Alexandre Gilbert

1980 Paris synagogue bombing first Islamic attack in France

William Bourdon (right),  lawyer of Hassan Diab, the lone suspect in a 1980 bombing (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)
William Bourdon (right), lawyer of Hassan Diab, the lone suspect in a 1980 bombing (Wikipedia CC BY 4.0)

We survivors are not the real witnesses. […] We are a minority that is not only small, but abnormal: we are those who […] have not hit rock bottom. Those who did, who saw the Gorgon, did not come back to tell. (Primo Levi, The Castaways and the Survivors. Forty and After Auschwitz, 1980

On October 3, 1980, 43 years ago, a bomb exploded in front of the synagogue on rue Copernic in Paris. The victims testified this Thursday, April 13, before the anti-terrorism prosecution of the Paris Assize Court.

Châtelet station, towards the Sainte Chapelle, I wait in the line of the courthouse, to attend the trial of Hassan Diab, accused of having perpetrated the attack on rue Copernic, October 3, 1980. Next of me, an elegant man of a certain age, hidden behind white mustaches à la Hercule Poirot. He is followed by a young blonde woman, probably his daughter. He is asked for his summons. A little embarrassed, he finds it difficult to justify the reason for his presence to the police. Did he attend the attack on rue Copernic?

In front of the metal detector gate, he doesn’t know where to put his cane and puts it on the conveyor belt. The policeman gives it to me. It looks like the one my grandfather used. I walk through the gate, give it back to him before he replies in his English accent, “I’m not as ‘rapidos’ as I used to be.”

At the top of the grand staircase in the court of assizes, I enter the room. A lady asks me if I can save the place next to me for her husband. She is accompanied by the same blonde girl. I understand that her husband is a witness to the attack.

Michael Williams steps up to the bar. The chief rabbi of the rue Copernic synagogue at the time of the explosion apologizes for having accused the “Nazis of France” by repeating on television: “We are not afraid!” » and remembers having visited injured people in the hospital where a doctor asked him to leave before adding: « you are responsible for this ».

Patricia Barbé reads a letter to the father who was killed at 41 when she was 16 and “never came back to kiss (him) again”.

Corinne Adler, midwife, was 13 years old and was celebrating her bat mitzvah that day. A month later, she lost her eyebrows. She took a long time to see herself as a victim of the attacks.

Gérard Barbié, 70, was 28, in the household appliance store and said: “I am not Jewish but I am with them the first victims are them. I’m just a collateral victim. They shouldn’t feel responsible. During the 30th anniversary ceremony, I said that I felt more Jewish solidarity than innocent French.

Benjamin Chambre, the Advocate General stands up and presents “his regrets”. “We are flabbergasted” that there was not in October 1980 “a census” of the 320 faithful present in the synagogue, “it does not happen like this anymore”.

A woman is crying behind me. The rabbi’s wife told him, as they said at the Klaus Barbie trial, “it doesn’t matter that the culprits remain silent, the important thing is that the victims speak.”

A last witness approaches the bar in turn. The rabbi’s wife whispers in my ear, “The witnesses are very old now.” He apostrophizes President Herbaut asking him who is the author of the attack. Salim Abu Salem’s PFLP, the Abu Nidal group? Fatah? I am 86 years old, I am getting a little closer to the exit door, he concludes.

The trial ends on April 21.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery since 2005. He lives and works in Paris.
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