By Sharon Feinstein
The cousin of a Jewish man killed in the Hyper Cacher terrorist attack in Paris one year ago revealed this week that the fam- ily is “dreading the anniversary”, after his brutal murder split them in two.
Rachel Bourlier, whose first cousin Yohan Cohen, a part-time student, was shot dead by gunman Amedy Coulibaly in the kosher deli, told Jewish News that the family had fallen apart after the attack, with some moving to Israel and others staying in France.
“The family has imploded,” said Bourlier, 43, who herself narrowly avoided being at the Bataclan concert theatre in November after changing her plans at the last minute.
Cohen’s parents moved to Israel because he is buried there, she said, but his grandmother Rosa, 74, with whom he lived, chose to stay in the French capital, as did Bourlier.
“My aunt is completely broken,” says Bourlier, revealing that Rosa now survived on medication and frequently burst into tears. “I didn’t believe she would be able to live with this pain. We are dreading this weekend’s anniversary.”
Bourlier herself said she was consumed by guilt, because the last time she saw Cohen alive she had not stopped to say hello.
“The last time I saw him I was very rushed and busy when I stopped at the Hyper Cacher to buy something. I was at the checkout and Yohan was helping a woman, very close to me. I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I thought if we stop to say hello we will talk and I am so rushed, so will say hello next time, and left. That was the last time I ever saw him.”
Cohen was 20 when he died on 9 January 2015, one of four French Jews killed by Coulibaly, who knew the brothers who targeted Charlie Hebdo. He had earlier pledged allegiance to Islamic State and explained later that he was acting to defend Muslims, in particular Palestinians.
During the attack in Porte de Vincennes, in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, Coulibaly took 15 hostages. Witnesses say Cohen was the first to die, having grabbed an abandoned weapon on a counter-top shortly after the gunman entered, only to find that the weapon jammed, at which point Coulibaly is reported to have shot the young employee in the head.
Others to die were Yoav Hattab, François-Michel Saada and Philippe Braham. The siege ended only when police stormed the building and killed Coulibaly. Cohen’s friend Lassana Bathily, a Muslim fellow employee from Mali, was subsequently hailed a hero after hiding several shoppers from the gunman in the storeroom downstairs.
On the day of the attack, Rosa pleaded with her grandson not to go into work, fearing the worst after the offices of Charlie Hebdo were attacked only days earlier.
“She always told him to leave the shop, to find a safer job, in a bank or studying, but he loved it because he felt it was like a family,” said Bourlier of Cohen’s workplace.
“I was in Venice when it happened. She begged him not to go in that day, but he insisted. She [Rosa] said at least stay at the back of the shop, or downstairs, not at the front. She had a bad feeling. She was very close to him.”
After his death, Cohen’s mother Matilde and father Eric moved to Israel, together with his sister, travelling back to France regularly for events such as the reopening of the Hyper Cacher. But Rosa refuses to go to the site of the supermarket.
“For his father and mother, it is a place where their son was happy, but for my aunt, it is the place where they killed him,” said Bourlier. “I understand her position.”
His parents were not expected to fly to Paris for the anniversary, said Bourlier, who – chillingly – had tickets for the Bataclan the night three heavily-armed gunmen killed 89 people in a concert there. “Out of the blue, Liam [her son] had pains in his legs and difficulty walking, so he said maybe we should stay home.
“I apologised to my friend, and then on TV we heard the explosions… He was sobbing, out of his mind with shock,” she says.
Of her neighbours in the Paris suburb of Saint Mandé, which she describes as “very Jewish”, she says: “Most of them have sold their apartments and left for Israel. They found the Bataclan terrorists’ car in Montreuil, just next to Saint Mandé, so people now think maybe they wanted to kill Jews around this area.
“I am very scared of everything now. You can go like this in one second. I cannot believe you can be killed because you are Jewish. I thought it would never happen again after the Holocaust, yet here we are.”