These African riflemen massacred by the Nazis

Chasselay, June 15, 2020. Senegalese Tata, national necropolis where 188 skirmishers from different West African countries were massacred on June 20, 1940.


By Benoît Hopquin

Posted today at 6:05 a.m., updated at 6:18 a.m.

Do they feel a little at home, far from home, these skirmishers buried in this amazing military cemetery? In Chasselay (Rhône), 2,700 inhabitants, the “Tata” (“sacred precinct”, in Wolof) tries to keep in memory the memory of black soldiers massacred by the German army, on June 19 and 20, 1940. There are four -twenty years ago, these skirmishers had come a long way from their continent to this corner of France to leave their skin there. Because their destiny came down to that: a story of skin.

While the tricolor flag flaps in the wind on its pole, the 196 stelae are lined up with a line, as if death could be a final military parade. Regiment number, date of death, mention “Dead for France”. The raised stones seem to look at the wooden front door where eight animist masks have been carved. The quadrilateral is surrounded by a wall almost three meters high, painted in laterite red, flanked by adobe turrets, themselves bristling with stakes, and these are some incandescent arpents of Africa, with excess images of ‘Epinal, which seem refracted in the green countryside of Lyon, in the middle of orchards and at the foot of the Monts d’Or.

Senegalese Tata, national necropolis where 188 skirmishers from West Africa are buried, massacred on June 20, 1940. Chasselay, June 15.

These colonial skirmishers, generically called “Senegalese”, came mainly from this country, but also from Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gabon, where the land glows for real. They belonged to all the ethnic groups of the region, Fulani, Bambara or Malinké. A brief search in the military archives reveals that Gora Badiane, killed at 25, came from Djithiar; Diallo Amadou, 31, from Magana; Kandjé Ibrahima, 21, from Kaolack; Bakary Goudiaby, 23, from “Djimondé – Bignona subdivision – Ziguinchor circle”. These are the lucky ones: at least they have a name, a first name, an erratic order and spelling; it’s already the beginning of a recognition and a story. Fifty other graves are condemned, they, anonymously, struck with the mention “Unknown”.

“Crackling of automatic weapons”

Men, soldiers, a double status denied to these blacks, to these “Affen” (“Monkeys”), the German soldiers guilty of having executed them. Eight terrifying photos, taken by a Wehrmacht man, illustrate the racist rage at work during the famous days. The photos in question, completely unpublished, slept in an old album, put on an auction site by a secondhand dealer across the Rhine and bought by a young private collector of Troyes, Baptiste Garin. On a double page was pinned a slaughter massacre. “I was seized with a strange emotion, discomfort and then the feeling of a nightmare when I met the eyes of these poor guys”, says the buyer. He contacted a historian, Julien Fargettas. This quarter-century-old veteran, 46, has been working on this episode for a quarter of a century. He even just devoted a book to it: June 1940. Combats and massacres in Lyonnais (Poutan, 250 pages, 21 euros). Julien Fargettas identifies the scene.

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