémoire d’une militante communiste..., op. cit., p. 139.

In her memoirs, Didar wrote that I was “diaphanous” when she met me in La Roquette: well, I may have been thin, but certainly not diaphanous, and you’ll already have heard that we didn’t starve when we had semi-political status. “From a respectable background”,12 she said as well – maybe because I liked to chat with Sister Hermance – poor woman, she was obsessed with hygiene, as were all the nuns who were wardresses. “Zuber! Dust-bunnies under your bed!’ the Mother Superior used to say me. In fact she was a remarkable woman.

I used to see a lot of Anne-Marie Blanchet-Parodi, until she died in 2006, she’d been in the legal collective with Oussédik. She was someone with a formidable moral compass. Another lawyer with the collective whom I knew and appreciated was Henri Likier, who committed suicide. His entire family had died after being deported. He was the expert on legal procedure in the group: he could hold up a trial through his knowledge of minute legal detail. Étienne Bolo also committed suicide, in the car park of Paris-8 University in 1985. That’s a lot of deaths, and there were more, among that generation of anti-colonialist campaigners, a lot of them women... So thank you for letting me share my memories of some of them with Clio.

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1 Hélène Cuénat, La Porte verte, Saint-Denis, Editions Bouchène, 2001. (The green door of the title refers to the small door by which her little daughter was allowed in when she was in prison at La Roquette). See also the account in Said Mahrane C’etait en 58 ou en 59 …, Calmann-Levy 2011.

2 Didar Fawzy-Rossano, Mémoires d’une militante communiste (1942-1990) du Caire à Alger, Paris, Genève, Paris, L’Harmattan, 1997.

3 The École Normale Supérieure (Sèvres) was at the time an all-women higher education institution, to which entry was by competitive exam. It was merged with the men’s equivalent college in the 1980s to become co-educational. The agrégation is a competitive post-graduate diploma entitling successful candidates to enter the teaching profession with the enhanced status of an agrégé(e). [Translator’s note.]

4 The network around Francis Jeanson had organized support for the Algerian cause in France, notably by providing false papers and transferring funds. The trial of its members became a cause célèbre at the time [Tr.].

5 Cf. Emmanuel Blanchard, La Police parisienne et les Algériens (1944-1962), Paris, Ed. Nouveau Monde, 2011. [Editor’s note].

6 Hélène Cuénat, La Porte verte, op. cit. See the review of this book by Francois Gèze in the journal Mouvements, no 17, September-October 2011.

7 L’impossible photographie. Prisons parisiennes 1851-2010, exhibition in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris-Musées, 2010.

8 The women’s prison known as La Petite Roquette was closed in 1974, and later demolished. There is a public garden on the spot today. The only physical remains of the prison are a plaque, a gateway, and a small mound made from spoil, which is now covered with trees.

9 On 17 October 1961, following a demonstration in Paris called by the FLN, an unknown but large number of Algerian demonstrators died as a result of extreme police brutality. There was no official inquiry or even acknowledgement at the time, and although these events are now recorded by a plaque on the Pont Saint-Michel, and have been further investigated since, full details and the number of deaths remain unknown. See Jim House and Neil MacMaster, Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror, and Memory, Oxford: OUP, 2006. [Editor’s and translator’s note]

10 Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, Les Porteurs de valises, Paris, Albin Michel, 1979. [Editor’s note]

11 See the article by Vincent Lemire and Yann Potin, “ ‘Ici on noie les Algériens’: fabriques documentaires, avatars politiques et mémoires partagées d’une icône militante (1961-2001’ Genèses, 49, December 2002, p. 141-161.

12 Didar Fawzy-Rossano, Mémoire d’une militante communiste..., op. cit., p. 139.

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Electronic reference

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber and Michelle Zancarini-Fournel, « A community of women in prison during the Algerian War. Christiane Klapisch-Zuber interviewed by Michelle Zancarini-Fournel », Clio [Online], 39 | 2014, Online since 10 April 2015, connection on 19 October 2018. URL :

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About the authors

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber

Christiane Klapisch-Zuber is honorary research director at EHESS, where she taught social history, family history and the historical anthropology of medieval Italy. Publications include Les Maîtres du marbre. Carrare, 1300-1600, Paris, SEVPEN, 1969 ; Les Toscans et leurs familles : le Catasto florentin de 1427 (with David Herlihy), Paris, PFNSP, 1978 ; La Maison et le nom. Stratégies et rituels dans l’Italie de la Renaissance, Paris, EHESS Éditions, 1990 ; L’Ombre des ancêtres, Paris, Fayard, 2000 ; Retour à la cité. Les magnats de Florence, 1340-1440, Paris, EHESS Éditions, 2006. She was editor of Volume II, Le Moyen Age, in Histoire des Femmes en Occident, general editors Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, Paris, Plon, 1991, and she co-edited L’Histoire de la famille, Paris, Armand Colin, 1986. Her book Le Voleur de paradis, [about the Good Thief in Western Christian art and society] is forthcoming.

Michelle Zancarini-Fournel

By this author

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