A Jew Must Die is a short book, less than 100 pages in length. It is not a work of fiction; it is based on real events that took place in the village of Payerne in Switzerland in 1942. Those events have been fictionalised by Chessex, he himself was eight years old and was living in Payerne at that time. He met some of the characters in the story; his classmates were their sons and daughters.
Inevitably two other books came to my mind when I was reading A Jew Must Die, In Cold Blood and Brodeck’s Report. The first one because it is also based on a true story, the second due to some similarities in the events. However, in my opinion they are both by far much better books than this one. Chessex has not found the adequate form to develop his story.
Having said that I would have like to think that given the years, these events cannot happen again in our world, but unfortunately just by reading the news today we can find similarities taken place somewhere around us. And the question still remains unanswered Why? ¿Por qué? Pourquoi? Warum?
I can only finalise with Martin Niemoeller’s message:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Jacques Chessex, who died in October 2009 at age seventy-five, was a poet, essayist, and painter as well as a novelist. He was the first non-French citizen to receive the prestigious Prix Goncourt for his novel, L’Ogre. In 2007 he was awarded the Prix Jean Giorno for his life’s work. According to the obituary published in London’s Guardian, his work focused on “revealing the darkly uncomfortable truths beneath the pristine surface of Swiss society.”
A Jew Must Die
by Jacques Chessex
Translated from the French by W. Donald Wilson
Bitter Lemon Press, London, 2010
Original Title: Un Juif pour l’exemple (2009)
Number of pages: 96