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Photo: Bernard Bonnet
My family flees from the enemy and not to become German, accepts the proposal of the French government to take some land in Algeria, a French colony since 1830.

Madeleine Algeria (Part 1)

Bernard Bonnet from France

 Alsace, France 1871 The German army invades Alsace, my ancestors' birthplace. My family flees from the enemy and not to become German, accepts the proposal of the French government to take some land in Algeria, a French colony since 1830.

 Cassaigne, Algeria, August 1953
I was born on a very hot summer day in the public school where my mother was principal. Cassaigne was my father's village where my parents decided to live after their marriage. My parents were the first generation to be educated. My grandparents had quit school when they were twelve to work at the farm. My mother was a teacher and my father a surveyor. As you can see, it was a very modest family of small farmers and state employees. To understand well this story, it is important to understand the following story.

Cassaigne, Algeria, summer 1957
The first signs of the Independence war broke out inour western region. One night the school where we lived was machine-gunned by the F.L.N. (National Front of Liberation). My mother was terrified and decided to ask for a transfer to France. I was four and I left a country that was mine without memories except for three or four images buried in my head. My parents were transferred to a small, green, peaceful town in the center of France, far from the Mediterranean Sea, the sun, the vineyards.

My maternal grandparents, retired, arrived in France one year later. My paternal grandparents stayed in Algeria until the end of the war. They did not want to leave their house and their land. They took one of the last boats to Marseilles with two bags. They stayed in Marseilles, just upon the harbor facing their country, as they wanted to be ready to go back in just in case.

I grew up in a family who never understood what happened. Algeria, colonialism and Arabs were always subjects of arguments with my parents. They were very bitter and unable to analyze that it was a normal process and a legitimate aspiration for Algerian people to conquer their autonomy. They became more and more racist and right wing. My sister and I took malicious pleasure in affirming our opposite ideas during dinners, transforming immediately these quiet familial moments into storm debates.

I was never very nostalgic about this past. I had almost no memories of my four first years in Algeria. We lived far from the south of France where most of the repatriated settlers from Algeria were established and where they kept alive the nostalgia of their lost paradise. I even took an intellectual pleasure in believing that I had no roots and was, therefore, free of any sentimentalism. Those were probably my highest romantic years. The only thing that made me think about my origins was my love for the sun and the heat. But, I think, at that time, I was more cerebral and political than emotional.

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Bernard Bonnet's story: Part 2 | Part 3

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