Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
Memoire Algerienne by Henri Alleg gives the reader a glimpse into the lives of the resistance movement in Algeria during WWII where many were fighting for independence from France and prevention of Nazis occupation. Many of the younger resistance organizations were rash and naïve, though they had a heart that would help fight their opponents. This work reveals how many of the resistance worked behind the scenes trying to stay alive and still accomplish their goal.
One has to understand what was going on at the time. Alleg mentions how concentration camps within Algeria were flooded with new prisoners “interned without legal justification.” Many community leaders found themselves with the authority to remove anyone they deemed a threat, which in turn caused them to act like “tyrants and sometimes as killers.” This opened the door for outright resistance.
In Alleg’s own words, it was the tyrannical actions of those in authority that led him to become part of the resistance movement. The worse it got, the more that resistance built up. Yet nothing was without a price. Many that participated in the resistance found themselves in dire straits. Of the communists Alleg contacted to join the resistance forces, one was arrested and another was “condemned to forced labor.” In these descriptions, Alleg points out the names of those detained and deported, giving his own words more credibility and creating less of a romantic sentiment. This was real, and Alleg made it so by drawing the reader into the reality with the use of personal names.
One could argue that the young resisters were naïve, yet at the same time they refused to do as many had done in other countries, falling under the assault of the Nazi invasion while walking around doing nothing, waiting on “another voice [that] was needed to counter” the actions of the oppression. Alleg points out that their methods were “very feeble means” implying a lack of naivety on the resisters part. They were not seeking world-wide fame or acknowledgement. All they wanted to do was let the world know that “the youth in particular, had not abandoned the struggle.” If Alleg was seeking fame, he would have pushed more drastic measures or even bragged falsely in his writing to get the attention of the world. Instead, he honestly reveals that his actions might be small in the scheme of things but it was the heart of resistance that lived on.
As a source, Alleg’s account of the resistance is humble giving it extreme credibility while not appearing to be false or even hiding facts from the reader. The worst the resistance did was print bulletins and release them when the crowds here high in number. Their only intent was to show the “struggle of the Resistance in France and in Europe” against fascism in glorious terms. They did so with extreme creativity and secrecy.
Many would call Alleg’s actions, along with those in the same resistance movement terrorist, but at no time did this group inflict terror on anyone, including the enemy they were fighting. Their actions were more inclined toward propaganda or information sharing as well as moral boosting against the fascist movement. Terrorism would involve scaring and hurting those they fought. At no point does Alleg mention such actions. He stresses how they did little compared to other more extreme groups that could easily be labeled terrorists. He acknowledges the “thinness of the exploit” while also acknowledging how many resistance members in other countries were involved in bombings of “German train in occupied France.”
Alleg is very honest in how their exploits went unnoticed by the press. He admitted candidly that they were “not naïve to the point of being surprised.” His honesty is refreshing as he looks back on the actions of himself and the group he had aligned himself with to fight the occupation.
The author once again has a chance to look good and promote the actions of himself, as well as minimizing that of others, but he pushes that opportunity aside and praises the action of the women that were involved in the resistance movement. Alleg could easily have ignored the actions of these women, especially the ones younger than him. He even admits his hesitancy in working with them, but admits his admiration as he finds out how harsh these women are treated by authorities who captures them.
The fresh honesty of the author gives an historian a deep desire to read more of his writing to get a firsthand view of the Algerian resistance. He admits that he did not have all the facts due to the bias of the press and the censorship that was imposed on Algeria. Because of those actions he could not “grasp the extreme complexity of the situation” the country found itself in. Here, in this sense he could be described as naïve, but in reality he was only acting with the information he could obtain and going forward refusing to lie back and let the enemy run over the Algerians. This is a valuable source for its honesty, its position in a censored society, and its participants on a large stage playing a small but significant role.
Alleg, Henri. Memoire Algerienne.