ALBERT THE GREAT
“My earliest memory of Albert dates back to a tale told by my grandmother. She depicted the young penniless Jew who had one day decided to leave everything behind, Algeria, his family, to try his luck on the French Riviera of the roaring twenties. She described the marvellous uncle who had become very rich by buying off jewellery from the Casinos’ ruined gamblers, and who enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle. In the story she claimed that a certain “Monsieur Roux” had betrayed him to the Gestapo, to send him to die in Auschwitz.
Many years later, I felt compelled to search for his name on the engraved stones of the Shoah Memorial in Paris and found a completely different story: Albert wasn’t called Achache at all, his name was actually Achache-Roux! “Monsieur Roux” was therefore much more than an associate! And surely not the supposed traitor…
It was at that moment, standing in front of this wall, that I decided to set off in search of Albert and to try to find out who had denounced him. I traced him from Tlemcen to Auschwitz, via Sidi Bel Abbès, Oran, Chartres, Vitré, Nice, Paris, Anvers… I pieced together the life of this child of the century, dazzled by France, the Republic, and the newspaper le Progrès. I found the men he had loved and gradually pieced together the astonishingly free and happy life he had managed to lead, before history overtook him.
Obsessed with uncovering the truth, I had no desire to make anything up, and I could never have imagined all that I would found out.
Brigitte Benkemoun is a journalist. She has worked for Europe 1, France Inter and directed political programmes such as “Riposte” (France 5) and “Mots Croisés”, (France 2). Her first novel, La Petite Fille sur la photo, was published by Fayard in 2012.