Families of Paris attack victims find creative ways to honor their memories

Nov 13, 2017

On Monday, France marked the second anniversary of the attacks that killed 130 people in and around Paris two years ago. French president Emmanuel Macron and Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, stopped at commemorative plaques in the places that were hit — a stadium, cafés and the Bataclan theater — where victims' names were read aloud.

But for some families across the country, more personal tributes were called for. And in the past year, a number of creative projects to honor the dead have emerged. 

In Tonnerre, Burgundy a new structure stands out in the public park. It's a renovated music pavilion, a bandstand. It's called "Kiosque Baptiste Chevreau," named after a 24-year-old musician who was killed during the attack at the Bataclan theater in Paris. 

Chevreau grew up in Tonnerre and played guitar, so his mother, Philomène Petitjean, says there’s good reason to make this bandstand a memorial for her son.

“When he was in high school, he’d often come to the park and the bandstand,” she says. “He’d play cards, play music, talk with other kids. I’m sure he wasn’t doing his homework ... but he did everything else with his friends. So choosing to restore this bandstand was a strong symbol for us, because he loved it and spent a lot of time here.”

Petitjean says she wanted her son’s name to not just appear on a tombstone, or a commemorative plaque in Paris. She wanted Baptiste to get recognition in his hometown, too. So it made sense to use part of the family’s victims’ compensation funds to rebuild the park’s crumbling bandstand.

“We didn’t want to use this money for any other purpose than something in the memory of Baptiste,” she said. “Something tangible and useful.”

They needed to fundraise for this costly project. Philomène Petitjean’s husband Patrick says many people donated money and time because they felt compelled to do so.

“Obviously, given what happened, at a concert, at the Bataclan,” he says, “the fact that we were rebuilding a place connected with music was a way to show our resilience. And that spoke to people, not just here, but everywhere.”

They raised over $170,000. Thanks to old photographs and engravings, they were able to recreate the design of the old bandstand. Now, it’s an elegant pavilion with teal-colored ironworks and tiny dragon gargoyles at the top of slim columns. A lyre on the roof stands as a symbol of music, which was Baptiste Chevreau’s passion.

A memorial plaque reads: “This bandstand was erected against stupidity, violence, and hatred, and carries values Baptiste believed in: sharing, tolerance, love of music, art and artists.”

“This is where life is springing after death or desperation,” says Aurélia Gilbert, who is with the Paris attacks victims’ Association Treize-Onze-Quinze, “Fraternity and Truth.”

Gilbert is a Bataclan survivor herself. She says many victims’ families, like the Petitjeans, have opted to use their compensation to create positive and community-oriented memorials — including music festivals, sports events or scholarships.

“It seems so absurd to put a value in front of the life of your close ones,” she says. “Of course it is very important, because some families need compensation for supporting them, but sometimes the money seems so useless! So they wanted to dedicate that money to any project or initiative that could make the memory of their close ones still alive and to bring life where there was death before.”

In the Tonnerre park, around the bandstand, banners display messages of support and thanks from town residents and donors. There are old pictures of the bandstand, and a black-and-white photograph of Chevreau playing the guitar, smiling. Philomène Petitjean says this show of solidarity carried them through their grief.

“We were not alone,” she says, “we could tell people were affected too.”

"People thanked us for doing this and that was very touching,” says Patrick Petitjean. “Because in participating in this reconstruction project, I think people found a way to rebuild themselves, as we did this to rebuild ourselves too.”

The Petitjeans say because students often come to the park to hang out, they hope the new bandstand will encourage local youth to congregate here for decades to come, and that the town’s band will perform here regularly.


From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI