Henri Alleg was a journalist’s journalist.
Of French-Algerian ancestry, he witnessed the horrors and brutalities of the Algerian War personally.
What distinguished him from his colleagues was his willingness to speak out against the State, which was waging an anti-colonial war based in large part on State terror and torture.
Alleg defied the State by writing accounts of such French torture, and incurred the wrath of the authorities.
They placed his name on their roundup list, and when they finally found him at the home of a friend (mathematician Maurice Audin), they took him to a suburb of Algiers called El Blar, where they repeatedly utilized torture to force him to name the names of his sources and contacts.
In his “La Question,” his memoirs from the times of torture, Alleg recounts the State’s use of electroshock, sodium pentothal (truth serum), and yes, waterboarding, to break him.
And yet, incredibly — incredibly! — He did not break. No name of a source or of a colleague slipped through his lips.
Henri made up his mind. Not only would he endure, he would die rather than betray others.
When his torturers saw that, they recognized it. They knew that they could kill him, but they also knew that they couldn’t break him.
Transferred to Lodi prison camp, Henri Alleg made notes of his torture, and found innovative ways to smuggle them out of this den of darkness.
Those smuggled notes and scraps of paper became his memoir, published in 1958: “La Question.” It electrified France, for it exposed the secret torture system that permeated the colony of Algeria. It was a sensation.
Henri Alleg did not break in El Blar. He did not die. He did not tell. He did not betray. He wrote.
And the world was better for it.
Henri Alleg: Born July 1921 — died July 2013, with a lot of living in between.
Henri Alleg, gentle, small in stature, but a giant in his heart, remembered.