Some survivors froze and some wept when they returned to the Bataclan music hall in Paris this month, nearly a year since they witnessed jihadist gunmen slay dozens of concertgoers.
But all were determined to face their fears at the place where 90 people were shot dead on November 13 in the culmination of the Islamic State group's slaughter of 130 people across Paris.
“When I left the Bataclan, I imagined it as a bloodthirsty monster which wanted to consume me,” said Caroline Langlade, of the victims' association Life for Paris.
“In fact it's just a room with walls where something tragic happened. It's not the building itself which is tragic,” she said.
When the trio of jihadists brandishing Kalashnikovs burst into a concert by Californian group the Eagles of Death Metal, Langlade and around 40 other people among the crowd of 1,500 barricaded themselves in a room upstairs.
Returning for the first time 11 months later, she was astonished to find that the staircase she had charged up in a terrified state was not wooden and spiral as she had recalled.
“In fact, it was as it has always been — made of concrete and dead straight,” she said.
Another survivor, 28-year-old Maureen, who did not want to give her full name, had a similar sensation:
“The hall was not as I left it. The emergency exit was only seven metres (23 feet) away, but in my memory the distance seemed infinite.
“I went back there — I didn't have to, but it feels like a sort of victory over what we lived through that day.”
AFP spoke to survivors after a group of 260 visited the Bataclan earlier this month. A smaller group of nearly 130 visited in March.
Re-living the fear
Florence Deloche-Gaudez, part of the team of psychiatrists who have been working with survivors, said going back to the Bataclan had had a “calming effect” on many of them, despite the terrible memories it re-awakened.
“It allowed them to relive the event and feel those sensations again — the noises, the smells, what it looked like, the fear,” she said.
“Some froze while others were walking around, re-tracing the route they had taken that night.”
The visit also gave survivors a chance to talk to other survivors. “In many cases, that was the Bataclan security staff, who replied to their questions,” the psychiatrist said.
Such experiences “help them to feel less powerless and to ease the trauma of experiencing death,” she added.
The survivors filed into the concert hall in groups of five or six and led to a specially reserved area. Psychiatrists were on hand to assist them.
Some of the survivors stayed there for as long as an hour. A few people lit candles or left notes and flowers.
The Bataclan will defiantly re-open for concerts in November, but despite the building work the venue's management said it had “tried to respect the various requests from victims and to respond to them wherever possible”.
Maureen said the visit had helped her.
“When you do something like that, you don't know what good it is going to do.
“When I came out, I felt calmer. It might sound morbid to say so, but I felt it helped in my rehabilitation.”
Other survivors, like 37-year-old Anthony, who also did not want to give his full name, said he only wanted to return to the Bataclan under happier circumstances.
“I want to go back for concerts and definitely not when I am surrounded by victims,” he said. “Everyone has their own way of dealing with it.”
By Marie Giffard