Child of parents deported after the Vél d’Hiv roundup, the journalist, historian and activist devoted his life to documenting the crimes and offenses of the police. A work that resonates with current mobilizations.
When asked how he defined himself, he replied: “Historian of repression. I created my genre … “ Maurice Rajsfus will have spent most of his life investigating police crimes in France. A libertarian figure, the writer died Saturday at the age of 92 of cancer, announced his son Marc.
Born Maurice Plocki on April 9, 1928, man meticulously archived, from May 68 and for more than forty years, the “Nameless brutality”, he lashed, of the French police. It is an understatement to say that he resented the police – and that he had his reasons: in July 1942, the police of the Vichy regime had rounded up his family because he was Jewish, leaving him and his sister and orphans in a Paris occupied by the Nazis. Picking up thousands of press articles, Rajsfus analyzed the policies of successive interior ministers and, he explained, justified the unjustifiable: harassment and racist violence, repression of social movements, “Gestures that we teach in a police academy” and sometimes break lives.
The last time that Release had met him, it was in the summer of 2019, for a draft article on the institutional denial surrounding the very expression of “Police violence” – he then ironically mentioned “A certain restraint” of the state to recognize reality. Finally, the idea of a portrait was essential, so much Maurice Rajsfus embodied at the same time the history and the contemporaneity of a combat whose current events regularly remind the reason of being. “Police violence is in the police officer’s DNA”, he said. In his eyes, a historical thread ran between the police of Vichy, that of the massacre of the Charonne metro in 1962, that of May 68, that which mutilated recently in the city centers during the demonstrations of yellow vests, and that which sometimes still kills in working-class neighborhoods.
“There shouldn’t be a single racist in the police”
Some of his reflections have come back to mind in recent weeks, listening to arguments aimed at making the police less responsible or minimizing their excesses. So of the idea that it would be normal for the police to have a certain number of racists in their ranks, because they would be “In the image of society”. “I was invited by Europe 1 to a debate with executives of the Parisian police, ten years ago, he had told us. I’m not sectarian, I’m going. At one point, I think it was number 2 or 3 of the PJ [police judiciaire, ndlr] who says to me: “You know, there are no more racists in the police than in the average population.” So there, I snatched the microphone from him, I said to him: “You are wrong to tell me that, because to enter the police you have to pass an entrance exam. Then, there is a year of police school. And at the exit, there is still a contest. So there shouldn’t be a single racist in the police. “”
President for several years of the Ras l’front network, born in 1990 to fight against the National Front and its ideas, co-founder of the Observatory of public freedoms and creator of the monthly bulletin “Que fait la police?”, The former journalist wrote nearly sixty books, many of which were devoted to law enforcement. Among others: Outlaw Police, the Mercenaries of the Republic or I don’t like the police in my country. He also examined in a book the painful subject of the collaboration of certain Jews with the Vichy regime (Jews in collaboration, published in 1980). Saturday evening, the Libertalia publishing house, with which he was traveling, paid tribute to him: “We will continue his struggles for justice and emancipation. Friend, your rage is not lost! “
La Contemporaine, a refuge for its archives
At the end of his life, alone in his apartment after the death, in November 2018, of Marie-Jeanne, with whom he had lived for sixty-five years, Maurice Rajsfus was worried: that his archives, hundreds of boxes in plastic themselves containing thousands of cards listing police blunders, “Go to the dumpster”. Following the publication in December 2019 of his portrait in Release, which ultimately acted as an ad, contact was made with Contemporaine (formerly the Library of Contemporary International Documentation) to have his work saved there. The process was on track: “People came to his house to film all of his archives”, says his son, Marc Plocki. The Covid-19 health crisis put an end to it, but “It will be done for sure”, provide the Libertalia editions.
Maurice Rajsfus had dedicated an entire room in his home to the conservation of thousands of Bristol cards that record police violence from 1968 to 2014. Photo Frédéric Stucin for Liberation
Another project was underway: a book of interviews with journalist David Dufresne who, through his arrests “Allô Place Beauvau”, had taken up the torch for a systematic review of police actions. “We met at the start of the year to prepare this book, where we wanted to compare our experiences and our points of view, says Dufresne. He was not on social media at all, he was someone who was still pen in hand, but he could see that something was going wrong at the moment compared to the police observation, with all the videos. “ To prepare this book, Rajsfus had recently written around fifty pages of notes. Dufresne came up with a bunch of questions: “Maurice Rajsfus led the way, he understood that it is the accumulation of events that makes sense. A case can be hazardous, but not an accumulation. ”
As a sign of the importance that Maurice Rajsfus had acquired, the announcement of his death was followed by many tributes, some anti-racist activists saluting a “monument”. Others noted an obvious symbol: its existence ended the same day when tens of thousands of people marched in several cities in France to denounce racism and police violence, and to demand “justice”. The fight of his life is now that of an era, carried by a movement without borders.