Academic journal article French Forum

Pierre Goldman and the Beginnings of Jeune Litterature Juive

Academic journal article French Forum

Pierre Goldman and the Beginnings of Jeune Litterature Juive

Article excerpt

Very few Jewish writers of the twentieth century have enjoyed a reception comparable to that of the political activist, self-styled guerrilla, gangster, and author Pierre Goldman. In 1979, the assassination of the thirty-five year old Goldman by members of a right-wing commando provoked an outcry from the general public and prompted a reevaluation of the dangers of anti-Semitism among French Jews. The Marxist critic Regis Debray and the Jewish writer Helene Cixous responded to Goldman's slaying by devoting entire books to the question of how his life and death came to challenge the very foundation of the grande nation. The novelist Catherine Axelrad suggested in her novel La Varsovienne (1990) that the circumstances of Goldman's murder--his killers had never been found and remained at large--enabled the extreme Left to offer quasi-national funerals for the revolution. More than 15,000 people attended his funeral, among them Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Yves Montand, and many of the Jewish student leaders who never had gained Goldman's support. (1)

For many of his peers, the killing of the Jewish enfant terrible brought the issue of their own status and safety as outspoken Jews to the forefront. The journalist Luc Rosenzweig--a colleague of Goldman at Liberation--took the event as incentive to conduct a series of interviews with young Jews, which he later published as La jeune France juive, a title sardonically alluding to Edouard Drumont's notorious anti-Semite pamphlet La France juive from 1886. According to Rosenzweig, the hors-la-loi Goldman became a martyr for those who, facing the choice between Judaism (particularism) and the University (universalism), chose the latter. (2) Rosenzweig's collection of interviews came to stand as powerful homage to Goldman, not as a political extremist, but as a persecuted Jew whose death told the story of France's inability to render justice to its Jewish citizens. In his preface, Rosenzweig, the son of German communists, wrote: "En tuant Pierre Goldman, ses assassins, quels qu'ils soient, ont tente de mettre un terme definitif a une histoire que la France traine comme un boulet: celle de la lachete collective d'un peuple qui accepte d'envoyer 'ses' juifs a la mort." (3) In the first survey of the emerging "jeune litterature juive" presented in 1982, the literary critic Lazare Bitoun explained the impact of Goldman's life and memoirs by pointing to Goldman's rejection of the discourse of victimization. Instead of using the "mot israelite et sa connotation aigre-douce de la langue francaise," Goldman had had the courage to replace it "par le mot Juif qui revendique et affirme une difference." (4)

The opening line from his autobiography Souvenirs obscurs d'un Juif polonais ne en France (published in 1975), which contained in condensed form his historical, generational, and biographical point of departure, was canonized by his peers and the authors following him: "Je suis ne le 22 juin 1944 a Lyon, en France, en France occupee par les nazis (longtemps j'ai pense que j'etais ne et mort le 22 juin 1944).... Je n'avais pas l'age de combattre, mais, a peine en vie, j'eus l'age de pouvoir perir dans les crematoires de Pologne" (27). It is this line that Henry Raczymow uses almost ten years later as an epigraph to his novel Un cri sans voix, in which he describes the lethal fate suffered decades after the Shoah by a young Jewish woman whose identification with the resistance fighters from the Warsaw ghetto ultimately leads her to commit suicide in 1982. Another Jewish writer of Goldman's generation, Myriam Anissimov, dedicated one of her books to Goldman. Even authors of Sephardic background, such as the Algerian-born Jean-Luc Allouche, turned to Goldman as a Jew who --because he could never be assimilated--embodied the absolute stranger, the "lueur d'une derniere fraternite desesperee." (5) Allouche had remembered in his autobiography how he, a Maghrebi-born Jew, had felt quite vexed by a slogan celebrating solidarity with the student leader Danny Cohn-Bendit during the student protests: ". …

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