Year af­ter Paris at­tacks, sur­vivors look to heal, unite

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - NATION + WORLD - By An­gela Charl­ton and Oleg Cetinic Cather­ine Gaschka con­trib­uted to this re­port.

The flash­backs come to Denys Plaud un­bid­den, mak­ing it hard to work: Gun­shots threat­en­ing to pierce his cramped refuge in the Bat­a­clan theater. The ex­cru­ci­at­ing si­lence be­tween rounds of fire. And when it was all over, step­ping over the dead and dy­ing to reach free­dom.

One year on, sur­vivors of France’s dead­li­est ex­trem­ist at­tacks are try­ing to look to the fu­ture, but they will never for­get.

More than 1,700 peo­ple have been of­fi­cially rec­og­nized as vic­tims of the hor­ror that un­folded on Nov. 13, 2015, at the Bat­a­clan, Paris cafes and the na­tional sta­dium. In ad­di­tion to the 130 who died, nine re­main hos­pi­tal­ized and oth­ers are par­a­lyzed or oth­er­wise ir­repara­bly dam­aged. Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s vic­tims’ min­is­ter, more than 600 are still re­ceiv­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal treat­ment.

A year “was the min­i­mum pe­riod of time for me to re­cover,” and to mourn the dead, Plaud said. “Like a vet­eran, I will al­ways have to live with this hor­ri­ble (memory). You can­not make them fade. You can learn to live with them.”

Plaud, a 48-year-old math and physics tu­tor, wrote a book to process his an­guish. Cafe owner Gre­gory Reiben­berg, whose wife died in his arms, also wrote a book, to help their 9-year-old daugh­ter heal, and “to find sense in the sense­less.” An­other sur­vivor turned his flash­backs into a graphic novel, de­pict­ing the at­tack­ers as skele­tons and sprin­kled with poignant hu­mor.

As France pre­pares to mark one year since the at­tacks with com­mem­o­ra­tions Sun­day, Plaud still seems sur­prised that he es­caped alive that night.

Itch­ing to dance as he watched a con­cert by Cal­i­for­nia rock band Ea­gles of Death Metal, he left the crowded dance floor for the bal­cony, for more room to move around.

“I just heard what sounded like fire­crack­ers, and the first sec­onds I thought that some­one is spoil­ing the show — or maybe that it was part of the show. But when I heard some shots, some scream­ing from peo­ple be­ing shot, I told my­self there’s some­thing wrong,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press this week. “I ran.”

He and about 15 oth­ers hid in a small room and called po­lice, who told them to keep quiet un­til emer­gency crews came.

It took nearly three hours.

“We were lis­ten­ing to some shoot­ing and scream­ing, and when we thought it was over it was just the time the ter­ror­ists would reload their weapons and shoot again,” he said. At one point, bul­lets hit a wall he was squeezed against, and he felt it shake.

When the si­lence and strain be­came too much for some­one in the cramped room, he re­counted, the oth­ers would softly say “shhh” — to show “we were to­gether, we were a unit, there was no one left alone.”

“When fi­nally the emer­gency crew came to res­cue us, we passed from that dark, tiny room to full light with a bloody bat­tle­field . And po­lice­men ev­ery five me­ters telling me ‘don’t look at them, mis­ter, they are dead, you can­not do any­thing,’” he said. But “there were so many corpses I had to look where I put my feet.”

To­day, the mem­o­ries some­times pierce his con­cen­tra­tion when he is teach­ing, and he has to stop.

Sur­vivor’s guilt is a prob­lem for some. And many are still re­cov­er­ing from in­juries.

Daniel Psenny was work­ing from his apart­ment across from the Bat­a­clan when he heard gun­shots and saw pan­icked peo­ple es­cap­ing via the emer­gency exit and win­dows. He went down to help, pulled an in­jured Amer­i­can man into his build­ing, reached to close the door — and was shot in the arm by an au­to­matic ri­fle.

Psenny, a jour­nal­ist for Le Monde, con­tin­ues to un­dergo phys­i­cal ther­apy af­ter the shot burned his nerve end­ings. “I’ve lost part of the sen­sa­tions and mo­bil­ity in some fin­gers,” he said. “It’s a bit bet­ter than one year ago be­cause I am on my feet and alive. But it’s quite tir­ing and heavy-go­ing.”

“We are not like we were be­fore. There is a ‘be­fore’ and an ‘af­ter’ Novem­ber 13th, in the way of be­ing, look­ing, see­ing, even if, in my case, I con­tinue go­ing to a per­for­mance, to a movie, take flights, and get on with my life.”

Sur­vivors also face frus­tra­tions — the pro­tracted in­ves­ti­ga­tion, the French bu­reau­cracy re­quired to be rec­og­nized as vic­tims — al­low­ing for gov­ern­ment com­pen­sa­tion and med­i­cal sup­port. And what they see as in­jus­tices, like not be­ing in­vited to the Bat­a­clan’s re­open­ing con­cert with St­ing on Satur­day night. Fam­i­lies of those who died were given the pri­or­ity in­stead.

Reiben­berg has cho­sen to look to the fu­ture af­ter what hap­pened that night, when 19 peo­ple were killed in his cafe, La Belle Equipe. His wife Djamila’s last words were “take care of Tess,” their daugh­ter. His “guardian an­gel,” cafe man­ager and long­time friend Hodda Saadi, also died, along with her sis­ter Hal­ima, cel­e­brat­ing her 36th birthday.

“What these (at­tack­ers) were tar­get­ing, we were rep­re­sent­ing it fully — di­ver­sity, mix­ing, shar­ing,” said Reiben­berg. A French Jew, his wife was Mus­lim and his staff had roots reach­ing to Burk­ina Faso, Tu­nisia, Mex­ico, the Alps...

Reiben­berg spoke from his apart­ment near the at­tack sites in the 11th ar­rondisse­ment — and near a new tea shop he’s open­ing soon, ex­pand­ing his business be­cause he re­fuses to give in to fear.

His mes­sage for the at­tack­ers is clear: “It’s not be­cause you shoot us and take away our cher­ished ones that we will sud­denly be­come stupid and hate­ful peo­ple who will stop lov­ing oth­ers.”

FRAN­CIS MORI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The owner of La Belle Equipe cafe, Gre­gory Reiben­berg, an­swers ques­tions dur­ing an in­ter­view with he As­so­ci­ated Press at his home in Paris, France, on Wed­nes­day.

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