Journalist-Author Philip Gourevitch — Former Forward Staffer — Honored by France

Philip Gourevitch (left) with Antonin Baudry
Karen Leon
Philip Gourevitch (left) with Antonin Baudry

By Masha Leon

Published February 10, 2011, issue of February 18, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Journalist-Author Philip Gourevitch — Former Forward Staffer — Honored by France

“You are a man of books and stories,” said Antonin Baudry, cultural counselor of the French Embassy in New York, as he introduced Philip Gourevitch, recipient of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, at the January 31 ceremony held at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. “You are a voice not only for France, but Europe… a correspondent in Asia, Europe, Africa, Siberia, Cambodia… the Iraqi War…. You first worked for the Forward, before working as a freelance writer.” Gourevitch, author of the award-winning book “We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), responded: “I’m bewildered. My connection with France is personal…. It is my father who should be receiving this medal…. My mother [Jacqueline Gourevitch] was born in France. My father [Victor Gourevitch] came to France [from Belgium] in the early 1940s.”

Gurevitch continued: “I grew up in a home where [there was] the best of French writing, literature, film… [André] Gide, [Albert] Camus, and [André] Malraux… inspired me to be a writer.” Among the guests were Kati Marton, Salman Rushdie and Forward founder Seth Lipsky.

Gourevitch is the former editor of The Paris Review and a staff writer for the New Yorker. His book about Rwanda — along with others, including “A Cold Case” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001) and, with Erroll Morris, “Standard Operating Procedure: Inside Abu Ghraib” (Penguin Press, 2008), — has been translated into a dozen languages. Baudry described Gourevitch as “a merciless speaker whose comments about war always struck me.” Then he quoted the honoree: “People who win wars always know what they are fighting for. And people who lose wars generally only know what they are fighting against.”

Presenting the medal to Gourevitch, Baudry stated: “France is a country of diversity that knows how to recognize the quality of different standpoints, even those it doesn’t always agree with. People and countries can be defined by the people they honor and by their friends. Tonight we have chosen a very good friend… very demanding, very intelligent, as we wish our friends to be.”

The Order of Arts and Letters was created in 1957 to recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as individuals who have contributed to making French culture known throughout the world.


‘Rabbit a La Berlin’ and ‘Loss’ — Films That Reflect on Aspects of Germany’s Past/Present

I am delighted to inform that “Rabbit a la Berlin,” a 2009 film in German and Polish with English subtitles, is now geared for national distribution. A 2010 Academy Award nominee for best short documentary, “Rabbit” is about the situation that once existed in Berlin along the 120-mile walls that separated East and West Berlin. A population of well-fed, content rabbits lived between the walls, and it was verboten to shoot at them. Humans, however, were shot if they tried to escape to West Berlin. A no-stress Socialist paradise for the floppy-eared hoppers, they became a “must see” tourist attraction for such visitors as Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, Willy Brandt and Yasser Arafat. German shepherd dogs protected the rabbits’ security until the fecund generations over-bred and the thousands of younger bunnies lost all sense of fear, having no memory of any other existence. Running out of space and food, the “socialist” rabbits began to burrow under the wall to the “capitalist” West. Like their human counterparts, some were shot, food was poisoned and the once placid, well-fed hoppers were transformed into anxiety-ridden fugitives.


‘Loss,’ A 30-Minute Short Lamenting the Absence of Jews In Germany

Shown along with “Rabbit” is “Loss,” a 30-minute film by **Nurith Aviv ** that had a brief run at New York City’s Film Forum this past December. In the preface, Hannah Arendt, in a clip from a 1984 interview, stares into the camera and declares: “The intellectuals abandoned us.”

In a series of monologue interviews during a 30-minute train ride to Berlin, Germans reflect on the absence of Jews from Germany.

Gustav Obermair, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Regensburg, muses about the expulsion of Jewish physicists from Göttingen University. “This ended physics at the school,” said Obermair, who defines “quantum theory” as “a melding of Prussian thoroughness and Jewish unorthodox thinking” with which he credits Einstein. As an afterthought, he adds, “In 1933, half of Germany’s Nobel Prizes were won by Jews.”

Claus-Dieter Rath, a psychoanalyst, laments: “The first postwar generation lacked role models. The fathers were not there. There were no men….”

Not until he came to the United Sates did Rath meet Jewish researchers and scientists. He seemed surprised that they accepted him. He noted: “You hear of Germans dreaming of having had Jewish ancestors, a time when the world was orderly and everyone had his place…. There are people [who invent] “Jewish aunts, biographies,” to exculpate themselves, as if they were on the side of the victims. “What is missing,” he said, “is the Jewish experience in Germany.”

The final interviewee, Hanns Zischler, informs that in Bavaria he did not know that there had ever been a Jewish culture in Germany. Only after he went to Berlin did he discover this culture to be “a viable essence.”

The distributor of “Loss” and “Rabbit,” Icarus Films, informed me of the following screenings: Northwest Film Forum, February 18–24, Seattle; Bijou Art Cinemas, March 6, Eugene, Ore.; South Dakota State University, March 22, Brookings; March 20–23, Gene Siskel Film Center, Chicago, and more to follow.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.