Looking for memories of the attacks

For two years, new research aims to study the evolution of individual memories and collective memory on the attacks of November 13th.

Researchers take turns listening to and record the testimonies of thousands of people, including hundreds of victims.

Fred Dewilde is a survivor of Bataclan (1). Despite the difficulty of the exercise, "Inevitably mixing", agreed to tell his camera story for the November 13 research program. "It will remain a trace, it will be studied, perhaps we will understand what has been lived that night … if there is something to understand."

An exceptional research project, the 13 November program (2), led by the historian Denis Peschanski and the neuropsychologist Francis Eustache, aims to methodically record the memories of the attack, in particular through the study 1.000 (read the references on the following page). On four occasions, for ten years, researchers have planned to interview thousands of people, divided into four "Circles" volunteers, from the most exposed victims (C1) to the most distant witnesses (C4). An unprecedented source of wealth for research.

Fred Dewilde is part of the first circle: physically unharmed, he spent two hours in the pit of the concert hall, "In someone else's blood"before "Search for friends" : "There are images that will haunt me for a while, questions that remain unanswered."Immersed in his story, he described to the researcher that he was facing scenes he had never told, at least not to his relatives. "I allowed myself to say everything, for the historical side but also because it will remain private … I can not keep everything for myself", explains, recalling the manager "Who ended up crying".

" We leave people completely free, it is the volunteer's speaking time that determines the duration of the interview , confirms Roberto Ticca. Since 2016, this thirty-one conducted 80 interviews around November 13, some of which lasted more than four hours with direct victims. A test face-to-face, right behind the presence of a camera. Nothing has predisposed this work sociologist to elaborate on this subject so hard, so heavy "Hit by events" like all Parisians "And, trained in biographical interviews, he nevertheless decided to commit himself from the beginning of the research, in the spring of 2016. Among the first recruits, he was considered strong enough to face the raw suffering for several months.

To contain the bitterness of emotions, the interview follows a specific protocol: it consists of three open questions, interspersed with a minimum of reminders. An organization with the line was also imagined. Investigators never hear Circle 1 volunteers in a row again. Maintenance days and time dedicated to database enrichment alternate. Roberto Ticca, has his advice: enhances the virtues of " black humor And massage, which relaxes tension.

Over time, it is " become a professional »Difficult interviews. He learned to free the words of the witnesses, to put them at ease, to approach the most difficult memories of the back roads. With his sweet voice, he confides the difficulty of keeping " without being able to plan the rest time becauseshort contracts, renewed at the last moment ". It's a " great intellectual and physical fatigue ".

Also on the side of the volunteers, the course has been carefully thought out. Because a double requirement has been imposed since the beginning: nothing could be done without the victims and it should not cost them anything. In constant connection with the mediator, the participants are taken with the shuttle to the place of registration, where they are supported by the liaison officer and disguised as professionals. "Coming out, we feel anguish in their silence, they are in their mind, in their memories, reports Francis Eustache, who took this shuttle with them. When they come back, they talk a lot more, like released. Even for those who have found difficulty, catharsis has passed. "

Sometimes without their knowledge. Florian, present at Bataclan, participated in both stages of video interviews. He says he has not had any trouble telling his evening, but he gives it anyway "Being aware ofsome thingsIn Phase 2, the questions show things that had been in the background for three years"After the first interview, he also agreed to participate in the biomedical research component, led by Francis Eustache, who plans to transfer magnetic resonance to 120 victims to visualize neurological markers of traumatic resistance. "Before MRI, there are many specific questions about our state of health, remember. He made me understand that it was not going so well. I decided to consult. "

If the program has no therapeutic purpose, allowing the most exposed people to be received by the group of neuropsychologists of Francis Eustache has prevailed since the beginning, so strong was the fear of doubling the trauma of the injured or their loved ones. " From the first discussions with Denis Peschanski in November 2015, I was convinced of the approach and at the same time terrified of the idea of ​​doing even more damage to the victims ", recalls Carine Klein, general secretary of the project.

Even today his fear is palpable, just subsided by the testimonies. " The day when I heard a grieving mother say that she felt better after the interview remains one of the most important moments for me in the last three years, he confides again.Our first challenge was to build a long-term relationship of trust with volunteers, including them in the scientific committee and keeping them regularly informed about the progress of the research. "

Three years later, the time has come for a first evaluation. A few steps from the Pantheon, there are about fifteen October morning around the table. Mediators, liaison officers or investigators, months have passed since they recruit, accompany, listen to volunteers. They fill hundreds of individual files, perfect transcriptions, record memories. And that day, it seems necessary to re-motivate the troops a little.

The transcripts of the interviews conducted in 2016 are really all but complete. Of the 1,400 hours of recording, there are still more than 600 to reproduce, reread, correct. A gigantic job. And despite the call of the mediators, in phase 2, the volunteers lost the call. Denis Peschanski is confident, hoping that the abandonment does not exceed 20% and welcomes the theses already underway, based on the data collected.

However, everyone here knows that the quality of this vast investigation depends on the long-term commitment of the witnesses themselves. Working for a long time is sometimes a challenge, especially for those in the team who make short-term contracts. They constantly have to think about how to transmit all the data to those who come after them, but also to the experience gained in the relationship with the volunteers.

This precariousness may seem surprising, given the investments made. Since the beginning, the program has received immediate support from prominent partners such as the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) or the National Archives. In just five months, between the end of November 2015 and the spring of 2016, Crédoc and Public Health France have committed themselves and the Commissariat Général de l'Investissement has released the first funds.

In total, four million euros must be divided into two phases, for the first two phases of the program, from April 2016 to October 31, 2019. But all these credits have already been spent, says Denis Peschanski. The team now needs new funding, including renewal contracts, some of which end on December 31st.

In the meantime, researchers will get the most out of formatting interviews. Transcribed using an automatic method, these must be correct, line by line, often word by word. " Orally, sentences do not necessarily end, thoughts overlap and are maintained , explains Claire-Marie, mediator who has been transcribed. The goal is to return the word as it was delivered. "With the same force, the same violence sometimes. " During the correction, attention was paidthe technical difficulties somehow protect the investigators from the emotional charge but in the end, when they listen to the testimony for the last time, they receive it again , notes Carine Klein. After several weeks of work, it is often very difficult. "

Over the months, the team set trading times to ease the dark embrace. "We have to keep,"they repeat like an antiphon. For the victims, of course. Also for all the volunteers. Finally, for the researchers, who will study our memory and our traumas after them. And I will try to understand better what, one day in November, left us stuccoed and bruised.

Béatrice Bouniol and Flore Thomasset

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