#31 / Editorial

Albert Cohen died forty years ago. This is an opportunity for K. to pay homage to this extraordinary novelist, author of a body of work which, from Solal in 1930 to Les Valeureux in 1969, including Mangeclous (1938) and Belle du seigneur (1968)[1], should be understood as a vast fresco, a unique storm of lyricism and narrative dazzle in which the comic and the tragic are intertwined in a virtuosic and abundant game which places at one of its multiple centers a unique reflection on Jewish destiny. Before that, in the context of the rise of anti-Semitism in France, which led Jewish intellectuals to speak out publicly, Albert Cohen founded La Revue Juive in 1925, in the inaugural declaration of which (a facsimile of which is reproduced below) he wrote, among other things: “We will look in the face the problems which arise from the existence among the nations of a grouping which is too original and which is understandably a nuisance to some. It would be improper to conceal from ourselves the uneasiness caused in certain countries by the presence of Jewish masses among non-Jewish majorities. We will not deny that there is a pressing Jewish question in the world which has been thrown off course by war and by a precarious peace. We shall examine the Jewish problem and the reasons of the theorists of anti-Semitism without partiality. We will try to judge with righteousness and, while reserving the right to point out injustices, we will provide remedies, we will propose solutions.”

“A Jewish child encounters hatred on his tenth birthday. I was that child,” writes Albert Cohen in O vous, frères humains [O You, Human Brothers]. This hatred has not disappeared, it has mutated in the forms of its expression. It can now present itself in a way that is ambiguous and concealed, like an art form that is cultivated among oneself and seeks to spill out into the public space. On October 20, the judgment of Cassandre Fristot in France was rendered. Remember: this far-right activist who had the good taste to hold up a sign during a demonstration against the French government’s health pass, listing several names of supposedly Jewish personalities (Rothschild, Soros, BHL, Attali, Buzyn, etc.), topped by a question (“But who?”) and the word “traitors” as a central reference. Rudy Reichstadt returns to the rhetoric of an anti-Semitism which, thinking that it is safe – and in particular from the limits imposed by the law – moves forward masked. The courts have just ruled on this derisory camouflage technique which, paradoxically, increases the violence of the message in its very coding, and which requires costly deciphering. The verdict? A six-month suspended prison sentence.

The conservative Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has just resigned following a judicial investigation for misappropriation of public funds. Within the very small Jewish population (about 10,000 people), this resignation prolongs old tensions, described in Danny Leder’s report published in K. last June and which this Austrian news pushes us to put back on the front page. For, as Danny Leder notes, while many Austrian Jews appreciate Kurz’s unabashed commitment to Israel (during the war with Hamas, he had the Israeli flag raised on government buildings in Vienna), other Jewish voices that spoke out against Kurz at the beginning of his reign (when he initially governed with the far right) are once again at the forefront of denouncing the multiple violations of the law by Kurz and his entourage.


1 Almost all the novels of Albert Cohen mentioned above have been translated into English.

Albert Cohen is most often considered a French writer, although he was born an Ottoman citizen and was naturalized Swiss. He died on October 17, 1981, forty years ago. This anniversary is an opportunity to revisit the figure of the man who was a representative of the Jewish Agency for Palestine before focusing primarily on his work, which combines lyricism and an extraordinary narrative invention – not to mention a powerful reflection on Jewishness and Judaism.

On October 20, Cassandre Fristot’s judgment was rendered by the French Court. So we wanted to go back to the rhetoric of the poster, and its “Who?”, brandished by this far-right activist during a demonstration against the health pass. The image quickly went viral in France. It provides a model of anti-Semitism to be decoded, where the speaker has to say what he thinks while hiding and encoding the violence of his words in order to make them circulate in the public space.

Before he resigned, Sebastian Kurz, the conservative Austrian chancellor, led a coalition with the Greens after governing with the far right. Unlike other Central European leaders who shirk the historical responsibilities of their nations, Kurz had a clear discourse on Austrian involvement in the Holocaust. Within Austria’s small Jewish community, overall satisfaction with the Chancellor prevailed on the one hand; but on the other, prominent Jewish figures remained reticent to be fully infatuated with Kurz. As Jews, this is simply more than they can take on. Danny Leder proposes to K. a look back at the former Chancellor’s policy towards the Jews of Austria when he was in charge (2017-2021).

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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.