In a small rural town in Switzerland, people are usually more concerned about the quality of the cattle and other farm produce at the local market than they are about global affairs. But in 1942, such events cannot be ignored. Hitler’s armies are ascendant, and his evil philosophy is designed to appeal to the ignorant, second-rate failures that inhabit every town or village in the world. Remember the school bully, dominant in his teens but condemned to a life of tedium at the bottom of the pile when entering the real world? This is the kind of person for whom Hitler’s ideas of racial superiority appeal. And A JEW MUST DIE, in 92 brief pages, dissects the full horror of such a case – apparently based on a true story.
This measured account of how a small group of losers decide to make an example of a successful, kind local businessman for a “birthday present” for Hitler, is deeply telling. As the book is so short, I won’t provide any further plot summary. The book is mesmeric and effective, particularly in the translation from the French by W Donald Wilson, but is, I think, too short. It reminds me a little of the approach taken by Andrea Maria Schenkel in THE MURDER FARM and ICE COLD, but Chessex conveys more humanity beneath the prose than the clammy novels of Schenkel. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone, particularly to young people not familiar with the lowest common denominator approach that underlay Hitler’s evil philosophy. However, I do think that the novella might have been combined with one of the author’s other works in the same book, if the price is to be the same as a full-length novel.