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Authors: Jacques Chessex

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BOOK: A Jew Must Die
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Deaf in his left ear, Arthur Bloch bends his head when in company to catch the conversation. Often has
a Sonotone hearing aid in his left ear. Invariably wears a black or very dark grey felt hat, round in shape, and rarely ventures out without his willow walking stick gripped in a fist that gleams with sweat, for when he is buying he has the habit of prodding and poking the animals in the ribs and hindquarters with his stick in order to judge them better.
Arthur Bloch was born in 1882 in Aarberg, Canton of Berne, the only boy in the family and elder brother to four girls. Arthur Bloch was nine when his father died in 1891. His mother sent him to learn the language at the French Institute; after that he did his military service in Lucerne and Thun, in the cavalry - horses already. In 1914, when war broke out, he served in the federal army, in the dragoons. It was then he lost the hearing in one ear.
In 1916, aged thirty-four, he took over the cattle dealership belonging to his uncle, Jakob Weil. The business prospered. In 1917 he married Myria Dreyfus, a girl from Zurich, and the couple set up house in Berne, at 51 Monbijoustrasse, an elegant street not far from the railway station. The Blochs were still living there in 1942.
Their first child died in infancy. Then, in December 1921, Liliane Désirée came into the world, and in March 1925, her younger sister, Éveline Marlise.
Arthur Bloch was a kind, generous, even-tempered man. Rabbi Messinger would speak of his calm manner. And Georges Brunschwig, president of the Jewish community in Berne, would recall Arthur Bloch’s attachment to Switzerland, his father having become a citizen of the country and of the Canton of Berne at Radelfingen, near Aarberg, in 1872.
A cattle-dealer for more than twenty-five years, Arthur Bloch is a familiar figure at livestock markets in La Broye and makes regular business trips to Oron and Payerne - but it is Payerne he prefers, for he is personally acquainted there with all the farmers and butchers who attend on such occasions.
Arthur Bloch usually covers the short distance between Monbijoustrasse and the railway station on foot, stepping out to the rhythmic tap of his stick. He gets into the first train to La Broye, which reaches Payerne via Avenches. He likes this ninety-minute trip through the stretches of meadows and valleys still filled with mist in the early-morning light.
Arrival in Payerne at 6:18. Chestnuts in bloom, silken hills, bright weather, all the more beautiful since threatened from within and without. But Arthur Bloch is unaware of the danger. Arthur Bloch does not sense it.
At the fair, purchases are settled in cash, in full. No complications, nothing on paper. Merely a handshake. Arthur Bloch’s wallet is heavy with the large notes with which he is going to pay for the red cows and bullocks he will pick out on the square. He is respected, he pays well; he willingly downs the glass of white wine poured for him at the fair itself or in the cowshed, sealing the deal and showing that the door is open to future transactions. He will also sit at a table in the cafés where his customers are drinking: the Vente, the Croix-Blanche, the Cerf, the Lion d’Or. He knows a lot of folk, buys his round and jots down new appointments. Flushed faces, sweaty brows, big hands, the smoke of Fivaz cigars and Fribourg pipes, waistcoats buttoned over wallets swollen by excellent deals. And all these voices with their heavy accent, exclamations and cries, excited and heated after several hours spent drinking Belletaz wine.
Afterwards Arthur Bloch takes the train back to Berne, and returns home, at peace with himself, to the house on Monbijoustrasse, where Myria has prepared an evening meal that the couple consumes in tranquillity, obedient to a law that Arthur never breaks.
7
At dawn on Thursday 16 April it is chilly; a light breeze is blowing on Payerne. By seven o’clock the farmers have tethered their beasts on Market Square to the wide metal railings that clank whenever the cows, bullocks and bulls pull on their halters and chains. Armed with metal shovels and large willow brooms, the stable lads collect the dung and throw it into the cart parked for the purpose at the railway-station end of the square, beside the train track, beneath the chestnut trees already in full leaf.
The animals’ coats, hindquarters and nostrils steam in the cold air. The cattle low and bellow. A small herd is unloaded from a red-painted wagon, swelling the already considerable number of animals tied up there
- almost 160 head in all, for this is the first market of the year and no one wants to miss it.
On this Thursday 16 April 1942, Arthur Bloch arrives on Market Square at 8 a.m. He greets his acquaintances cheerily and chats with Thévoz from Missy, Avit Godel from Domdidier, Bruder the butcher and Bosset, Jules Brasey and, of course, Losey, from Sévaz. He spends some time looking at the animals brought by Émile Chassot from Villaz-Saint-Pierre, a splendid pair of red bullocks with white horns and glossy coats; their bluish nostrils are moist; they are well shaped in the neck, broad in the belly, with full haunches, promising meat of high quality. Twenty-five years as a cattle-dealer have not exhausted Arthur Bloch’s curiosity. He likes to see, feel, smell and prod the animals he is buying in order to resell, sometimes coming across them at other fairs. With the point of his stick he presses on the flank of one of the animals from Villaz-Saint-Pierre, reaches out a hand, moves back to feel its haunch and gently strokes its neck... Arthur Bloch is deliberate, never peremptory or imperious. Unruffled and perspicacious, he displays the same wise caution as the local farmers. Rubbing shoulders with them, despite
his difference he has long felt at one with them, that they esteem and respect him.
Something Arthur Bloch has failed to notice, too busy examining and buying bullocks from Godel, Chassot, Jules Brasey and Losey from Sévaz, is that for the past half-hour a silent little group of men in leather jackets, with blank expressions, are furtively moving around the fair without ever losing him from view. At first they kept their distance, but now they have come closer and are watching him.
They are the band from the garage. The Nazis of Ischi’s Party: Ischi himself, the ringleader, the apprentice Georges Ballotte, the two Marmiers, Max and Robert, and the brawny farmhand, Fritz Joss.
But the conspirators know they have been noticed, and become uneasy.
“We’re too obvious,” says Ischi. “We stand out too much. I’m going back to the garage. Diversion. Max, you go and have a drink to see what they’re saying in the cafés. Robert, with Ballotte and Fritz, you bring the Yid to Rue-à-Thomas, and dispatch him there. I’ll join you with the orders.”
This leaves Robert Marmier, the apprentice, and Fritz Joss, the farmhand. Suddenly Robert makes up his mind and speaks to Arthur Bloch just as he is putting his hand in his wallet to pay for the heifer he has just bought from Cherbuin of Avenches.
“Monsieur Bloch, if you don’t mind...”
But Arthur Bloch chats with Cherbuin, then Brasey and then Losey. He goes off with them to look at some other animals, haggles, prods with his stick. Time is passing. It is a quarter to ten. It is beginning to grow hot on Market Square; the three plotters are sweating.
“This time, here goes,” says Robert.
Again they approach Arthur Bloch.
“Good day, Monsieur Bloch,” says Robert in a loud voice, for he has noticed the Sonotone, and the way Arthur Bloch strains to catch what he is saying.
Then he continues at the top of his lungs: “M. Bloch, my brother has a cow to sell. It’s on Rue-à-Thomas, in the cowshed just round the corner.”
“Rue-à-Thomas,” repeats Arthur Bloch, suspecting nothing.
He is merely surprised that the animal is not on the square with the others.
“My brother didn’t have time to bring her. He was sick this morning. But the animal’s in good health! She’s a grand beast, Monsieur Bloch. Healthy. A good milker. And my brother wants to sell her.”
Arthur Bloch is tempted. He agrees. The two men set off under the now very warm sun; Ballotte joins them, and the farmhand completes the group.
8
They reach Rue-à-Thomas. On the way, no one has spoken. Arthur Bloch still suspects nothing. Is he tired? Jaded after the morning’s good business? It seems surprising that such a level-headed man should be so lacking in discernment towards Robert Marmier, a failed, degenerate farmer, or the farmhand with his uncouth features, and especially young Ballotte, whose loutish exterior should have made him uneasy. But there is no logic in death. When he enters the cowshed on Rue-à-Thomas, Arthur Bloch is unaware, fails to
sense
, that the most horrible butchery awaits him.
There are only two cows to be seen, something unusual for a working farm. Yet Arthur Bloch still feels no disquiet.
As the four men enter the dark cowshed, one of the cows turns her head towards them, pawing the ground, rattling her chain. Obviously taken aback, Arthur Bloch hasn’t expected to find such a fine animal.
“This is the one,” says Robert Marmier, pointing his flashlight at her.
A fawn, almost reddish beast, long in the back, with full flanks above a distended udder with its coat of downy hair. The air is heavy with smells of moist belches, saliva and tenderly sexual milk. The female’s eye gleams in the sunlight from the window and the flashlight beam turned on her.
Remaining silent for a long moment, Arthur Bloch probes her flanks and white underbelly with his hand and stick.
“And how much are you asking for this marvel?” he says at last, as if in a dream.
“Two thousand four hundred,” says Robert.
“Two thousand,” counters Arthur Bloch, suddenly waking up.
“Two thousand, two thousand, I couldn’t...”
“And I can’t offer a franc more.”
The haggling has begun. Robert Marmier gets carried away. Ballotte and Fritz are furious at so much zeal. “We’d decided we’d bash him right away!” Robert is going too far. Arthur Bloch, tempted by the animal for sale, and wily as he is, pretends to pull out.
“Too bad. She’s not for me.” Then he adds, disappointed, “That’s what I said, that’s the way it is. I can’t offer a franc more.”
He shakes Robert’s hand, turns away, reaches the door.
Georges Ballotte and Fritz Joss are torn between anger and the relief felt by those who are not as tough as they think. Robert, very pale, leans against the wall.
But Arthur Bloch is tempted. The cow’s a good one, it’s a reasonable deal. He walks a few yards down the street, allows five minutes to go by, then retraces his steps and re-enters the cowshed. It is 10:35. The three accomplices are taken by surprise.
“So, this cow,” says Arthur Bloch. “I’ll do my best for you. Fifty francs more, and I’ll take her.”
“Two hundred,” says Robert Marmier, panicking, as if to postpone the inevitable. Arthur Bloch laughs.
“Are you trying to ruin me! No, that’s too much. Too bad. She’s not for me.”
For the second time he takes his leave, pulls down his hat, slowly goes outside.
The three accomplices are aghast. Ballotte swears at Marmier: “Are you out of your mind, or what?”
“He’ll be back,” says Robert. “And this time we’ll do for him.”
Robert is right. The cowshed door has been left open. It is now almost eleven o’clock, and the light from outside is blinding as Arthur Bloch’s heavy tread is heard on Rue-à-Thomas. For the third time, to the stupefaction of the three men, Arthur Bloch enters the cowshed, where he is sealing his death warrant.
Hardly has Arthur Bloch approached when Ballotte gives a push in the back of the terrified farm labourer Fritz, who is holding a heavy iron bar in his right fist.
“Hit him,” spits Ballotte.
Deaf in one ear, Arthur Bloch has heard nothing.
Fritz Joss hesitates, standing looking at the nape of the Jew’s neck and his large frame, as he again feels out the cow for sale, probing, muttering, up against the animal.
How should he strike, under the hat, or at the fat nape of his neck? Suddenly Fritz Joss feels the muzzle of the apprentice’s revolver against his ribs. Ballotte prods him with the weapon:
“Party’s orders. Kill him. Get on with it! Kill the swine!”
Joss the colossus raises the iron bar and brings it down with all his strength on the Jew’s head; Bloch crumples to the ground, jerking convulsively, eyes rolling upwards, foaming at the lips, while a broken cry issues with the remaining breath of his large, prostrate, shuddering frame. His hat has rolled into the sawdust. Arthur Bloch is still moaning.
“He’s not dead yet, the bastard,” hisses Ballotte, bringing the muzzle of his revolver to his smooth pate.
The forehead is pale, shining with sweat. A moan, accompanied by rattles in his throat. Ballotte fires. Bloch’s body collapses to the ground. A trickle of blood comes from his mouth.
“He’s dead,” says Marmier.
“Good riddance,” sneers Ballotte. They await their leader’s orders.
9
It is 11:15. In the sweltering cowshed the three men are covered in sweat. Bloch’s body fills the short walkway between the stalls; his face has set stiff in the sawdust and straw, a translucent white like candle wax, as one of the killers would say during the investigation. Ballotte leans over the corpse.
“A dead man stinks,” he mumbles.
“A Jew most of all,” says Marmier.
“That’s not the end of it,” says Ballotte. “They told us to get rid of a Yid. So what about this big carcass? What are we going to do with this hunk of lard?”
“We could dissolve it in hydrochloric acid,” says Marmier. “I buy it by the pint from the hardware shop to use in my septic tanks; they won’t suspect anything.”
“It’d take too long,” decides Ballotte. “With the size of fatty here, it’d take at least three days. We can’t afford to let him dissolve. The filthy swine.”
It is then that Ischi comes in, followed by Max. Now the whole gang is there. It is 11:20. The five men are sweating in their leather jackets.
BOOK: A Jew Must Die
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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