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Authors: Jacques Chessex

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A Jew Must Die

BOOK: A Jew Must Die
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Jacques Chessex is one of Switzerland’s greatest living writers. He is revered in France and won the Prix Goncourt in 1973 for
. His other works include
L’économie du ciel
Pardon mère
(2008) and
Le vampire de Ropraz
(2007), which has also been published by Bitter Lemon Press as
The Vampire of Ropraz
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
Lamentations 3:1-3
When this story begins, in April 1942, in a Europe cast into fire and bloodshed by Adolf Hitler’s War, Payerne, a fair-sized market town on the edge of the La Broye plain, not far from the border with Fribourg, is beset by dark influences. It had once been the capital of Queen Berthe, widow of Rodolphe II, King of Burgundy, who in the tenth century endowed it with an abbey church. Rural, well-to-do, the bourgeois town prefers to turn a blind eye to the recent decline of its industries and the people thereby reduced to poverty: five hundred unemployed to haunt it out of five thousand inhabitants born and bred.
The cattle and tobacco trades are the source of the town’s visible wealth. But pork-butchery most of all. The pig in every shape and form: bacon, ham, trotters,
hocks, sausage, sausage with cabbage and liver, head cheese, smoked chops, pates, ears, minced liver. The emblem of the pig dominates the town, lending it an amiable, contented air. With rustic irony the inhabitants of Payerne are called “red pigs”. But dark currents flow unseen beneath the assurance and business bustle. Complexions are rosy or ruddy, the soil is rich, but covert dangers lurk.
The War is far off: such is the general view in Payerne. It concerns others. And in any case the Swiss Army ensures our safety with its invincible battle plan. Our elite Swiss infantry, our mighty artillery, our air force as effective as the Luftwaffe, and above all our impressive anti-aircraft defence with its 20-mm Oerlikon and 7.5-cm flak guns. Fortifications all across the difficult terrain, heavily armed strongholds, toblerone anti-tank lines and, if things should go wrong, our impregnable “national redoubt” in the mountains of the Vieux-Pays. It would take some cunning to catch us out.
And then, when evening falls, the blackout. Drawn curtains, closed shutters, every source of light obscured. But what is obscured, and by whom? What is there
to hide? Payerne breathes and sweats in its bacon fat, tobacco and milk, the meat of its herds, the money in the Cantonal Bank, and the town’s wine that must be fetched from Lutry on the shores of distant Lake Geneva, just as in the days of the abbey monks - the same wine that for almost a thousand years has brought solar inebriation to a capital set in its vanity and its lard.
In spring, when this story begins, all around is lovely, with an almost supernatural intensity that contrasts with the heinous events in the town. Remote countrysides, misty forests at dawn, smelling of chill wild creatures, game-rich valleys already filled with fog, the strum of the warm breeze on great oak trees. To the east the hills close in around the outlying houses; the rolling landscape unfolds in the green light, while on plantations, stretching as far as the eye can see, tobacco is springing up in the wind from the plain. And the beech woods, open woodlands, pine groves, thick hedges and bright coppices that crown the Grandcour hills.
But evil is astir. A powerful poison is seeping in. O Germany, the abominable Hitler’s Reich! O Nibelungen, Wotan, Valkyries, brilliant, headstrong Siegfried; I
wonder what fury can be instilling these vengeful spirits from the Black Forest into the gentle woodlands of Payerne: the aberrant dream of some absurd Teutonic knights assailing the air of La Broye one spring morning in 1942, as God and a gang of demented locals are taken in, once again, by a brown-shirted Satan.
In 1939, when war breaks out, some of Payerne’s five hundred unemployed are called up to serve in the federal army. The two hundred “unfit to serve” hang around miserably in cafés, living off dodges and petty crime. The crisis of the Thirties is not yet over, and it is a killer. The local economy is in a bad way. The Bank of Payerne fails. Several factories and workshops disappear, then a large brickworks, several mills, the Agricultural Distillery and the condensed-milk plant, employing over a hundred and fifty workers, male and female. Sinister-looking characters are seen roaming the roads and streets, wearing copper earrings and black kerchiefs knotted around scrawny necks. Beggars ring on doorbells. The cafés are filled with malcontents.
Dissatisfaction, poverty, rape, drunkenness and endless accusations are rife.
Who is to blame? The filthy rich. The well-to-do. The Jews and freemasons. They know how to line their pockets, especially the Jews, when factories are closing. Just look how prosperous they are, those Jews, with their cars, their furs and businesses with tentacles reaching everywhere, while we Swiss are dying of hunger. And to cap it all, this is
country. The Jews and the freemasons. Leeches, sucking our true blood.
There are several Jewish families in Payerne. One of them, the Bladts, originally from Alsace, owns the Galeries Vaudoises, a forerunner of the Monoprix department stores: goods from Paris, household articles, toys, good clothes and work clothes, on Main Street, in the centre of town, the only shop anywhere around that sells a range of merchandise. Several floors, twenty-odd employees. The Galeries’ success and the business savvy of Jean Bladt, their owner and manager, spark the envy and then the ire of the town’s small shopkeepers. Another Jew getting under our skin. Look what they’ve done in other places.
Other places. Other places means Germany; the persecution of the Jews there gives ideas to the big fat pork-eaters and Protestants - though no one will admit it, for here you live in the implicit, the sneer, the insinuation. Jewish vermin. Cockroach Jews. Scheming Jews, a finger in every pie all over our economy, weaselling their way into politics, even into the law, the army. Just look at the cavalry, where Jews do so well.
Avenches, ten miles away in the direction of Berne, got a synagogue in the previous century. The community there is more active and more established than in Payerne. A stud farm and horse dealership. But the synagogue is to be closed, and nasty rumours are spreading through the ancient Roman countryside (the town was once a capital for Emperor Marcus Aurelius).
La Nation,
the organ of the Vaudois League, denounces the Jews of Avenches and Donatyre, a nearby village in which the presence of a Jewish family irks the editors of the extreme right-wing newspaper. Who should be entitled to breed and sell horses when our army needs them so badly in this time of war? Who should be profiting from it, instead of the Jewish scum sucking our local blood and marrow?
There is not much risk in pointing at the Jewish vampire. In Lausanne, as early as 1932, a group of lawyers, egged on by Marcel Regamey’s Vaudois League, tried to have Jews excluded from the bar. Their demand was broadened to include all the liberal professions and the upper ranks of the army. Another schemer and agitator for the past several years has been Pastor Philippe Lugrin, until recently the incumbent of the parish of Combremont, a raving anti-Semite and member of the Vaudois League, then of the Front, and then of the National Union (which has chosen the district of La Broye to infiltrate the unemployed, the impoverished small farmers and workers in fear of losing their jobs). In the back rooms of cafés in Payerne and the surrounding countryside, this individual holds meetings violently inflamed by hatred of the Jew and the “Jewish International”.
The Reverend Lugrin was recently relieved of his pastoral duties, less because of his ideas, which do not appear to bother the Church at all, than because he divorced the daughter of a powerful figure in Lausanne. However, the German Legation is looking on, and secretly puts him on its payroll. For Philippe Lugrin is able, ferociously
cold-blooded and highly organized. Listing Vaudois and Swiss Jews, cataloguing their businesses and activities, enumerating their accomplices and backers, recording their addresses, phone numbers and car number plates, Lugrin agitates, denounces, caricatures and calls for a conspicuous example to be made. A familiar figure in the Nazi legation in Berne, and supported by it financially and logistically, this strange man of God interweaves in his diatribes enumerations of recent bankruptcies of honest, indigenous industries and the Torah, police reports and the business register, the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
the mythologies of ancient Europe and the theories of Alfred Rosenberg, the fascination of Dr Josef Goebbels and, above all,
Mein Kampf.
Again he calls for an example. Vengeance! Parasites! Kill the rats!
His public understands that a clean sweep is required to rid them without further delay of the breed responsible for their humiliation. Shouts and applause.
Deutschland über alles! Die Fahne hoch!
The recording of the Nazi anthem, which Lugrin has brought along in his little suitcase, crackles and booms from the bistro’s gramophone. Tonight, behind closed frontiers, Europe lies in Hitler’s
grip. Stalingrad is still far off. Here, on the peaceful plain of La Broye, in the Café de la Croix Blanche, Le Cerf, or the Winkelried, every meeting held by Pastor Lugrin ends with a clicking of heels and the stiff-arm salute. Death to the Jews!
Heil Hitler!
O Führer, may you rule a thousand years over your resurgent Europe!
In Payerne the speeches of the Hitlerite pastor have fallen on fertile ground. Holding more and more meetings, stirring up the rancour and frustrations caused by the crisis, the efforts of the tempter Philippe Lugrin are crowned with success. In the back rooms where we have seen him at work, and often at night in disused sheds or abandoned brickworks, sometimes in a clearing in Invuardes forest lit by torches or adapted motorcycle headlamps, the cleric’s lean frame, brusque gestures, head with slicked-down hair, little Goebbels-style spectacles, and then his words, coolly spoken but with a burning conviction you can sense beneath their icy surface, have galvanized his audience of the unemployed, embittered, disappointed peasants and impoverished, impotent,
hot-headed swaggerers now keen to settle scores with the Jewish canker, the octopus, the tentacular monster, the international plot that is undermining our trade, taking over our banks, allied with Moscow, New York and London to erode our integrity, strangling us a day at a time.
In these remote countrysides the hatred of the Jew has a taste of soil mulled over in bitterness, turned over and ruminated, with the glister of pig’s blood and the isolated cemeteries from where the bones of the dead still speak, of misappropriated inheritances, suicides, bankruptcies and embittered, frustrated bodies a hundred times humiliated. Hearts and groins have oozed a heavy broth into the black, age-old earth, mingling their thick humours in the opaque soil with the blood of herds of swine and horned cattle. The mind, or what remains of it, inflamed by murky family and political jealousies, is looking for a scapegoat to blame for all life’s injustice and suffering, and finds it in the Jew, so different from us, with his prominent nose, olive complexion and crinkly hair on his broad skull. A Jew has a bank account and a big belly - nothing surprising in that. The Jew and
his circumcision. The Jew that doesn’t eat the way we do. The Jew grown fat from robbing us with his banks, pawnbroking and dealing in the cattle and horses he sells to our army.
A hereditary blending of the blood from animal and human carcasses bound to their rural destiny, dissolving in the earth of neglected graveyards. Lives brought to naught, dead folk who have never left this unbounded landscape, imprisoned, stupefied, ruminating: “I’ve been exploited. Robbed.” Words full of hate.
How strange that these words should be heard again and again in the transparent light of these hills, in the idyllic radiance of early spring. At the base of the yellow limestone abbey church, the town goes on with life, as if the air and people’s souls were not rent by any threat, by any danger. Each week at Payerne market, on the little square where the wind comes leaping from the plain, there are baskets of winter vegetables, rennet apples and little dried fruits; despite the “rationing”, baskets of eggs, thick round cheeses, cream from the dairies, honey from woodland and meadow, fruit bottled in grape juice and walnut oil. The cutler’s table, the abundance on the
butchers’ and delicatessen stalls, are shaded from the spring sun by orange canvas and tarpaulins, beneath which the filtered light casts a glow over the splendid meat. Always meat. From where would the warning come? As if the too rich soil of the surrounding countryside was fated to end in these bloody cuts of meat: sirloins, ribs, liver, dark red, with a glaze of purple ooze. While pig’s heads, as if sculpted, grin from white dishes, one thinks of the capitals in the nearby church, wanted ten centuries before by a saintly queen for the serenity and constancy of her subjects.
BOOK: A Jew Must Die
12.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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