Almost exactly sixty years ago, Marcelle and Henri Hannoun became refugees from Constantine, Algeria. They reached a turning point after one of the best-loved musicians, a symbol of coexistence, Sheikh Raymond Leyris, was murdered 10 months earlier. Their grandson Marc imagines what must have been going through their heads as they packed for the last time. Article in Morial, the newsletter of the Algerian Jews in France (with thanks: Leon):
Two septagenarians stare out of this photograph in Marc El Beze’s family album. Marcelle and Henri Hannoun are his grandparents, wearing their best clothes and forced grins. They are leaving their home at 36, rue Joseph Bosco, Constantine, Algeria.
They will take a one-way trip to the ‘motherland’ – to France. This is the decisive moment, marking the beginning of the family’s dispersal. For five years the family had sheltered in the apartment, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins. It was April or May 1962.
When did they make the decision to leave? Marc remembers returning from school on 1 June 1961 to find his grandma sitting on a kitchen stool, swaying back and forth, right and left, looking into space and repeating, over and over again,’They’ve killed Raymond!”
Sheikh Raymond was not only a great musician, he was the neighbourhood kid, brought up by a Jewish family.
After Raymond’s murder, Marc is convinced that they were not the only people to see their departure as inevitable. Yet they did not send off any possessions in parcels or crates in advance, waiting 10 months to get their meager luggage ready.
He writes:’In two suitcases , overnight, they packed all the things they could not bear to be without and other useless items. These would only serve to define the essential items. No doubt they kept asking themselves what was important. To leave behind what was not important, was as painful. A hundred times over, sleepless in that old town, they packed and re-packed, substituting this with that.
“As dawn broke, they made their final choice. But no sooner had they stepped out of the house than my grandmother turned back and grabbed a few more things which she had left out on my bed. On her heels followed grandpa. He pulled out a jumper at random and the morning paper, La Depēche, which he clutched tightly as if his life depended on it. And they crossed the threshold once more, wearing half a smile, to ring the changes.”