A modern morality tale

TERRORISM / After a chance encounter with Carlos the Jackal, artist and filmmaker Ulrike Schaz remains on secret service records years later.

It’s the summer of 1975 and Ulrike Schaz is in love in the most romantic city in Europe. She’s just returned to Paris from a weekend at a rambling old farmhouse in Normandy with her handsome French boyfriend Jean Marie Leleu. They spend the day roaming around and driving out to Versailles before dropping to a farewell party for a Venezuelan student friend of Jean Marie’s.

In any other universe, this could be the beginning of a romantic novel, full of delightful twists and turns, passionate lovemaking, and jealousies provoked. In Ulrike’s universe, it was the day that turned the earth on its axis, when fate dealt her a hand that had labeled her a terrorist in many countries ever since.

Nearly half a century later, in Paris – No day without you, Ulrike tells her story – with the help of old friends – in a compellingly personal manner, where she weaves the back story of her family and upbringing into the events that changed – and charted – the course of her life.

Carlos the Jackal-Paris No Day without You-post1
Paris – No day without You, a film by Ulrike Schaz

Revolutionary Causes

Jean Marie, the privileged son of a good family, had met Ulrike on the shores of Lake Constance near her hometown of Tuttlingen when she was 17. After losing contact for a few years, Jean Marie wrote to her and – their romance rekindled – she moved to Paris and the young couple threw themselves into the bohemian left-wing intellectual scene.

Jean Marie had a lot of friends, most of them, like him, dedicated to revolutionary causes.

In today’s world of frequent terrorist incidents often perpetrated by extreme Islamists, it is easy to forget that in the Europe of the 1970s terrorism was also a constant threat – with various revolutionary groups such as the Baader-Meinhof Gang and RAF (the Red Army Faction) – carrying out assassinations of senior political figures and others seen as members of a hated capitalist establishment. The inchoate mass murder of so many of today’s terrorist incidents – or grisly aspects such as the recent beheading of a French schoolteacher – may have been lacking, but the headlines were no less sensationalist than today and fear stalked the streets of every major European city.

Jean Marie liked to talk revolution but was never a party to any terrorist-related activity. Unbeknown to him, however, one of the Venezuelan students he used to hang out with, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez – better known to the press as Carlos the Jackal – was a wanted terrorist. To Jean Marie, Sánchez was just one of the Venezuelan crowd and a guy for whom he had once fixed a spy-hole in the door of his flat, lest a girlfriend turns up when he was with another girl, or so Sánchez had told him.

Jean Marie had a lot of friends, most of them, like him, dedicated to revolutionary causes.


When one of the Venezuelan girls was returning home, she threw a farewell party and Jean Marie suggested to Ulrike they drop in for a drink or two to wish her well. Neither had any reason to suspect something was amiss, but when they turned up at the entrance door to the apartment block, they found the lobby filled with uniformed police. A less naïve couple would have looked confused, enquired whether this was No.35 or No.37, and promptly left. Instead, when asked, Jean Marie told the truth – they were on their way up to the flat above for a party. They were promptly arrested.

Only later – much later, after the days and nights held without charge, strip-searched, and abused in the basement of the Interior Ministry HQ that had served 30 years before as the Gestapo HQ in Nazi-Occupied Paris – did they learn that two hours before they showed up, Sanchez had shot dead two undercover cops and a police informer before fleeing the apartment. The Venezuelan girl had also disappeared – to this day Jean Marie is unsure if she had been tipped off or not.

Ulrike had no idea what had happened. Although Jean Marie had been under covert surveillance for two years, he also was entirely ignorant of the nature of the circles he mixed in, and could not have possibly known the danger he was exposing Ulrike to.

Carlos the Jackal-Paris No Day without You-post2
Paris – No day without You, a film by Ulrike Schaz

Forgotten by most

Ulrike, now an artist and filmmaker undimmed by the years and the stress that followed her arrest, tells her story without a trace of self-pity. The humiliations – being stripped naked within hours of her arrest, observed – and harassed – when she goes to the toilet by her French police guard; the rubbish the press printed about her and her legal battles to secure retractions and the destruction of official records labeling her a terrorist, all this is told with an eye for detail and artistic props. A shadow theatre effectively sketches the background and allows the more disturbing elements of this story that wove a web of intrigue and lies around an innocent young woman, to be told without rancour.

It is a modern morality tale – one that exposes the ease with which guilt by association may be established and the difficulty one has in clearing their name. As recently as 1994, Ulrike was arrested at the border on a visit to New York, strip-searched and shackled before being deported the next day. Only then did she realize that the fact she had successfully had the FBI remove her designation as a terrorist from its files in the late 1980s, meant nothing when dozens of databases of other law enforcement agencies, including the immigration department, still had that reference.

There is humour and nostalgia for young love here too: as Ulrike and Jean Marie shuffle through yellowing old letters from the 1970s full of the first flush of love and passion, he remarks at one point: «Who knows how things may have turned out differently? Perhaps I would have fathered my first child with you?»

It is a modern morality tale – one that exposes the ease with which guilt by association may be established and the difficulty one has in clearing their name.

Paris: no day without you is an intimate portrait of an episode long forgotten by most, but for those caught up in its web, it forever remains part of their lives.

Carlos the Jackal was eventually captured in 1994 while undergoing an operation in Sudan, where he had been given protection by Sudanese authorities who later did a deal with France and the US to give him up. Flown to Paris and put on trial, the Venezuelan was convicted of 16 murders and is currently aged 71, still serving the life sentence without the prospect of parole.

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Nick Holdsworth
Nick Holdsworthhttp://nickholdsworth.net/
Our regular critic. Journalist, writer, author. Works mostly from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.

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