#80 / Editorial

Last week’s issue of K. dealt with compensation (The German-Israeli “reparations” agreement (1952): the mirage of reconciliation, by Constantin Goschler) as well as vengeance, through the portrait of Samuel Schwarzbard by Elisabeth de Fontenay. This week, we look in depth at the question of reparation, the Jewish “response” to the extermination project, the quest for a justice that is impossible to envisage after such an event, and the fantasy of revenge that may sometimes have resulted. All the texts proposed this week deal with this perilous theme of Jewish vengeance. First of all, we look back at the exhibition currently on display at the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt. Entitled “Revenge: History and Fantasy” (“Rache, Geschichte und Fantasie”). The exhibition documents the presence of the theme in Jewish tradition and history as well as in the most contemporary popular fiction, of which Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds is the best symbol. Eli Roth, its co-writer, calls the film “Kosher Porn” or “Jewish Revenge Porn Movie” – in other words, a film designed to make its audience enjoy watching Jews violently attacking Nazis. If the subject is risky, as the creators of the exhibition admit, it is notably because their work had to counter the anti-Semitic trope according to which Jews are “vengeful beings” by nature… Élie Petit met with them and questioned them about the ambition and the scope of such an exhibition in Germany today.

The writer Marianne Rubinstein gives us her testimony. She recounts how, while meeting with high school students to whom she had come to talk about her work devoted to the memory of the Holocaust, she was asked the question of vengeance. She talks about her reaction to these children and raises the tension between the desire for justice and the desire for revenge.

This tension is at the heart of the thought that, at the end of the war, animates Abba Kovner. The poet, whose testimony during the Eichmann trial remains famous, was also an early fighter of the Jewish Brigades haunted by the idea of vengeance. Danny Trom, while wondering why there was no Jewish revenge after the Holocaust (if not sporadic), returns to Kovner’s aborted plans as well as to the reasons that account for his tenacious obsession with the idea of vengeance thought of as a dead end: a gesture that is both necessary and unachievable.

From March 18 to October 3, the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt is presenting the exhibition “Revenge: History and Fantasy” (“Rache, Geschichte und Fantasie”). The spectrum of this exhibition is wide: from biblical stories to popular fiction films; from Judith and Holofernes to Quentin Tarantino, the director of Inglorious Basterds; from the anti-Semitic motif that makes Jews inherently vengeful to the historical episodes in which Jews wanted to respond with vengeance to the violence of which they were victims. Elie Petit met with the director of the museum, Mirjam Wenzel, and the curator of the exhibition, Erik Riedel, to ask them about the objectives and challenges of such an exhibition.

Last year, I was invited to speak with a class of pupils in a Parisian high school. They had studied La plus précieuse des marchandises [The most precious of all goods] (Seuil, 2019), this magnificent text by Jean-Claude Grumberg. As for me, I came afterwards to speak to them about my generation, the one born after the war of orphaned parents, around my two books Tout le monde n’a pas la chance d’être orphelin [Not everyone is lucky enough to be an orphan] (Verticales, 2002) and C’est maintenant du passé [It’s all in the past now] (Verticales, 2009).

“Avenge us”. To the supplication that arose from the murdered Jews and appeared everywhere after the war – on the walls of ruined synagogues or on small pieces of paper left by those who made it their last wish before perishing – Abba Kovner, poet and fighter, wanted to respond. He sought to extend the partisan struggle against the Nazi state with a large-scale revenge action. He made plans that either failed or were not carried out. The legacy of Abba Kovner is that of a dead end, according to Danny Trom: the dead end of a revenge thought to be necessary and unattainable.

With the support of:

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