Society & Culture

Researcher helps revive the remarkable story of Michel Cojot-Goldberg

Many know about Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyon, and the 1976 Entebbe hostage situation. Fewer will recognize Michel Cojot-Goldberg, a French Jew, who was a witness in Barbie’s trial and a critical asset to Israeli soldiers who freed the Entebbe hostages.

Associate Professor of French, Jewish, and European Studies, Gayle Zachmann is very familiar with Cojot-Goldberg. She has been developing research and courses in French and French Jewish studies and working on a documentary that traces his amazing life. Zachmann serves as producer and historical consultant with director Boaz Dvir ’88, MA’08, MFA’14.

In 1975, Cojot-Goldberg, disguised as a journalist, sat and talked with Nazi Klaus Barbie in Bolivia, intent on killing him. Barbie imprisoned Cojot-Goldberg’s father, who was deported to Auschwitz and died. His son was haunted by this and sought retaliation, but when face-to-face with Barbie, could not pull the trigger.

A year later, Cojot was on an Air France flight from Israel to France when it was highjacked by terrorists and rerouted to Entebbe, Uganda. Says Zachmann, “When people think about Entebbe, they tend to forget that it is also a French and a French-Jewish story. Most people remember it as an Israeli story.”

Amid the chaos and fear, Cojot-Goldberg served as a translator and spokesperson, convincing the terrorists to be compassionate. He managed to transmit information and diagrams of the holding site and the terrorists’ habits, invaluable to the rescue mission.

The documentary, Cojot, uses footage from the last 75 years, as well dozens of new interviews done by Dvir and Zachmann. The rough cut has been screened in various locations in the U.S. and was shown in Paris at Columbia University’s Global Center on March 6. Zachmann painstakingly transcribed, translated, and subtitled the entire film into French.

“Although the story of an individual, the life of Cojot-Goldberg spans the second half of the 20th century and speaks to a number of different histories,” says Zachmann, “from the resistance of individuals and families, hidden children, the rise of fascism and the plight of French Jews during the occupation, to those of post-war memory, justice, and modern terror.”

Gigi Marino Author
March 8, 2019