We were about the same age when I met him in Milan where I had been living for a few years. It was at the Jewish club that we both frequented. I remember a slender boy with long hair and a kindly smile. He was not very talkative, probably because he preferred to keep his energy for his radio or TV talk shows.
In our group, there was, of course, a majority of Italian Jews, but also immigrants who, like Herbert Pagani, had been expelled from Libya (a former Italian colony). His childhood was greatly disturbed, first by the flight to Europe at a tender age, then by the divorce of his parents. He was tossed between France and Germany, and eventually settled in Italy.
Quite talented, he painted and composed his own songs, adapting in Italian those of Jacques Brel, Léo Ferré, Barbara, Mouloudji, Edith Piaf, Françoise Hardy and Michel Polnareff, among others, making them better known in the Peninsula. He hosted programs on Radio Monte Carlo and recorded Mégalopolis, a fictional rock opera – this, long before Starmania – which was to be performed at the Théatre de Chaillot, then at Bobino in 1976.
Herbert Pagani claimed to be a leftist, while remaining a champion of Zionism. Sadly, he passed away too early, at the age of 44 in Palm Springs, California. We had in common the fact that we spoke the same five languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish and German.
He was a young man of conviction and he didn’t mince his words. The most striking example is his Plaidoyer pour ma Terre which he gave in the program Jacques Chancel dedicated to him more than 45 years ago, whose link you will find here, as well as the full text that I reproduce below.
This cry, coming as much from the heart as from the mind, is so eloquent – it sums up what Israel has represented for the Jews during millennia – that it must be re-broadcast, to the four corners of the world, because too large a margin of the Christian and Muslim world continues to deny its authenticity, repeating the same lies, inanities and superstitions, constantly distorting history as one would do with plasticine. They still haven’t learned or understood anything. If you ask yourself: Are they so terribly jealous, ignorant, and blind, or are their minds so twisted that they refuse to acknowledge the facts ? The answer is: Apparently so!
Plea for my Land by Herbert Pagani – 11/11/1975:
Yesterday, I was in the métro and I heard two ladies say, “These Jews again, harking their demands at the UN. What a pain in the ass!”
It’s true. We are a pain in the ass. The world has been pissed off for centuries. It’s in our nature, what can you expect? Abraham with his unique god, Moses with his Ten Commandments, Jesus with his other cheek always ready for the second slap. Freud, Marx, and Einstein, they were all revolutionaries, enemies of the Establishment. Why so? Because the Establishment, throughout the centuries, could not satisfy them, since they were always excluded.
To question, to see further, to change the world, to change destiny, such was the fate of my ancestors. That’s why they are so hated.
The right-wing anti-Semite blames the Jews for carrying out the Bolshevik revolution. It’s true. There were a lot of them in 1917.
The leftist anti-Semite blames the Jews for being the owners of Manhattan, the managers of capitalism. It’s true. There are a lot of Jewish capitalists. The reason is simple: Culture, religion, revolutionary ideas, on the one hand, money and banks, on the other, are the only transportable values, the only available possessions for those who have no country. Now that there is one, anti-semitism is rising from its ashes, or rather from Our ashes, and it’s called anti-Zionism. It has applied to individuals, now it applies to a nation. Israel is a Ghetto, Jerusalem is Warsaw. The Nazis who besiege us nowadays eat couscous and speak Arabic, and if their croissant sometimes disguises itself as a sickle, it is the better to stalk us around the world.
I, a left-wing Jew, have nothing to do with a left that wants to liberate all men to the detriment of some, because I am precisely one of them. We should all strive for equality but also fight for the right to be different. If the left wishes me to adhere to its precepts, it cannot ignore my problem. And my problem is that, ever since the Roman deportations of the 1st century of the current era, we have been hated, banished, crushed, robbed, hunted down, and forcibly converted.
Why, you may ask? Because Our religion, Our culture, were/are deemed dangerous. Here are a few examples that illustrate what I mean:
Judaism was the first religion to impose the sabbath, that is, the compulsory weekly rest. You can imagine the joy of the pharaohs, always intent on building a new pyramid!
Judaism forbids slavery. You can imagine how sympathetic to the idea the Romans were, the most significant wholesalers of free labor in Antiquity.
The Bible says: ‘The earth does not belong to man, but to God.’ From this sentence a by-law was passed, the automatic handing-over of property every 49 years. You can imagine the effect of such a law on the Popes of the Middle Ages and the builders of empires during the Renaissance.
Then too, it was imperative that the people not learn the truth.
The powers that be started by banishing the Bible, then there were the libels: walls of defamation that became walls of stone, that led to the ghettos.
Then came the Inquisition, the pyres, and later on the yellow star.
Auschwitz is but the industrialization of genocide, yet there were thousands of other genocides. It would take me three days only to name all the pogroms of Spain, Russia, Poland and North Africa.
As he was forced to flee and to move around, the Jew went everywhere, ending up being of nowhere.
We are among the people similar to the welfare children. I don’t want to be adopted any more. I don’t want my life to depend on my owners’ moods any more. I don’t want to be a ‘rented citizen’ any longer. I’ve had enough of knocking at History’s doors and of waiting until I’m told: ‘Come in!’ So, I enter and I yell! “I am at home on this earth and in it I have my land: it was promised to me, and it will be mine!”
What is Zionism? It is summed up in a simple sentence: “Next year in Jerusalem.”
No, it’s not a slogan of the Club Med. It is written in the Bible, the book that has sold more copies than any other, and has been misunderstood more than any other book in the world.
And this prayer became a roar, a roar that is over 2000 years old; the fathers of Columbus, Kafka, Proust, Chagall, Marx, Einstein, and even Mr. Kissinger, have repeated this sentence, this roar, at least once a year, on Passover.
Then, is Zionism equal to Racism? Don’t make me laugh! Is ‘Gentle France, dear country of my childhood’ (A song by Charles Trenet: ‘Douce France, cher pays de mon enfance’) a racist anthem? Zionism is the name of a struggle for freedom!
In the world, everybody has its Jews. The French have theirs: they are the Breton, Occitans, Corsicans, and the immigrant workers. The Italians have their Sicilians; the Americans have their Blacks; the Spaniards their Basques.
As for us, we are EVERYBODY’S Jews.
To those that tell me: ‘What about the Palestinians?’, I answer: “I am a 2000 year-old Palestinian. I am the oldest oppressed man in the world.”
I will negotiate with them, but I will not yield my place to them. There’s enough space there for two peoples and two nations. The borders are to be determined together. But the existence of one country cannot in anyway exclude the existence of the other. And the political options of a government never called into question the existence of a nation, whatever the nation.
Then why should Israel be an exception?
When Israel is out of danger, I will choose among the Jews and my Arab neighbors, those who share my philosophy, my ideals. But until then, I must be united with all of my people, even those whom I hate, in order to counter RACISM, that terrible enemy.
Descartes was wrong when he stated: ‘I think, therefore I am’. To me, it means nothing whatsoever. We have been thinking for 5000 years, and we still don’t exist!
My motto therefore is: ‘I defend myself, therefore I am!’