“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 sixteenthAnd French century, political activist to the left of the Israeli chessboard, crowned with the post of Israeli ambassador in Paris, designer of exhibitions at the Museum of Europe, which he created in Brussels. In his office in Brussels, which still occupies a week a month, he unravels the threads.

I wouldn’t have come here if…

… if one day my uncle, Avraham Barnavi, hadn’t gone to the high school where I was a student and if the headmistress hadn’t told him: “We never see him, he’s no good. He needs a place to hold on or it’s going to go bad. »

My uncle then went in search of a strong school. I beat the French, he found a college of brothers, in French, renowned for its firmness. This choice made me who I am. I entered this language directly. Without that, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Paris to do my PhD thesis, I wouldn’t have picked a topic about France and, what’s more, I wouldn’t even have become the French character I am, much less Israel’s ambassador to Paris.

How did you get into French?

A true love. Until then, French seemed to me like a forbidden fortified castle. And suddenly, this fortress became mine. It was dazzling. I really like Hebrew, I like English, but with French I have both an intellectual and a carnal relationship. A passion that has never faded. Owning the codes, writing them as well as my French companions, was the ambition of my youth. This battle, I think I won.

What touched you so much in this language?

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

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