I know what you are thinking”Another forgotten atrocity committed by the Nazi regime” but you’d be wrong. this massacre was carried out by the “good” guys.
It is an often-neglected fact that the majority of General De Gaulle’s Free French Forces were not white Frenchmen but were predominantly troops from its colonies in Africa and the Middle East.
Those from West Africa were known as the “tirailleurs Senegalais” (“Senegalese sharpshooters”) but were actually from Guinea, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Chad, Benin, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, and Togo.
17,000 of them died in the defence of France from Nazi occupation, and many others were captured and either died or suffered terribly in the racist German prisoner of war camps.
As colonial subjects, tirailleurs (colonial infantry) were not awarded the same pensions as their French (European) fellow soldiers during and after World War II, pensions that had been promised to them at the beginning of the war. The pensions for veterans of both races were calculated on the basis of living costs in their countries of birth, supposedly lower in colonies than in metropolitan France. These soldiers additionally claimed they were owed back pay due to an order issued by the Minister of Colonies authorizing benefits for ex-prisoners of war from West Africa, which both fell short of the benefits given to French prisoners of war and was in any case not implemented.
This discrimination led to a mutiny by about 1,300 Senegalese tirailleurs at Camp Thiaroye on the outskirts of Dakar, Senegal. on 30 November 1944. The tirailleurs involved were former prisoners of war who had been repatriated to West Africa and placed in a holding camp awaiting discharge. They demonstrated in protest against the failure of the French authorities to pay salary arrears and discharge allowances. An immediate grievance was the unfavorable exchange rate applied to currency brought back by the repatriated soldiers from France. A French general, briefly held by the tirailleurs, promised to have the rate changed to a par with that applicable to white veterans.
In the early hours of 1 December, French troops attacked. Despite the mutineers being unarmed, they came in shooting, with armoured cars, mounted machine guns and even a US Army tank.
The official death toll of the repression was 35, although meticulous research by French historian Armelle Mabon suggests a much higher number of victims – around 3-400 – which is more in line with the estimations of veterans.
The mass grave into which the bodies were dumped has yet to be discovered.
In March the following year, 34 of the survivors were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison by a military tribunal.
In 1947, those imprisoned were amnestied, however some had already died in prison. To date they have not been pardoned, nor has the French government apologised.
Like much of France’s violent and oppressive colonial history, the Thiaroye massacre is not taught in schools, and a 1988 film about the event, Camp de Thiaroye directed by Ousmane Sembène, was banned in France, and Senegal as well.
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