PHILIP KERR AND THE DARK SIDE OF THE FRENCH RIVIERA

Une idée de lecture pour l’été! A good read for this summer!

English novelist and playwright W. Somerset Maugham used to describe the French Riviera as “a sunny place for shady people.” And he knew what he was talking about since he called it home for more than 30 years.

Philipp Kerr

Now, decades later, New York Times-bestselling author Philip Kerr is paying tribute to both Maugham and the South of France by placing both in the middle of his new novel, the 11th volume of his highly successful mystery series featuring ex-Berlin-policeman-turned-cynical-anti-fascist-detective, Bernie Gunther.

Once an unwilling Nazi during World-War II, Gunther now works under the pseudonym of Walter Wolf as a concierge in the luxurious Grand Hotel in Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat. It is 1956 and he is looking forward to a more peaceful existence, even though the job bores him. But of course, nothing goes according to plan as our hero becomes attracted to a middle-aged American woman, Anne French, a journalist working on a biography of Somerset Maugham. To help her get some inside information, he accepts an invitation to join Maugham’s bridge group, which meets at the magnificent Villa Mauresque. When he discovers that Gunther was previously a homicide detective, the famed author confides to him that he is being blackmailed over some old photos taken in 1937 at his swimming pool with a group of naked men, one of whom is the infamous spy, Guy Burgess, whom, along with Donald Maclean, has recently defected to Moscow.

The blackmailer is Harold Hennig, a former captain in the Nazi security service, responsible for the death of thousands of people, including a woman Gunther once loved.

As often, Kerr likes to run two timelines with linked or similar cases, which allow him to explore Bernie’s exploits in a non-linear manner and help his readers understand how the hideous events the hero suffered or witnessed have had an effect on his psyche.

The Other Side of Silence was released last year in the U.K. and the U.S., but has just been translated into French as Les Pièges de l’Exil. However, English-speaking fans can now discover the latest adventures of Bernie Gunther with Prussian Blue, which has just been published, once again using the French Riviera as its backdrop.
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NICE TO HONOUR ANGELO DONATI, THE JEWISH POPE, THIS FEBRUARY

Du 3 au 5 février, Nice commémore les années noires de la 2de guerre mondiale. From the 3rd to the 5th of February, Nice is commemorating the dark years of Word War II.

donati

An Italian banker is the unlikely hero of a World War II tale that unravels in Nice, seeing him save the lives of many Jews.

From the 3rd to the 5th of February, the city of Nice will commemorate the dark years of World War II (1940- 1944) with the opening of the incredible exhibit on Thursday 4th of no less than 300 pieces from Charlotte Salomon’s compelling artwork, Life? Or Theatre? An Operetta. The programme also includes many conferences, films, as well as a tribute to Angelo Donati, an Italian banker who saved many Jews from Nazi persecution in the South of France between 1942 and 1943.

Born in Modena and himself of Jewish religion, Donati was Consul General of the Republica of San Marino from 1925 and 1932 before becoming president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Paris, a position he had to leave when the German troops entered the French capital.

excelsior-plaque

Angelo Donati found refuge in Nice where he succeeded in transferring 2,500 Jews in the “forced residency”of Saint-Martin-Vésubie. He soon became a legend in Nice, which was then under Mussolini’s rule, but that was not enough for him and at the beginning of 1943, he prepared an ambitious plan to send thousands more Jews to Palestine. The passports were prepared being in Rome while the American and British ambassadors to the Vatican were working on the feasibility of the operation.

Unfortunately, on the 8th of September of that year, Italy surrendered and the Germans moved into Nice. Two days later, Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner, a top aide to Adolf Eichmann, strategically set up his headquarters at the Excelsior, and immediately started organizing some of the war’s most violent raids against the Jews. Teams of SS officers were routinely sent down the streets of the city to snatch off the sidewalks any persons that looked “Jewish”. The concepts of nationality or mixed marriages, the age of children, or the infirmity of some no longer meant anything, and the simple fact of being circumcised was enough to be arrested.

Donati was thus never able to carry on his plan and until his death, he refused to be called a hero. He nonetheless received many thank you letters from people he had saved and was nicknamed the Jewish Pope.

However, it is never to late to express one’s gratitude, and a ceremony in his honor will be held on the 3rd of February at 7pm at the Main Synagogue in Nice (7, rue Gustave Deloye), and on the following day a commemorative plaque will be unveiled on the Promenade des Anglais.