‘ It still attains me angry ‘: the spouse of a murdered Charlie Hebdo cartoonist speaks out

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Maryse Wolinski, whose husband Georges was killed in the Charlie Hebdo attack, talks about the notes he left behind and the questions that there is a need answering

On Maryse Wolinskis bathroom wall, beside the shelves of hairbrushes and perfume bottles, an orange Post-it note is starting to curl. Written in artful capital letters, the message on it reads, Darling, after a very small couscous at Nassers, Im going to bed, thinking about your adorable smile. Good night, G.

The note was written by cartoonist Georges Wolinski. A few months ago, his widow Maryse carefully packed it and other notes from her old apartment and brought them here to her new flat, positioning them around her new walls like paints. Outside her bedroom doorway, one read: Good night. Another in her examine says, theres some cash in the Filofax and plenty of love behind the breast pocket of my tweed coat. She has envelopes full of what she calls these Post-its damour.

When my husband was here, our Post-its were a kind of mark of love and tenderness, Wolinski says, sitting in her living room surrounded by framed photos of him. If he didnt leave a note out for me, Id feel sad and say he had to write me one. Now they have taken on this huge symbolism, because theyre all thats left of him. She straightens up, as if giving herself a pep talk. Im trying to reduce the number of them, because I have to start being serious and reasonable. I have to get on with some kind of life without my husbands gaze.

One of Georgess Post-its damour. Photo: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

On 7 January last year, Georges Wolinski, one of Frances best-known political cartoonists, woke up early and sat at his drawing board, finishing a sketch. He shuffled around their flat on Pariss chic Boulevard Saint-Germain in his black towelling dressing gown, seeming remarkably gloomy as he dunked his buttered toast into milky coffee. He didnt always go to the weekly editorial session of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, for whom he had depicted cartoons for more than 40 years, but he was going that morning because the editor, Charb, wanted everyone there to mark the new year with a slice of cake, but largely to discuss the dire finances of a newspaper that was rapidly losing readers and monies. Darling, Im going to Charlie, he hollered to his wife as he went out the door. She was in a bath towel, getting ready for her day. Two hours later, he was shot dead through the heart.

Two French brethren, Sad and Chrif Kouachi, who were brought up in a rural youngsters home and radicalised in Paris, burst into the Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting with Kalashnikovs and killed 10 people in two minutes. Investigators later described the terrible reek of gunpowder and blood as the bodies of some of Frances most famous cartoonists, household names, lay face down in a cramped editorial meeting room. Charlie Hebdo had sparked international outrage when it republished the Muhammad cartoons from Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2006, and had produced its own cartoons of the oracle since. In November 2011, Charlie Hebdos previous offices had been firebombed after it published a special edition guest-edited by the oracle Muhammad and renamed Charia Hebdo. It had published farther cartoons of Muhammad in 2012, despite a government appeal not to go ahead, and the closure of embassies and schools in 20 countries out of anxiety of reprisals.

The Kouachis, who screamed, Weve avenged the prophet Muhammad, weve killed Charlie Hebdo, also killed a maintenance man and a Muslim police officer outside, before going on the run. In a bizarre coincidence, they hijacked the car of the Boulevard Saint-Germain newsagent who had sold Wolinski his newspapers that morning. Two days later, their accomplice, Amedy Coulibaly, a former robber, killed four people in a brutal siege at a kosher supermarket.

Maryse put Georgess notes back up on her walls after she moved. Photo: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

Since the Charlie Hebdo attack, Maryse Wolinski, 72, a journalist , novelist and playwright, has become Frances public face of heartbreak. Her angry, outspoken questioning of the government and the police has become a regular fixture on French Tv. She has criticised what she calls the unbelievable country failings that allowed the Charlie Hebdo attack to happen. When, in Novembers coordinated attacks on Paris bars, a boulder gig and “the member states national” stadium, 130 people were killed by French and Belgian gunmen, many of whom had returned from Syria and were known to the security services, she says, My fury only multiplied. In January, she published a volume, named Chrie, Je Vais Charlie after Georgess last word to her, in which she offered her own investigation into the failings; she criticised the state for loosening security on Charlie Hebdo despite a fatwa on its editor. She also questioned what she deemed the insufficient police reply, the failure of intelligence and security services to keep track of the known Islamist attackers, and the poor therapy of mourning families.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, has insisted that the security was adequate and that all that could have been done was done. But, says Wolinski, As far as Im concerned, theres a kind of double violence. Theres the violence of the attack, and then theres a second violence in the denial of police fails. How was this attack possible? Im still asking myself that topic. The police protection of the offices had been scaled down, despite the French parliament and police saying an attack on French clay was imminent. There was no anticipation of an attack and not sufficient prevention. The interior minister says there were no fails. Quite simply, hes lying. And one does wonder why hes lying.

At 80, Georges Wolinski was the oldest cartoonist to succumb in the Charlie Hebdo attack. He was a founding member of the publication, after working at its irreverent precursor, Hara-Kiri, which was banned in 1970 for publishing a spoof about the death of Charles de Gaulle. But Wolinski, who worked prolifically as a political satirist, cartoonist, advertising illustrator and playwright, gracing practically every newspaper in France, was not known for Muhammad cartoons: there is no record of him ever drawing the oracle. Instead, his trademark, as his fans would say, was tits and arse.

He chronicled the post-May 1968 French sexual revolution with pared-down line drawings of the buttocks, breasts and groins of rampant girls work that was later find by some as macho and sexist. In a famous 1990 s self-portrait, he sat with a cigar as scores of naked women battled to light it.

Maryse and Georges: I dont know how Im going to live without his gaze. Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

Maryse, who was his muse, is still startlingly recognisable as the young woman who gallivants naked through his drawings. They satisfied when she was 20, an intern at Le Journal du Dimanche, and he was already a successful cartoonist, nine years older. They wedded soon after. He used to call her the young blonde, a label she repudiated in a 2011 essay, Georges, If Merely You Knew, about how maddening some of his saucy depicts could be, but how ultimately supportive he was. But the young blonde died in the rubble of this attack, she says. There will be no more young blonde now.

A vocal feminist, Maryse often publicly took Wolinski to task for his draws. In several volumes, written as open letters to each other, they dissected their relationship: his love, her brief affair, their decision to sleep in separate bedrooms to maintain the seduction in their relationship. He was what Id define as the most male chauvinist of feminists. He always supported me in my conflicts. But, at the same period, his education and childhood in North Africa meant he always maintained something of that time when humen is highly macho.

Georges Wolinski was born into a Jewish household in Tunis, and didnt arrive in France until he was 13. He belonged firmly to an older generation of French cartoonists. Charb, the 47 -year-old editor of Charlie Hebdo who was under police protection, the only French person on an al-Qaida hit list after he depicted many of the publications Muhammad cartoons had asked Wolinski to change his approach in recent times, Maryse says. He wanted more politics. She felt her husband seemed uneasy with the direction the publication was take, and that he had told the owner of the bistro near his flat that he felt it was going to end badly.

Maryse doesnt know why her husband expended the whole month before the attacks talking about death. It was out of character. In the days before, he was gloomy. I thought it was the possible future bankruptcy of Charlie Hebdo that was worrying him. She said he had told friends, but not her, that he was concerned about Charlie Hebdo and felt the situation would turn against them. Now she feels these were premonitions.

Wolinskis life had been shaped by demise and violence. When he was two, his father, the head of a decorative ironwork company, was murdered by federal employees in Tunis with a gunshot to the head at a time when workers were demonstrating for greater rights. Wolinski subsequently said the killing haunted me my whole life. Soon afterwards, his mother left Tunisia for France to be treated for tuberculosis, while he remained behind, raised by his grandparents. He didnt see his mother again for a decade, by which point she had remarried and had another child.

Aged 13, he joined her in Brianon, a mountain town in the Alps, where he began drawing cartoons for the school newspaper. He analyse at a prestigious Paris art college and ran part-time in a hat factory, before sending some describes to the satirical paper Hara-Kiri, which spotted his talent and hired him. In 1966, his first wife was killed in a auto accident as she drove and he was asleep in the back seat, leaving him alone with their two daughters, aged six and eight. Maryse helped create them, and the daughter they had together, while she worked as a journalist and novelist, creating children narratives , fictions and plays. Her main point of pride is that their 47 years of marriage was a window in his life where there was no violence. Until this, she says.

Georges was not known for Muhammad cartoons. His trademark was tits and arse. Photograph: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

When Maryse recounts the Charlie Hebdo attack, minute by minute, its as if she is telling it in slow motion. Theres a pause for each fateful moment where events might have been stopped. The gunman had an extraordinary window of opportunity to carry out the two attacks, she says. The magazine should have been better protected.

At around 11.15 am that Wednesday morning, the Kouachi brethren pulled up on rue Nicolas-Appert in Pariss 11 th arrondissement in a black Citron C3. The warren-like building in which Charlie Hebdo had an office on the second floor had several entrances. The publication had not taken into account a security audit that recommended a raft of measures; instead, they had just an entry code on their door, on a second-floor passageway. Charlie Hebdo, which had been the subject of numerous threats since was published Muhammad cartoons in 2006, had been under varying degrees of police protection over recent years. But, that day, the police van that had once been routinely parked outside the main entrance to the building, alongside a metal police-protection hurdle, was no longer there, replaced with rolling patrols that would regularly pass by. Maryse blames a police union which, she claims, lobbied against the large resources devoted to protecting Charlie Hebdo. It still attains me angry, she says.

The Kouachi friends at first couldnt find the right entryway. Dressed in black and carrying AK-4 7s, they went into various different companies in the sprawling build, including a group that provided renders for newborn newborns, threatening staff and asking where Charlie Hebdo was. Returning to the main entryway, they shot dead a maintenance man in front of his horrified colleagues. Between 11.18 and 11.33 am, when the Kouachis finally accessed the publications small, second-floor office and opened fire, there were, according to Maryse, 11 desperate calls to police from people in and around the building. But she claims that the street address, although published in both the phone book and in the weekly publication, was not on the police system as Charlie Hebdos location. She believes this meant that, when the calls came in, police were not immediately aware that it was the publication that was under assault. Nor, she says, were Charlie Hebdo faculty called and cautioned. Instead, they continued their meeting, with the thick door to their offices blocking any sound from outside.

The Kouachis eventually satisfied Coco, a cartoonist, on the stairs and, pointing a Kalashnikov at her, induced her type out the entrance code to the Charlie Hebdo offices. The friend entered the magazines tiny conference room and in two minutes fired 34 bullets at close range, leaving 10 dead and 11 wounded, including four seriously.

Maryse Wolinski went to a gymnastics class that morning. Then she had a meeting and turned off her phone. In a taxi, she switched it on again to remind her husband he was to meet her at 4pm to view a flat, because their landlord had recently given them notification to move. I couldnt understand why my phone had so many messages on it from people I hadnt assured for ages, she says. She wondered about this out loud to the driver. He asked what her husband did for a living, pulled over and said there had been an attack.

She waited, angst-ridden, at home for news; eventually, it was her son-in-law who told her Georges was dead. She is still hurt that no official or police officer ever called, which entailed she didnt fully believe it. The emergency crisis numbers were ringing out. She says she was later told that because all police resources had been put into protecting the president, Franois Hollande, and other legislators who were visiting the site of the attack, There were no police left to call the families. She winces. Its crazy, she says.

Once I knew my husband had been killed, I became entirely obsessed with his body. I wanted them to tell me where his body was, but no one could tell me. For two days and nights, she tried to locate his corpse and couldnt. Days afterwards, she learned that his body had lain at the scene of such crimes that night and been removed to the forensics institute the next day. During that time, she made up her own narrative. He was 80, he had four or five stents, so I told myself he had probably died of a heart attack.

When she later went to see Georgess body in the mortuary, the psychologist said he had the most serene face of any corpse she had assured. He was shot by four bullets, but the first hit him in the aorta, killing him instantaneously. This was important for me and my daughter Elsa, because we feared he had been afraid and suffered before dying. But he still would have watched as they shot Charb. How did he react to that? Its difficult to say, because my husband was a funny old character, and I cant tell. I think he would have been calmly stupefied, altogether stunned. And in that case, you dont move. So he then took a bullet and died.

I lived as if Georges had gone off on a trip. I didnt touch anything. Photo: Ed Alcock for the Guardian

When police dedicated her Georgess possessions his container, marriage ring and diary a pen was missing. She thinks he likely died with that pen in his hand.

Ten months later, on the night of 13 November, when gunmen killed 130 people across Paris in three hours, spraying cafe terraces with bullets and firing into the crowd at a concert, Wolinski was in bed listening to the radio. My daughter called and said, Mum, turn off the radio. I didnt, I kept listening and my anger intensified, she says. I said to myself, they havent learned the lessons of January its terrible. Theyre building the same mistakes with the families, the wives, the children. It emerged that in the summer, a jihadi returning to France from Syria had told police about dialogues between jihadis about attacking a rock concert in Europe. She believes that, like Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan concert hall was a sensitive site that should have been protected by police. When I heard about all the relatives who had searched for hours for their loved ones before being told they were dead, that increased my fury, she says.

One family of a victim of the November attacks afterward told how, guided by officials, they had maintained vigil for hours by a severely maimed body in hospital, before subsequently detecting it was not their deceased sister but someone else. Families of the November victims lately gave evidence to a parliamentary investigation on what they deemed the states numerous mistakes, poor support, unanswered emergency phone lines and absence of humanity towards them.

After the one-year commemorations of the Charlie Hebdo carnage Wolinski let out a sob when “shes seen” her husbands name had been misspelled on a plaque she says she will continue her own investigations into the attack. Like many in France, she presumes there are more terrorist attacks to come. Its not finished yet, she says.

In the first few months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, she would imagine the shooting each night before she went to sleep. But I lived as if Georges had gone off on a trip. I didnt touch anything , not even a jumper on the back of a chair. When she lately moved, she had the contents of his examine, complete with his drawing board, moved to a museum in central France. But in my wardrobe Ive hung up one of his jackets, his hat and a pair of shoes.

She misses the style he used to look at her. I dont know how Im going to live without his gaze. Its not very feminist to say that, but thats just how it is. It was a gaze that instilled confidence, a love for life. It was very important to me. For years, Georges Wolinski quipped that, when he died, his wife should have him cremated and throw his ashes down the lavatory, so I can see your arse every day. She raises an eyebrow. No, I didnt respect that at all.

Georges was cremated, but his urn was buried in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, where people still leave pencils, pens, drawings and flowers. She doesnt want his tomb decorated in this way, but accepts that people want to remember him. When I go there, I clear it all away, Maryse says. She favor his marble mausoleum left for the most part plain, almost like a blank page. A final chapter, left empty.

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