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A Jew Must Die Paperback – April 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Those interested in Nazi activity in neutral Switzerland during WWII will best appreciate this slight novella from Prix Goncourt winner Chessex (The Vampire of Ropraz). In April 1942, in the small market town of Payerne, an anti-Semitic pastor incites a band of local Nazis to set an example for Switzerland and for the Jewish parasites on its soil. National Movement leader Fernand Ischi and his thugs target a representative Jew, cattle-dealer Arthur Bloch, whose murder will make a fine birthday present for Adolf Hitler. While this book generated controversy in Switzerland, where the country's role in WWII is still a sensitive issue, U.S. readers will find that it falls short of, say, Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird and other works that view the Holocaust through isolated instances of violence. Chessex (1934–2009), who was born in Payerne, was also an essayist, poet, and painter. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Chessex, a prominent Swiss writer, died in 2009 at age 75. He was the first non–French citizen to win the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary award. American readers of this particular novel, which is one of Chessex’s many, will quickly understand why he was so honored. It is a swift and stunning narrative based on a true incident. In the Swiss town of Payenne (the author’s hometown), in 1942, a group of Swiss Nazis kill a successful Jewish cattle trader. It was nothing personal, as it were, but rather an act of intimidation aimed at the Jewish community of Switzerland at large. This spare but heart-piercing novel illustrates the dementedness of Nazism (such a thing as total depravity, pure in its filth) as it captures the European mind-set of the 1930s and 1940s as people looked for scapegoats to blame for the hard economic times, which in turn made anti-Semitism and thus Nazism appealing. The writing is elegant, in provocative contrast to the human crudity and cruelty it depicts. (The atmosphere of the town is described this way: Dark currents flow unseen beneath the assurance and business bustle. Complexions are rosy or ruddy, the soil is rich, but covert dangers lurk.) Read this novel for the history it depicts and for the sheer beauty of its prose. --Brad Hooper

Product Details

  • Paperback: 122 pages
  • Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press; Tra edition (April 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904738516
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904738510
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,731,203 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on April 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
Like Asia and North Africa, Europe is on fire as Hitler's bloody war spreads in all direction across the continent. Only Switzerland nestled in the Alps seems immune, but the economy is severely impacted throughout the nation as unemployment and bankruptcies are rising rapidly. Also even in this nation, dark Nazi nightmares exist as some locals work their insidious master plan.

In the Swiss market town Payerne, local Nazi leader Fernand Ischi blames the 500 unemployed out of 5000 citizens on the Jews. He encourages teaching them a lesson for being God's abominations by taking their property. On April 16, 1942, Swiss Nazis salute the Fuhrer and his final solution when they persuade sixty years old Jewish cattle merchant Arthur Bloch to enter an empty stable. Once inside they hammer him to death with a crowbar and cut up his body placing the parts into milk containers to float away on the nearby lake on Hitler's birthday. None even show the slightest remorse as Jews deserve this treatment as Ischi believes the first sacrifice takes him on his way to becoming the regional gauleiter leader of the Swiss Nazi Party. That is until the containers fail to float away; Kaddash is prayed for Arthur as it will be for six million others for eternity.

Based on a true horror story just like Jacques Chessex's previous tale The Vampire of Ropaz, A Jew Must Die is a gripping translation of a superb French drama that will have readers shocked that such a hate crime occurred. The cast drives the novellas as the audience sees what motivates the monster and his goons to violence, the regional Jewish community to fear, and the local townsfolk to horror. Without preaching, Monsieur Chessex leaves readers to wonder why God tolerates acts of intolerance in his name.

Harriet Klausner
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Keith A. Comess VINE VOICE on March 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This short novel, well actually its a novella; no, in fact its a New Yorker-length story, is a semi-fictionalized tale of Switzerland in microcosm in the early War years. It focuses on one small, bourgeois town and its inhabitants, specifically, a group of lumpen proletariats who lack both employment and brains. Infatuated with the slogans of racial superiority bubbling forth from the nearby Third Reich and tantalized with the prospects both of revenge on the seemingly smug burgers of the town for failing to recognize the obviously luminous qualities possessed by the incipient gang and expectations for eventual recognition by the revered Nazis (perhaps a position as "Gaulieter" for one of the adoring acolytes?), the decision is made to kill a local, prominent Jew. That will set an example. It will be a declaration of war on "the other". It will garner accolades. It will wake the town and province to the New Order. The town's leading anti-Semites and Nazi fellow travelers are supportive and the toxic mixture leads, as the reader knows it will, to the inevitable conclusion. It reveals nothing to state that the group is caught and punished, for the story itself is not the major feature of interest, rather it is the writing, or so the reviewers emphasize.

First, the style. The author follows a pattern of setting a bucolic and idealized general milieu; of unspoiled Alpine nature, of the picture-book town, of its sturdy inhabitants. He then focuses a bit more closely: the town itself, as beneath its cuckoo-clock exterior rests a foundation of bourgeois values. With a bit of deeper digging, Chessex reveals a bedrock of reactionary and generally unsavory prejudices and self-satisfaction. This stylistic approach repeats through the story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dick Steuer on June 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book introduced me to Jacques Chessex, a Swiss author who I never would have come across without it being suggested while perusing the Amazon web site.

I love historical novels based on reality and this book hits the spot. It educated me on some of the things happening in Switzerland during World War II, things I never read anywhere else, especially about a supposed "neutral" country. It certainly opened my eyes.

I also now understand why the Swiss didn't like Mr. Chessex little book,

dick steuer
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Format: Paperback
Set in Switzerland in WWII, this short story of victimization of a minority is a tale for all times and all nations. I have just holidayed in France, where two men were recently sentenced to life imprisonment for killing two homosexuals by burying them alive. I write from the US where on a bumper, we recently saw the sticker, 'Don't blame me, I voted for Jefferson Davis' (leader of the Confederacy and hence proponent of slavery - for those who don't know their American history). Ordinary people can be extraordinarily evil - everywhere.
Yet another excellently translated bitter lemon from Bitter Lemon Press.
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