Now Reading:

Life after terror: survivors' stories


Life after terror: survivors' stories

In partnership with

Maryse Wolinski: “I’m still hearing that voice which said to me, ‘Darling, I’m going to Charlie’”.

Daniel Biddle: “For me 7/7, from my experience, is a pain like no other. It will never go away, the effects of that day will never leave me.”

Françoise Rudetzki: “They said that terrorism was over in 1983 and I said no, it’s only just starting.”

Françoise Rudetzki is a victim of terrorism but also a survivor.

In 1983, Françoise was severely injured when a bomb exploded right outside the restaurant in Paris where she and her husband were eating. It would be the day her fight began.

A fight not to have her leg amputated. A fight to prove the explosion was a terrorist act. But especially a fight to guarantee full rights for victims of terrorism. Here in Paris, she shows us a statue dedicated to all victims of terrorism. She was behind the initiative.

“The first fight was in ’86, to create a solidarity fund, unique in compensating victims of terrorism. The second fight, which took four years to win in 1990, was to establish a law recognising civilian victims of war and that terrorism is a new type of war,” said Rudetzki.

Françoise Rudetzki has been helping these victims of a new type of war ever since the solidarity fund was created.

Her latest battle: making sure the survivors and victims’ families of the latest attacks understand their full rights. But also understand how the process is long and often difficult.

“This fund is based on contributions everyone makes in France, it’s a modest sum of 4.30 euros which is taken from national insurance payments. We have large resources and what we call integral compensation which covers physical injuries and after-care for psychological trauma,” adds Rudetzki.

“We can also help fund professional re-training for those who can’t continue in their previous jobs. Sometimes, there are difficulties for some victims because of the evaluation procedures by medical experts. And it’s true that sometimes the experts have a tendency, once the initial emotional moment has passed, to minimise the physical and emotional scars.”

Rudetzki says learning to live without her husband of almost 50 years has been difficult and painful. Although she is grateful for the solidarity fund, compensation has been slow to materialise.

“I find that there were a lot of promises made that were not kept. For example, the solidarity fund starts by telling you that they will give you a provision. So there is a small provision and then the necessary to help you maintain the main standard of living that you had with your husband. But it’s been one year now and it’s extremely complicated. They are waiting to see how his books have been sold since the attack because they could then reduce that from my compensation. But this has nothing to do with that.”

Daniel Biddle knows the effects of having physical and psychological scars all too well.

He survived the London terrorist attacks on July 7, 2005 which killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.

Biddle was just feet away from one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up in the London Underground.

What happens next

For Daniel, not only was the attack beyond surreal but a compensation process very different from other countries was also surreal.

“It’s one of those situations where you’re trying to come to terms with the impact of what’s happened. You’re trying to come to terms with your disability. you’re trying to come to terms with your new body shape and everything is different. And then you’re handed a book, basically like a shopping catalogue and it just basically lists injuries, body parts that are missing and you just have to go through the book ticking what body parts are worth the most amount of money,” said Biddle.

“For me what was incredibly distressful was the fact that I had a lot of injuries. I had over a hundred injuries to my body but for our compensation system in the UK, you can only claim for three injuries. Once you’ve made that claim, they then deduct money off of each injury.

“So I got 110,000 pounds for losing my legs. They then deducted 70 percent of the value of losing an eye and then deducted 85 percent of losing my spleen. So they effectively penalise you for being injured and having more than one injury in an event that is totally out of your control,” he added.

Out of your control

In France with first Charlie Hebdo and then the November 13 attacks, not only Paris but an entire nation lost its innocence. Coming to terms with understanding and the process of bereavement, anger and rebuilding lives is something Daniel Biddle is now also very familiar with.

“Being a survivor of a terrorist attack myself, I know what those families are going to have to go through and I know what the survivors of that attack what they’re going to be facing in the months and years coming and it is incredibly difficult.

“There is nothing anybody can say that will ease the pain for these families of those that lost somebody or who were seriously injured. And the one thing I learned very quickly from my own experience is that your physical injuries heal up pretty quickly, the scars are there, but the mental scars, they stay for ages.”

Coming to terms

Maryse Wolinksi, whose husband was killed a year ago in the Charlie Hebdo# attack, has tried to deal with the trauma by writing a book.

For her, the pain is still raw, and the questions are still there as to why. But she believes writing a book to try and answer some of these questions is part of the healing process.

“I wrote the book because this phrase ‘Darling, I’m going to Charlie’ kept coming back to me. I couldn’t stop hearing it and that’s where I started because I’d hear it and then nothing,” said Wolinski

“How could an attack take place at the offices of a satirical newspaper which was well known to the authorities as a sensitive site but not being watched? I really wanted to understand so I started what I suppose one would call an investigation. It allowed to find peace in a way but I think the book I wrote is the start of rebuilding.”

Rebuilding one’s life after the terror. For Daniel, the turning point has been meeting his wife Gem two years ago. But also going back to work. He is now a consultant for a company he created which advises both companies and individuals on increasing access for those with disabilities.

“Terrible things happen to people all the time. Disability for me was the worse thing that I could have ever imagined and I never thought I’d be in the situation that I am in now. And it took me a long time to realise that life isn’t over. It’s just the start of a new chapter,” said Biddle.

“I’m fortunate that I got a second chance in life and very fortunate that I got a second chance at happiness. So a lot of the driving force behind what I and my company do is basically saying to people yes, terrible things happen and it takes a long time to deal with it but there is a way through. And if we can make that journey a little bit easier, make it possible for you to go to a restaurant, a hotel, get away for a weekend, just do something that you would deem normal from the life you used to lead. If we can be part of that process to make it possible then that has got be a good thing.”

Françoise Rudetzki hopes to soon be able to hand over the reigns of her work to someone else.

For 30 years, the solidarity fund she helped set up has helped compensate more than 4,200 victims, both in France and overseas.

But for her, the most important thing is not the number but the people behind them.

“There shouldn’t be a difference between the Charlie victims, well-known journalists, or showbiz celebrities. All victims, for me, must be treated equally, whether it’s someone homeless or someone famous; and I’m proud of that.”

Next Article