The “week of blood” in gruesome detail
La Semaine sanglante: Mai 1871, légendes et comptes by Michèle Audin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Michèle Audin has done meticulous research to penetrate the many myths and distortions around “the week of blood”, May 21 to May 28, 1871, the massacre that destroyed the Paris Commune.
How many were killed during that week? And how many of those killed in combat, barricade by barricade, street by street, by the army columns sent by the Versailles-based government? How many prisoners shot after surrendering? And how many completely innocent civilians, including children and even babies?
We can never know exactly, but Audin’s examination of burial records for those more or less “officially” buried at or shortly after that week at any of 20 cemeteries in and close by Paris, later discoveries of unmarked mass graves, reports of city agencies responsible for collecting and disposing of the many cadavers and letters and testimonies of surviving witnesses of mass executions demonstrates convincingly that the numbers must have been far more than those asserted by Maxime Du Camp and other apologists for the Versailles-based government, or those more recently published by Robert Tombs, basing themselves on official data. Not a few thousand, but on the order of tens of thousands for that week alone. And many more than that if we count the many casualties in the previous two months of that civil war, Versailles’ war on Paris.
Audin reminds us, vividly, of what was already clear to any of us who have studied the Paris revolution of 1871, how terribly savage was the reaction by a government that could not tolerate a free city challenging (to different degrees) capitalist power, social class hierarchy and patriarchy, if only slightly. Because the changes demanded and initiated by the leaders of the elected Commune, or spontaneously by citizens in their neighborhoods — such as burning the guillotines—, were hardly the death of civilization as Versailles portrayed them.