“I was born thanks to Hitler”

Born in Bucharest in 1946, immigrated to Israel at the age of 15, Elie Barnavi has intertwined several lives: historian, specialist in the XVIe French century, political activist on the left of the Israeli chessboard, crowned by a post of Israeli ambassador in Paris, designer of exhibitions at the Museum of Europe, which he created in Brussels. In his Brussels office, which he still occupies one week a month, he unravels the threads.

I wouldn’t have come here if…

… if one day, my uncle, Avraham Barnavi, had not gone to the high school where I was a student and if the headmistress had not said to him: “We never see him, he is good for nothing . He needs a place to grip otherwise he will go wrong. »

My uncle then went in search of a strong school. I jabbed French, he found a boarding school of brothers, in French, renowned for its firmness. This choice made me who I am. I went straight into this language. Without that, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Paris to do my doctoral thesis, I wouldn’t have chosen a subject on France and, one thing leading to another, I wouldn’t have become the French character that I am either, much less ambassador of Israel in Paris.

How did you approach French?

A real love. Until then, French looked to me like a forbidden fortified castle. And suddenly, this fortress became mine. It was a dazzling. I really like Hebrew, I like English, but with French I have a relationship that is both intellectual and carnal. A passion that has never wavered. Possessing the codes, writing it as well as my French comrades, was the ambition of my youth. This battle, I think I won.

What touched you so much in this language?

It’s a mystery. Music first, magnificent sounds. Great richness, but above all extreme precision. You can say exactly what you want in the words you want. English, which I also know well, is richer, but the sentences can have several meanings. In French, that never happens. You say clearly, perfectly, exactly what you mean. Compared to Hebrew, it has enormous grammatical plasticity. I have always been a budding historian. In Hebrew, there is only a past. Go make history with only one past! And then, very quickly, I fell in love with French literature and the extraordinary variety of styles that unfolded there.

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