Monday, January 20, 2014

Camus was (almost) 'one of us'

He's been listed as an Arab Nobel prize winner, but the celebrated writer and playwright Albert Camus was neither Arab nor Muslim. He was an Algerian pied noir whose father was French and mother Spanish. However, it seems that during his short lifetime - he was killed in a car accident aged 46 - Camus was close to Jews, shared their humanist values and was a supporter of Israel.  

 Albert Bensoussan, writing in Information juive (December 2013), tells how the young philosopher was taken under the wing of the Jewish community of Oran during WWll. Camus, who suffered from tuberculosis, was not allowed to teach in a state school. His friend Andre Benichou, himself dismissed from his teaching post at the Lycee Lamoriciere by the Vichy race laws, employed Camus between 1940 and 41 in his 'Jewish school' for all those pupils excluded from state lycees. Oran was the backdrop for Camus's novel La Peste, an allegory for the spread of Nazism.

Jewish friends apparently introduced Camus to his second wife, Francine Faure, who had a Jewish grandmother. He might have modelled his famous character Meursault in L'Etranger on his friends Raoul and Loulou Bensoussan. In Oran he was treated for tuberculosis by Doctor Cohen. As Doctor Cohen's surgery was closed down by the Vichy regime, his consultations took place at his brother-in-law's home, Dr Pariente.

Albert Camus was a committed supporter of the Resistance, and a defender of oppressed Kabyles and Jews in the underground journal Combat.  Israel's right to exist must be defended after the Shoah, he asserted. "We think it right and just that the survivors should have a country we have neither managed to give them nor preserve", he wrote. He wrote the preface to the Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi's memoir 'Pillar of Salt'.

In his outlook, his friends and his values - Camus was (almost) 'one of us'.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff. My daughter's partner is a big Camus fan and wanted to name his dachshund after "L'etranger"'s protagonist who was his favourite character in literature.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he was a great writer!
I read l'├ętranger when at uni,, will have to re-read !t again