How influential was the Algerian war

Sartre and the Algerian War

50 years ago: Sartre's "The Trapped in Altona" premiered in Paris

By Eberhard Spreng

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre in Paris (AP Archives)

Sartre wrote a family drama in 1959, but also an indictment against the torture of the French military in the Algerian war. The writer suspected that the play could be censored if he were to name things too clearly - so he wrapped his criticism of French politics in a story from the time of National Socialism.

In the summer of 1959 it was very hot in Italy, where Jean-Paul Sartre worked feverishly and under the influence of stimulants on one of his main philosophical works, the "Critique of Dialectical Reason" and a new piece: "The Trapped in Altona". Time is of the essence, because Sartre is, so to speak, competing with the historical events: France is waging a dirty war in Algeria, of which, despite extensive media censorship, some alarming eyewitness reports seep into the French public. His partner Simone de Beauvoir remembers in her memoir "The Course of Things".

"In Rome, under the constant influence of Corydrane, he had worked on a piece, and now, in Pisa, he showed me the first act. 'This is Suderman,' I told him. He agreed. Once again he agreed with his engagement Taking unreasonable risk. Worrying about spoiling a project that meant a lot to him added to his irritability and excitement. "

The philosopher wants to bundle two strands into one dramaturgy. On the one hand the story of a family drama that had too much boulevard-esque sentimentality for Simone de Beauvoir, which unpleasantly reminded her of the German playwright Hermann Sudermann. On the other hand, the play was intended to denounce the torture with which the French military, under the command of General Jacques Massu, tried to break the resistance of the Algerian FLN. Sartre knew that if a play were to speak bluntly about torture, displacement and mass camps in Algeria, it would be censored immediately. The performance of Jean Genet's play "The Walls" had just been banned. That is why he wrapped his accusation against French politics in a story from the Nazi past.

In his "Les Séquestrés d'Altona", Sartre once again brought the subject of responsibility and freedom of the individual into focus, which had been at the center of his existential philosophy since the beginning, as the Sartre expert Vincent von Wroblewsky emphasizes.

"When he asks about the freedom of the individual and about his actions, then the question of the situation in which the individual acts is very soon present and then that pushes beyond the individual and that was a difficult question for Sartre, like him How this starting point of the individual, which he has absolutely retained until the end, is connected with the great historical movements of the century. "

It is about the guilt of a former Wehrmacht officer, the so-called "Flayer of Smolensk", but also about the guilt of his father. Entangled and struggling with their conscience, both decide to commit suicide at the end of a very long five-act act.

"I plead guilty to everything."
"Now I accept."
"What?"
"What you expect from me if I understand you correctly. On one condition: Immediately and together."
"You mean: still today?"
"I mean: immediately."

Frantz Gerlach and his father have reached the fatal, dark edge of what can still be called an experience of individual freedom, the central theme in Sartre's anti-idealistic existential philosophy:

"When I spoke of Dés-espoire, that is, of the fact that life beyond hopelessness is only just beginning, this apparently paradoxical formula was difficult to understand for many. I say that we have to let hope go, because that's the only way we're able are not to base our trust on anything other than the possibilities of our own actions. "

Even before the postponed premiere at the Théâtre de la Renaissance, the press had learned of Sartre's risky plan to react to French atrocities with a German story full of Nazi allusions. Can you afford parallels to Nazi Germany in France? Directed by Francois Darbon and with the young Serge Reggiani in the role of Frantz, the play will be performed for the first time on September 23, 1959. Simone de Beauvoir remembers the evening in her autobiography.

"I stood at the back of the stalls and watched the audience. We almost suffocated in the poorly ventilated hall, which didn't exactly help us understand the rich but difficult text. The public disclosure of a work moved me more than usual Mark shuddered, sweating and stiff with fear, I clung to a pillar and thought I was going to faint. At the end of the piece there was such loud applause that I realized that the matter was won. "