- The Image of Jews in Romanian Literature
- Jewish Romanian Writing after World War I
- Dilemmas of Double Identity
- The Communist Period
- APPENDIX: JEWISH ROMANIAN WRITERS
- Aramă, Horia
- Axelrad, Avram
- Baltazar, Camil
- Banuş, Maria
- Baranga, Aurel
- Bonciu, H.
- Breslaşu, Marcel
- Cassian, Nina
- Cornea, Paul
- Cosaşu, Radu
- Costin, Sebastian
- Dan, Sergiu
- Deleanu, Liviu
- Dominic, A.
- Duda, Virgil
- Elvin, B.
- Feraru, Leon
- Furtună, Enric
- Iacobescu, D.
- Ianoşi, Ion
- Larian, Sonia
- Luca, Gherasim
- Manea, Norman
- Marcian, Marcel
- Mircu, Marius
- Mirodan, Alexandru
- Nemțeanu, Barbu
- Pană, Saşa
- Păun, Paul
- Raicu, Lucian
- Relgis, Eugen
- Rudich, Maier
- Rusu, Victor
- Sanielevici, Henric
- Sever, Alexandru
- Steuerman-Rodion, Avram
- Toma, Alexandru
- Trivale, Ion
- Suggested Reading
The first Jewish intellectuals, writers, and journalists writing in Romanian, in the second half of the nineteenth century, came predominantly from Bucovina and Galicia. As they settled in Moldavia or Walachia, they brought along a heritage acquired in Hasidic families; and they knew Hebrew and Yiddish. Many of their earliest literary efforts were in those languages, but most integrated quickly, adopting Romanian for their journalistic and literary work even as they treated exclusively Jewish topics. This generation and the one immediately following included the first journalists and editors of Jewish newspapers, among them the scholar and publisher Iuliu (Julius) Yehudah Barasch (1815–1863) as well as the Schwarzfeld brothers. Many had a thorough knowledge of German culture and were among the first to translate German classics, particularly the writings of Heinrich Heine, into Romanian.
A special figure was Cilibi Moise (Efrayim Mosheh ben Sender; 1812–1870), a peddler who often visited the Walachian fairs, and who composed aphorisms and maxims in Romanian full of popular wisdom and humor. These were collected in numerous pamphlets beginning in 1858 and attracted a wide audience beyond the Jewish community. However, the Jews who first acquired renown as writers in Romanian were intellectuals and scholars who became pioneers of Romanian linguistic, philological and folkloric studies. Among them were Moses Gaster (1856–1939), Heyman (Heinrich) Tiktin (1850–1936), and Lazăr Şăineanu (Schein, Sainéan; 1859–1934), followed by other eminent figures in the same fields in the twentieth century such as Mihail Canianu (1867–1933), Ion Aurel Candrea (1872–1950), Jacques Byck (1897–1964), Alexandru Graur (1900–1988), and Iancu Fischer (1923–2002).
In the late nineteenth century, a large and diverse group of Jewish writers in Romanian emerged. The earliest of these to be acknowledged as a significant figure in Romanian belles lettres was Moise Ronetti-Roman (1853–1908). In his essays and particularly in his drama titled Manasse (1900), he also was the first to treat the dilemmas of Jewish identity and the experience of assimilation as a literary theme. Many of his successors also addressed the existential crises of acculturating Romanian Jews.
Masthead of Mântuirea, November 1922. (YIVO)
Among the group of writers who embarked on their careers at the turn of the twentieth century were a significant number of poets who had renounced their earlier attraction to socialism. They sought to express, often in elegiac tones, the suffering of the Jewish poor together with their own torments as writers torn between their desire to pursue a Romanian literary career and the urge to give voice to the situation of their own community and cultural traditions. Some, such as Avram Steuerman-Rodion (1872–1918), Avram Axelrad (1879–1963), Alexandru Toma (1875–1954), and Enric Furtună (1881–1964), became significant figures in Jewish cultural life. Several symbolist poets of this period who made subtle use of biblical motifs died as young men, such as D. Iacobescu (1893–1913), and Barbu Nemțeanu (1887–1919), or emigrated before being fully acknowledged, including Leon Feraru (1887–1961). Many of the Jewish poets of this generation were drawn to Heine’s poetry; these writers imitated his mixture of lyricism and irony and his manner of identifying with the biblical universe and the tragedy of Jewish history. In addition to translating Heine, Jewish writers translated works of other major authors: Adolph Stern (1848–1931; Shakespeare), Petre Solomon (1923–1991; Celan, Rimbaud, Poe, Mark Twain), and Maria Banuş (1914–1999; Goethe, Pushkin, Rilke, and Shakespeare) were among the most notable translators of German and English classics. Favored writers from Yiddish literature included Ḥayim Naḥman Bialik, Iacob Groper, Itsik Manger, and Eliezer Shteynbarg.
In the field of literary aesthetics and criticism, the new Jewish cultural elite benefited from the enormous prestige of the Marxist ideologist Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea (1855–1920) who, despite his Jewish origins and his having learned Romanian only later in life, was one of the most authoritative Romanian literary critics of his time promoting ideologically engaged writing. He was followed, chronologically, by several literary critics and historians of various orientations who stood out for their erudition and originality, including Henric Sanielevici (1875–1951), Ion Trivale (1889–1917), and Barbu Lăzăreanu (1881–1957). In the early decades of the twentieth century, the presence of Jewish scholars, writers, and journalists in elite literary circles (such as the Junimea Society), and in the pages or editorial rooms of prestigious reviews such as Viața românească, Facla, Ideea Europeană, Viața nouă, Sburătorul, and Adevărul literar şi artistic became commonplace. Until the 1930s, in fact, Jewish writers were reviewed seriously even in the obviously right-wing periodicals such as Vremea and Cuvântul.
The Image of Jews in Romanian Literature
Ştiri din lumea evreiască, 13 November 1926. A journal that showcased Jewish literature in Romanian. (YIVO)
At the same time that Jewish intellectuals were acquiring prominence in Romanian culture, resistance and opposition to Jewish emancipation and equality was gaining strength. Even in the nineteenth century, Romanian literature and journalism were involved deeply in the creation of an antisemitic stereotype in culture, and antisemitism became a significant element in Romanian nationalist ideology. In the work of the first Romanian writers, traditional antisemitic clichés of religious origin were joined to new features. Vasile Alecsandri (1818–1890), the most important and popular writer of the mid-nineteenth century, created the best-known negative image of the Jew. The literary stereotype of the “Polish” Jew in Romanian literature is mainly a consequence of Alecsandri’s influence. His play, Lipitorile satului (The Village Leeches; 1863), for example, presents the Jew in traditional garb, speaking a mangled jargon, and associated with stereotypical negative traits—cheating, ruthless, desperate for profits, involved in usury, exploiting, and “poisonous” to the peasants.
This caricature became a prototypical image of Jews even though some important writers were relatively unaffected by it. Indeed, a more nuanced literary image of a picturesque and exotic Jewish world or of psychologically complex characters generating sympathy and compassion first developed toward the end of the nineteenth century. Examples of this tendency include Ion Luca Caragiale’s (1852–1912) short story “O făclie de Paşte” (An Easter Torch; 1889); Mihail Sadoveanu’s (1880–1961) story “Haia Sanis” (1933); Liviu Rebreanu’s (1885–1944) story “Ițic Ştrul dezertor” (Ițic Ştrul Deserter; 1932); Constantin Stere’s (1865–1936) trilogy In preajma revoluției (On the Eve of Revolution; 1931–1936); Gala Galaction’s (1879–1961) novel Papucii lui Mahmud (Mahmud’s Slippers; 1932); Victor Ion Popa’s (1895–1946) comedy Take, Ianke şi Cadâr (1933); and George Călinescu’s (1899–1965) novel Scrinul negru (Black Chest of Drawers; 1960). Romanian Jews appear frequently, depicted with sympathy and warmth, in the writings of Panait Istrati (1884–1935) who became well known after moving to France. Contemporary writers such as Constantin Țoiu (1938– ), Augustin Buzura (1938– ), and Matei Călinescu (1934–2009) have also avoided stereotyping.
Jewish Romanian Writing after World War I
Beginning in the closing years of World War I, the number of Jews writing in Romanian increased dramatically. While some addressed Jewish subjects and others were part of broader cultural trends, it was not uncommon for writers to address Jewish topics in some of their works and not in others. Of those for whom Jewish national consciousness was at the forefront of their concerns, A. L. (Abraham Leib) Zissu (1888–1956) is often considered a founding figure. His novels and short stories are concerned exclusively with Jewish topics and the intellectual crisis of his generation. Zissu advocated a complete Jewish identity—one should respect and be familiar with Romanian culture, he said, but attempts to achieve spiritual and cultural integration in Romania were harmful. The first effort to assemble Jewish writers who addressed Jewish and Zionist themes was the review Puntea de fildeş, of which two issues appeared in 1925 and 1926. The origin of this literary movement lay in the identity crisis in the Jewish intellectual universe, triggered by the revival of the Zionist movement after World War I, and by the ideological trends emerging within modern Judaism.
Zissu’s closest disciple was the journalist and writer Isac Ludo (1894–1972). Through the reviews Mântuirea (The Redemption; 1919–1922), and Ştiri din lumea evreiască (News from the Jewish World; 1922–1940), Zissu and Ludo became leading advocates of a “Jewish literature” in Romanian, with Jewish themes. They targeted a mainly Jewish audience. From 1929, Ludo edited the social-cultural review Adam, a substantial publication dedicated to Judaism, to the works of Jewish writers worldwide, and to the social and political issues of Jewish life in Romania. The reviews and newspapers managed by Zissu and Ludo attracted a substantial group of journalists and writers. While the writers were generally unremarkable, the journalists fulfilled a significant cultural and social function in Romanian Jewish life. This category included Zissu’s work as well.
Portrait of Felix Aderca. Artist unknown, drawing. (Centrul pentru Studiul Istoriei din România)
The most gifted among those writers realized quite early on that literature in the service of an ideological and thematic program would remain peripheral, and they turned to an exclusively literary artistic path, seeking in this way to be integrated into Romanian culture. This separation from Zissu, their intransigent mentor, was also a reflection of the fact that Jewish intellectuals had reached an advanced stage of integration in Romanian cultural life. Still, perhaps as a result of their youthful attachment to the Jewish national movement, themes related to Jewish fate and to Judaism as an individual experience were also present in their works as mature writers.
At the beginning of their literary careers, two of the most important Jewish writers, Felix Aderca (1891–1962) and Beniamin Fundoianu (1898–1944), were very close to the circle dominated by Zissu, Linked to the avant-garde group (after his emigration to France in 1923, as a French poet and philosopher, he used the name Benjamin Fondane), Fundoianu’s ties to Zissu and with topics concerning modern Judaism remained strong and significant. In his turn, Aderca was consistent in his direct and passionate involvement in Jewish issues, even when he enjoyed remarkable prestige in Romanian literary life. From the very beginning of his journalistic career, he criticized Jewish intellectuals’ lack of authenticity as they ignored the Jewish tradition and avoided Jewish themes for the sake of assimilation. By contrast, Eugen Relgis (1895–1987) advocated a pan-European humanitarian and pacifist message, combining biblical motifs with the internationalist humanism promoted by Romain Rolland, whose faithful disciple he was.
Jewish writers represented a significant component of the Romanian literary avant-garde, an affiliation explained by the absence of xenophobia among Romanian modernists and by the solidarity among literary radicals. The internationalist spirit of the group promoted its affiliation with the European avant-garde movement, both in painting (Marcel Iancu [1895–1984], Victor Brauner [1903–1966], Jules Perahim [1914–2008], and others) and in literature. A significant number in fact emigrated, mainly to France, including Tristan Tzara (1896–1963), Benjamin Fondane, Ilarie Voronca (1903–1946), Gherasim Luca (1913–1994), and Claude Sernet (1902–1968). Both Tzara and Iancu were among the founders of the Dada movement in Zurich (1916). The Jewish poets who were attached to the avant-garde edited or regularly contributed to its journals, such as 75HP, Contimporanul, Integral, Alge, and especially unu, edited from 1928 by the poet Saşa Pană (1902–1981), the most dynamic and tenacious promoter of the Romanian avant-garde. Jewish writers of the generation that made its mark in the 1930s made a remarkable contribution to Romanian modernism, among them Paul Păun (1916–1994), Jacques Costin (1895–1972), Sesto Pals (1913–2002), Liviu Deleanu (1911–1967), Mihail Dan (1906–1950), Al. Robot (1916–1941), and Aurel Baranga (1916–1994).
Modern Romanian poetry resorted quite frequently to themes and motifs of biblical inspiration, especially to Psalms. Such biblical accents were especially present in Tudor Arghezi’s poetry, a non-Jew and one of the great interwar poets. His work influenced a number of Jewish poets, but their preferred biblical sources were more markedly linked to Jewish mythology (Aderca, Camil Baltazar [1902–1977]) and to Jewish fate, the condition of pariah (Voronca) or to the magical universe of the shtetl (Fundoianu). Biblical prototypes are to be found in the works of Baltazar, Aderca, Enric Furtună, A. Dominic (1889–1942), Banuş, and Marcel Breslaşu (1903–1966), who wrote his own version of Cântarea Cântărilor (The Song of Songs; 1938). References to kabbalistic symbols can be detected in the work of modernist poets such as Păun and Sesto Pals.
Avant-garde Jewish prose writers were drawn to expressionist and introspective styles and motives. Their tendency to perceive reality acutely and to stress individual emotions was intensified by their alienation as Jews. Critics lauded H. Bonciu (1893–1950) for his expressionist prose, shocking eroticism, and harsh images. An outstanding representative of Romanian modernist prose was M. Blecher (1909–1938), whose two novels, Intâmplări în irealitatea imediată (Events from the Close Unreality; 1936) and Inimi cicatrizate (Scarred Hearts; 1936), display a highly refined style depicting inner life and a hallucinatory perception of the surrounding world.
The Jewish environment, shaken by the changes accompanying modernization and capitalism, was reflected in the work of three important writers: Ion Călugăru (1902–1956), Ury Benador (1895–1971), and Isac Peltz (1899–1980), the first two of whom were themselves natives of Moldavian Jewish market towns. They developed both powerful realist representations, often with expressionist visions, of the charming or sordid universe of Jewish market towns (in Copilăria unui netrebnic [A Wretched Man’s Childhood; 1936] by Călugăru) and unforgiving descriptions of the social fauna in predatory big cities (Calea Văcăreşti [The Văcăreşti Road; 1933] by Peltz; Gheto veac XX [Ghetto Twentieth Century; 1934] by Benador). The modern Jewish “ghetto” did not preserve the mythical charm of the childhood market town, but became an alienating environment, destroying aspiration and ideals, populated by characters disfigured by the harshness of human relations and the loss of moral values, and suffocated by poverty and social contrasts. Especially for Benador (in the short story “Appasionata” , for example), the image of the Jewish shtetl was rife with mystery and mystical fervor, in the Hasidic spirit. It was also the background of revealing dramatic encounters with modernity and of great artistic creativity transcending religious restrictions.
In the tradition inaugurated by Ronetti-Roman, several Jewish writers published essays on Judaism (Zissu, Fundoianu, Relgis, Mihail Sebastian [1907–1945])—on the nature of antisemitism (Aderca), or on the dilemmas of double identity (Sebastian, Benador). H. St. Streitman (1873–1942) was a subtle essayist, in the spirit of French moralists. Converted to Christianity, he wrote, however, with sympathy for Judaism in his volume of essays Revizuiri (Revisions; 1922).
The feuilleton was highly popular among Jewish journalists, some of them—Horia Carp (1869–1943) and Marius Mircu (1909–2008)—focusing almost exclusively on describing Romanian Jewish life, stressing social issues (poverty, alienation, decline of the values treasured by the traditional Jewish world) or narrating episodes from the chronicle of antisemitic discrimination and persecutions. Outstanding in this genre was the work of the journalist Filip Brunea-Fox (1898–1971), himself a member of the avant-garde. His reports on the traditional Jewish community in Maramureş were memorable, as was his distressing evocation of the pogrom in Iaşi (Oraşul măcelului [The Massacre Town]; 1944). Beginning with Aderca’s novel Oraşele scufundate (Sunken Towns; 1936), Jewish writers popularized science fiction literature, a trend that became particularly noticeable in the years of Communist rule—Vladimir Colin, (1921–1991), Horia Aramă (1930–2007), I. M. Ştefan (1922–1992), Radu Nor (1921–2006), Adrian Rogoz (1921–1996), and Dorel Dorian (1930– ).
Dilemmas of Double Identity
The integration of many Jewish writers into Romanian culture generated identity dilemmas and inner debates that often had a considerable effect on their work. Such questions and dilemmas became more acute in the 1930s. Debates touched on the dilemma “Jewish writer or Romanian writer,” and on the soul and inner structure of writers with dual cultural roots. Reflections of such torments were expressed by several Romanian writers aware of the problems agitating their Jewish colleagues. A review edited by Romanian intellectuals of socialist convictions (Facla) even organized a survey titled “Romanian Writer—Jewish Writer” (in 1935), asking writers to respond and “solve” the issue. As expected, the answers were contradictory. Some respondents, including Peltz and Baltazar, identified themselves as Romanian writers exclusively; others, such as Benador, treasured their dual spiritual roots, just as Sebastian had done in an earlier essay, “Cum am devenit hooligan” (How I Became a Hooligan).
Non-Jewish writers and literary critics also made statements on these dilemmas, some of them (Eugen Lovinescu, George Călinescu) even attempting to establish a typology of Jewish writers in Romania. Naturally, Romanian society’s response to this process was not monolithic; besides acceptance and encouragement, there were constant attempts at delegitimation by nationalist circles. Xenophobic reactions in the traditionalist environment were provoked especially by avant-garde Jewish writers. Their rejection, usually defended by means of ethnocentric rhetoric or accusations of immorality, escalated in the 1930s and culminated during World War II.
As political forces from the extreme right grew stronger, and especially after 1933, prominent Jewish writers were engaged in fierce confrontations not only in defense of their legitimacy and against antisemitism, but also with the nationalist Jewish press. In 1934–1935, the most famous of such controversies involved Sebastian and Aderca. Shaken by the loss of their inner balance and of their lifetime convictions, for them, as for others, the attacks from the antisemitic camp were not the most difficult to bear, but rather the silence of their Romanian colleagues and friends. A scandal was set off by Sebastian’s novel De două mii de ani (For Two Thousand Years; 1934), which addressed the themes of dual cultural roots and the confrontation with antisemitism. The preface written by his former spiritual guide, the orthodoxist philosopher Nae Ionescu, who had meanwhile abruptly converted to the ideology of the Iron Guard, was a clear and implacable theological justification of antisemitism. Although shocked by Ionescu’s preface, Sebastian accepted its publication, but he then refuted its antisemitic arguments in his essay “How I Became a Hooligan.”
The denial of Jewish writers’ legitimacy, supported ideologically in “scientific” studies on the Jews’ racial inferiority and on the harmful “Judaic spirit,” as well as in aggressive press campaigns, also led to administrative measures: Jewish writers were excluded from the Romanian Writers Society in 1937. The ban prevented them from publishing in the Romanian press, their books were removed from bookshops, and lists with writers’ “true” Jewish names were published. In just a few years, all these writers, regardless of what they considered themselves or of how attached they were to Romanian culture, ended up excluded from Romanian literary life and—willingly or unwillingly—were confined to a symbolic ghetto. During World War II, they shared the wave of discriminatory laws and even the threats of deportation and death. As they were prevented from publishing, some continued their creative work focusing more than before on Jewish themes (Aderca wrote a play on the Dreyfus Affair, published posthumously) or kept journals (Sebastian, Emil Dorian [1893–1956], Banuş), creating exceptional testimonies on the Jewish intellectuals’ situation under the Antonescu regime, and on the Jewish community’s confrontation with everyday threats of deportation, deprivations, and antisemitic laws.
The Communist Period
The dilemmas Jewish Romanian writers faced were extended, in different forms and in a completely different context, during the decade following the establishment of the Communist regime. The reintegration of many Jewish artists and writers into cultural life, and even their promotion to positions of cultural prestige and political authority, were acquired in exchange for an ideological conformism that jeopardized their work. Some, such as Ludo or Benador (who also participated in anti-Zionist campaigns), Banuş, Veronica Porumbacu (1921–1977), Breslaşu, and Baranga, did not resist the new realist-socialist temptation that seemed to provide a perfect solution to the dilemmas of identity. Some of them paid for this commitment with artistic failure. The most gifted of them, as well as the writers acknowledged in the following decade, succeeded in regaining their authenticity, freeing themselves from servitude to socialist realism.
The evocation of the Holocaust was notable even during this period when literature was dominated by the official ideology. The trauma of pogroms and of the Transnistrian camps—or of Nazi camps for the natives of northern Transylvania—was reflected in numerous literary expressions in the first years after the war with outstanding achievements in the poetry of Maier Rudich (1913–1991), Banuş, Ştefan Iureş (1931– ), Porumbacu, and in the prose of Ieronim Şerbu (1911–1972), Matei Gall (1920– ), and Alexandru Jar (1911–1988). A first version of Paul Celan’s famous “Todesfuge” was released in Petre Solomon’s translation (he himself was an outstanding Jewish poet and translator) when Celan was still in Bucharest. The Holocaust theme also appeared with literary complexity in the works of prose writers who made their mark later (Norman Manea [1936– ], Alexandru Sever [1921– ], Virgil Duda [1939– ]), or in Florin Mugur’s (1934–1991) poetry.
As they freed themselves from ideological restrictions, starting in the late 1960s, Jewish writers from Romania reassumed their Jewish identity. This process brought forth a group of writers showing a powerful originality, who stood in the foreground of Romanian literary life. Attempting to reinstate a tradition, these writers sought to build a bridge to the generation of Jewish writers between the two wars, rediscovering their predecessors: Fundoianu, Sebastian, Aderca, Blecher, Peltz, Bonciu, Voronca. Their connection with the past was favored by a similar phenomenon in general Romanian literature—the emergence of Romanian literary critics who reinstated these Jewish writers’ works, with new editions and critical exegeses, underlining also specifically Jewish features, perceived as a particular means of enriching the Romanian literary heritage.
The rediscovery of Jewish traditions can also be detected with several writers from the generation immediately after the war. Alexandru Mirodan (1927– ) inaugurated the new spirit of returning to sources in dramatic works. In a variety of forms—lyrical motifs, biblical parables, choosing literary characters from the Jewish environment, evoking the Holocaust, memories, confessions, essays—the Jewish universe, dealt with directly or only suggested, can be detected in the poetry of Banuş, Nina Cassian (1924– ), Mugur, in the modern prose of Manea, Duda, Radu Cosaşu (1930– ), Sonia Larian (1931– ), B. Elvin (1927– ), Marcel Marcian (1914–2007), Gheorghe Schwartz (1945– ), and in the critical and essayistic works of Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu (1921–2000), Lucian Raicu (1934–2006), Vera Călin (1921– ), Zigu Ornea (1930–2001), Elvin, Henri Wald (1920–2002), Sami Damian (1930– ), Ştefan Cazimir (1932– ), Henri Zalis (1932– ), and others. Some of them began to contribute to Revista cultului mozaic (Periodical of the Mosaic Religion), also motivated by solidarity with a community that, beginning in the 1980s, was the target of antisemitic attacks launched in the periodical Săptămîna (The Week), by the writer Eugen Barbu and of the xenophobe poet Corneliu Vadim Tudor.
Several books of memoirs from the period of war and antisemitic persecutions were also revealing. In Sub camuflaj. Jurnal 1943–1944 (Under Camouflage: Journal 1943–1944), Maria Banuş evoked episodes from Antonescu’s dictatorship—the evacuation of Jewish homes, forced labor, the threat of deportation to Transnistria, the antisemitic universe, and the cultural life of the Jewish community in Bucharest during the war. The same atmosphere can be found in the memoir written by the theorist Ion Ianoşi (1928– ), Secolul nostru cel de toate zilele (Our Everyday Century; 1980), with its surprisingly straight approach to ethnicity and praise for the spiritual and moral advantage of being part of a “minority.”
Against this background, some Jewish writers of the younger generation initiated a process of rediscovering the Judaic tradition. For the prose writer and essayist Manea, the identity crisis and the theme of suffering and dehumanization in a concentration-camp universe acquired an existential intensity and became components of his creative vision. Moreover, during the Communist regime, he was the only Jewish writer to retaliate against antisemitic press attacks; in consequence, he was subjected to violent attacks ranging from the discrediting of his work to the disparagement of his ethnic origins. Manea’s fiction characteristically includes intellectual and personal reflections on the process of assuming an identity. Most revealing in this respect are his stories in Octombrie, ora opt (October, 8 O’Clock; 1981) and his exceptional memoir written in exile, A Hooligan’s Return (2003).
Among writers who made their mark in the Communist era, quite a few wrote their finest books only after the fall of the dictatorship. Among Jewish writers who remained in Romania, Radu Cosaşu became one of the most prominent with his collection of short stories Supraviețuirile (The Survivals; 2002–2006), praised by the literary critics for its ironic depiction of the Stalinist age, and including a significant number of episodes on Jewish families from Bucharest. His works portray families confronted with their sons’ “rebellion” and captivation by the new world; younger characters in these works mock Jewish customs as obsolete and “petty-bourgeois.” The same generation included two outstanding prose writers B. Elvin and Gheorghe Schwartz, followed by Adriana Bittel (1946– ) in a following generation.
Jews also contributed to literary criticism and history. While some of the most respected critics during the Communist years—Ion Vitner (1914–1991), Savin Bratu (1925–1977), Silvian Iosifescu (1917–2006), Mihail Petroveanu (1923–1977), and Vicu Mândra (1927– )—are nearly forgotten, others became influential literary historians and critics after World War II: Paul Cornea (1924– ), Raicu, Ornea, and Crohmălniceanu. In a younger generation, Andrei Corbea (1951– ), Andrei Oişteanu (1948– ) and Andrei Cornea (1952– ) were prominent in the history of culture and cultural anthropology. Of the small category of Jewish intellectuals who converted to Christianity, the most prominent were the mystical and esoteric poet Marcel Avramescu (1909–1984) and the essayist Nicolae Steinhardt (1912–1989), revered in Romania for his Jurnalul fericirii (The Diary of Happiness; 1991), an account of his journey to orthodox Christianity during the years he spent in Communist prisons. Tudor Vianu (1898–1964), one of the most important literary theorists, also came from a family of converted Jews.
During the Communist years, and especially during Nicolae Ceauşescu’s dictatorship, an unusually large number of Jewish writers left Romania and settled in Israel, where they continued to write in Romanian. Among those who made this choice were the poet M. Rudich, the literary critic Iosef Eugen Campus (1915– ), the poets Sebastian Costin (1939–1997) and Eran Sela (1940– ), Shaul Carmel (1937– ), Solo Har-Herescu (1928– ), the prose writer Iosif Petran (1932–2005), I. Schechter (1934–2007), the playwright Mirodan, later followed by the writers Duda, Sever, Mircea Săucan (1928–2003), Mirel Brateş (1936– ), Andrei Fischof (1940– ), Gina Sebastian-Alcalay (1927– ), Bianca Marcovici (1952– ), Tania Lovinescu (1924– ) and others. After the fall of communism, they were able to publish their work in Romania. While editing the monthly Minimum (since 1987), Mirodan wrote Dicționarul neconvențional al scriitorilor evrei de limbă română (Unconventional Dictionary of Jewish Writers in Romanian; the two first volumes were published in 1986 and 1997), a captivating combination of literary erudition and personal reflection. Sever and Duda eventually published novels and essays with a marked receptivity toward Jewish surroundings and the fate of Romanian Jewry during the Holocaust. Campus, Andrei Strihan (1924– ) Ileana Vrancea (1929– ), Eugen Luca (1923–1997), Elena Tacciu (1933– ), Sergiu Levin (1928–2006), and Leon Volovici (1938– ) continued their literary careers in Israel.
APPENDIX: JEWISH ROMANIAN WRITERS
[The following list identifies and briefly describes the works of writers who are not the subject of an independent biographical entry.]
(1930–2007), poet, novelist, and essayist. Aramă published poetry for children, science fiction novels, and fantasy literature, as well as two volumes of essays on utopia in literature. His titles include Colecționarul de insule
(The Collector of Islands; 1981) and Insulele fericite
(The Happy Islands; 1986); his Fiul risipitor nu se mai întoarce
(The Prodigal Son Is Not Coming Back; 2004) is a troubling confession on solitude and old age.
(1879–1963), poet and journalist. Axelrad depicted in simple lines, very popular in the early twentieth century, the tragedy of Jews forced to emigrate by poverty and misfortunes. Among his works are Spre răsărit
(To the East; 1900) and Lădița cu necazuri
(The Little Box of Misfortunes; 1919).
(Leopold Goldştein; 1902–1977), poet, editor, and translator. Extremely active in the literary press, Baltazar edited (with Petru Comarnescu) the review Tiparnița literară
(The Literary Printing Press; 1928–1931). He published several volumes of symbolist poetry, among them Biblice
(Biblical; 1926), and a memoir, Contemporan cu ei
(Their Contemporary; 1962). He also translated Thomas Mann, Franz Werfel
, Jakob Wassermann, and others.
(1914–1999), poet. Banuş made her debut with a collection of poetry, Țara fetelor
(Girls’ Country; 1937), and during the Stalinist period, her work conformed to the new realist socialist literature. After 1970 she returned to reflexive poetry dedicated to personal feelings in line with her earliest works. Her memoir, Sub camuflaj. Jurnal 1943–1944
(Under Camouflage: Journal 1943–1944; 1978), depicts the period of antisemitic persecutions.
(Leibovici; 1913–1979), poet, playright, and editor. Baranga made his debut as an avant-gardist poet and edited the review Alge
(1930) with Gherasim Luca. During the Communist era, Baranga was one of the most popular Romanian playwrights and the author of successful comedies, also staged abroad. His ideological conformism jeopardized the acceptability of many of his plays.
(Bercu Haimovici; 1893–1950), poet and novelist. Bonciu was originally acknowledged as an essentially expressionist poet, as was evident in his Lada cu năluci
(The Chest with Ghosts; 1932). Two of his prose volumes, Bagaj . . .
(Luggage . . . ; 1934) and Pensiunea doamnei Pipersberg
(Mrs. Pipersberg’s Boarding House; 1936) generated a press scandal, as he was accused of pornography, and some of the attacks resorted to violently antisemitic language. However, several critics of the time appreciated the works as experimentalist novels under the influence of German and Austrian expressionism.
(Bresliska; 1903–1966), poet and composer. Breslaşu’s first title publication was Cântarea cântărilor
(The Song of Songs; 1938). A former Communist activist, he held important positions in the field of cultural affairs in the 1950s. Despite the concessions he made to socialist realism, his true talent, revealed in Zodiac
(published posthumously in 1973), saved Breslaşu from being completely forgotten.
Bruckstein, Ludovic (1920-1988), playwright and novelist. A descendent of a rabbinical family from Maramureş, Bruckstein grew up in Sighet. He survived the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp, and after the war studied in Cluj and Bucharest and published several plays, in Romanian and Yiddish, that were inspired by the trauma of the Holocaust or by Hasidic legends. Several of these plays were staged by the Jewish State Theater in Bucharest: Familia Grinvald (The Grinvald Family, 1953), Generaţia din pustiu (The Desert Generation, 1956), and Un process neterminat (An Unfinished Trial, 1962). After his immigration to Israel in 1972, he continued his literary activity.
(1924– ), poet, memoir writer, and translator. After a proletarian phase that diminished her early and genuine talent, Cassian became one of the outstanding representatives of Romanian poetry. She has been living in the United States since 1985 and also writes in English. Three volumes of journals and memoirs, Memoria ca zestre
(Memory as Heritage; 2003–2005) captured and analyzed the literary and political life of the Communist period. Together with Israil Bercovici
, she translated Itsik Manger
’s poetry—Balada evreului care a ajuns de la cenuşiu la albastru
(The Ballad of the Jew Who Got from Gray to Blue; 1983).
(Cohn; 1924– ), literary historian. A young Communist during World War II, Cornea held important positions in the 1950s that he gave up in favor of an academic career as professor of Romanian literature at Bucharest University. He emerged as one of the most prominent Romanian literary historians and published fundamental studies on nineteenth-century Romanian literature, including Originile romantismului românesc
(The Origins of Romanian Romanticism; 1972) and various theoretical studies of reading and comparative literature, among them Regula jocului
(The Rule of the Game; 1980), Introducere în teoria lecturii
(Introduction to the Theory of Reading; 1988), and Interpretare şi raționalitate
(Interpretation and Rationality; 2006), a comprehensive and original synthesis of interpretation in humanities, literary criticism, and everyday speech.
(Oscar Rohrlich; 1930– ), prose writer and journalist. After a socialist realist phase in his youth, Cosaşu became one of the most original Romanian writers, making frequent references to the fall of Communist illusions and to the Jewish environment in that era. His works include Meseria de nuvelist
(The Profession of Short Story Telling; 1980); Supraviețuirile
(The Survivals, 4 vols.; 2002–2006). He also has written about the Romanian Jewish community in Israel, in Mătuşile din Tel Aviv
(My Aunts from Tel Aviv; 1993).
(1939–1997), poet, translator, and journalist. Costin moved to Israel in 1973, where he continued his earlier career in literary and journalistic work (as drama critic) in the Romanian-language press. His poetry collections include Femios
(1969), Pădurea de aer
(The Forest of Air; 1997), and Poemele de-o zi
(The One-Day Poems; 2002). His translations from Hebrew poetry include Sunete ebraice
(Hebrew Sounds; 1975) and La marginea cerului
(On the Edge of the Sky; 1981).
(Rottman; 1903–1976), novelist. Focusing on social unrest and provincial stagnation—Dragoste si moarte in provincie
(Love and Death in the Provinces; 1931); Surorile Veniamin
(The Veniamin Sisters; 1935)—Dan also made one of the first attempts to represent the nightmare of Transnistrian camps in the novel Unde începe noaptea
(Where Night Begins; 1945).
(Lipa Cligman; 1911–1967), poet and translator. After an early debut in avant-garde reviews, Deleanu published three books of poetry: Oglinzi fermecate
(Charmed Mirrors; 1930), Ceasul de veghe
(The Watch Hour; 1937), and Glod alb
(White Mud; 1940), which were well received by the critics. In 1940 he fled to Moscow
and then settled in Chişinău (Kishinev
), where he pursued his literary work in Romanian. He published translations of Iacob Groper
and Itsik Manger.
(Avram Reichman; 1889–1942), poet. In Dominic’s two volumes of expressionist poetry with prophetic accents—Revolte şi răstigniri
(Rebellions and Crucifixions; 1920) and Clopote peste adâncuri
(Bells over the Deep; 1927)—the tragic motif of Diaspora
Jewry is recurrent. The play Sonata umbrelor
(The Sonata of Shadows; 1921) was well received by critics in Romania and Germany.
(Rubin Leibovici; 1939– ), novelist. A writer from the generation that made its mark in the 1960s, Duda was noticed for his gift for psychological analysis, as evident in his Catedrala
(The Cathedral; 1969), Anchetatorul apatic
(The Apathetic Investigator; 1971), and Măştile
(The Masks; 1979). Autobiographical elements became more obvious in his subsequent novels: Războiul amintirilor
(The War of Memories; 1981), Hărțuiala
(The Harassment; 1984), and Oglinda salvată
(The Rescued Mirror; 1986). After he settled in Israel (1988), Jewish themes, including the Holocaust, acquired a special significance in his work, as in Alvis şi destinul
(Alvis and Fate; 1993), A trăi în păcat
(Living in Sin; 1996), and Viața cu efect întârziat
(Life with Delayed Effect; 1998). After writing a novel focusing on the intellectual environment of the Communist period (Şase femei
[Six Women]; 2002), he returned to Jewish issues in his book of essays Evreul ca simbol
(The Jew As a Symbol; 2004) and the novel Despărțirea de Ierusalim
(Farewell to Jerusalem; 2006).
(Bernstein; 1927– ), novelist and essayist. In 1969, Elvin became the literary secretary of the National Theater of Bucharest. He made his debut with substantial essays on theater and playwrights (Chekhov, Ion Luca Caragiale, Camil Petrescu, Mihail Sebastian), and after 1970 was acknowledged as a novelist, one of Mihail Sebastian’s successors, a fine analyst of character. Elvin’s works include Hotarul imaginar
(The Imaginary Borderline; 1980), In continuare
(Next; 1982), and Colțurile cercului
(The Circle’s Corners; 1985). He edited the Romanian issue of the Lettre Internationale
(Otto Enselberg; 1887–1961), poet and literary historian. Feraru immigrated to the United States in 1913. He collected his poems on social topics written in Romania in the book Maghernița veche şi alte versuri din anii tineri
(The Old Hovel and Other Verses from the Early Years; 1926), and continued to write in exile on Romanian literature: The Development of Rumanian Poetry
(Henric Peckelman; 1881–1965), poet. Furtună wrote elegies and meditations dominated by humanistic romantic tendencies, such as the motif of the wanderer Ahasver: De pe stâncă
(From the Rock; 1922), Privelişti şi impresii
(Views and Impressions; 1926), and Poemele resemnării
(The Poems of Resignation; 1940).
(Armand Iacobson; 1893–1913), poet. The posthumous book Quasi
(1930) revealed an original symbolist poet who died of tuberculosis.
(Janos Steinberger; 1928– ), theorist. Having studied Marxism, Ianoşi went through a militant ideological phase relatively quickly and published substantial studies on the Russian philosophy and literature, on Thomas Mann and a history of Romanian philosophy. Ianoşi’s memoirs, Secolul nostru cel de toate zilele
(Our Everyday Century; 1980), Opțiuni
(Choices; 1989), as well as his essays collected in Prejudecăți şi judecăți
(Prejudgments and Judgments; 2002) reveal a growing preoccupation with Jewish identity and its confrontation with antisemitism.
(Ariane Lewenstein; 1931– ), children’s writer and novelist. After becoming well known as a writer of children’s books, Larian published an extremely original animal fantasy and parable, Biblioteca fantastică
(The Fantastic Library; 1976), followed 10 years later by Bietele corpuri
(The Unfortunate Bodies; 1986), one of the most powerful Romanian novels on suffering and death. She has been in Paris since 1988.
(Salman Locker; 1913–1994), writer and editor. Luca made his debut in the avant-garde review Alge
(1930), followed by the prose volumes Roman de dragoste
(Romance Novel; 1933) and Fata Morgana
(1937). In 1952, Luca moved to France, where he was an outstanding figure in the French surrealist movement.
(1936– ), novelist and short-story writer. Manea is noted for his subtle analyses of the degradation of human relations in a totalitarian society. His titles include the novels Zilele şi jocul
(The Days and the Game; 1977), Atrium
(1974), and Plicul negru
(The Black Envelope; 1986). In his stories and short stories Octombrie ora opt
(October, 8 O’Clock; 1981), the memories of Manea’s childhood in Transnistria are given exceptional expression. Themes relating to the Holocaust and the ravages of antisemitism returned in his books of memoirs Casa melcului
(The Snail’s House; 1999), in essays (On Clowns: The Dictator and the Artist;
1992), and in his memoir A Hooligan’s Return
(2003). After he moved to the United States in 1988, his works, translated into English and many other languages, enjoyed international acknowledgement.
(Moritz Marcus; 1914–2007), short-story writer. Marcian wrote lively stories depicting Jewish market towns in Moldavia. His titles include Povestindu-vă
(Telling You Stories; 1977), and Şi cum vă spuneam . . .
(And as I Was Telling You . . . ; 1980).
(Marcus; 1909–2008), journalist and novelist. One of the first journalists to write about the pogroms of Iaşi, Bucovina, and Transnistria, Mircu published numerous books on the history of the Jews in Romania. He also completed the autobiographical novels Croitorul din Back
(The Tailor from Back; 1979), and M-am născut reporter
(I Was Born a Reporter; 1981).
(Saltman; 1927–2010), playwright. Mirodan was a successful playwright in the 1950s and 1960s; his plays include Ziariştii
(The Journalists; 1956), Celebrul 702
(The Famous 702; 1962), and Şeful sectorului suflete
(The Head of the Soul Department; 1965). The performance of his parable about antisemitism, Contract special de închiriat oameni
(Special Contract for Renting People; 1971 [published in Tel Aviv in 1983]) was banned. After moving to Israel in 1977, Mirodan edited the Romanian monthly Minimum
and published Dicționar neonvențional al scriitorilor evrei de limba română (A–F)
(The Unconventional Dictionary of Jewish Writers in Romanian [A–F]; 1986, 1997).
(Beniamin Deutsch; 1887–1919), poet and translator. Writing at the crossroad between romanticism and modernism, Nemțeanu combined lyricism with Heine’s subtle irony, from whose work he also translated Hebrew Melodies
(1919). Critics acknowledged Nemțeanu for his book Stropi de soare
(Sun Drops; 1915).
(Alexandru Binder; 1902–1981), poet, and one of the main promoters and theoreticians of surrealism in Romania. Pană edited the avant-garde review unu
(one; 1928–1932) and published many volumes of poetry, as well as Antologia literaturii române de avangardă
(The Anthology of Romanian Avant-Garde Literature; 1969). In his memoirs, Născut în ’02
(Born in ’02; 1973), he describes his involvement of several decades in the Romanian and European avant-garde.
(1916–1994), poet. Păun was part of the surrealist poets’ group that debuted in the Alge
review (1930), and he published poems in unu
(one). After issuing two books of poetry, Plămânul sălbatec
(The Wild Lung; 1939), and Marea palidă
(The Pale Sea; 1945), Păun pursued his literary work in French, with the same surrealist orientation.
(Bernard Leibovici; 1934–2006), literary critic. As one of the most original and prominent contemporary Romanian literary critics, Raicu published comprehensive essays on outstanding Romanian writers (Liviu Rebreanu, George Bacovia, Mihail Sadoveanu), and on Eugène Ionesco. Raicu also wrote an innovative study on Gogol, Gogol sau fantasticul banalității
(Gogol or the Fantastic of the Ordinary; 1974, also published in France, 1992), and essays on the nature of art and on the creative spirit. He lived in France from 1986 until his death.
(Sigler; 1895–1987), editor, poet, and essayist. As a promoter of the European humanist movement (in the vein of Romain Rolland and Stefan Zweig), Relgis edited the reviews Umanitatea
(The Humanity; 1920) and Umanitarismul
(Humanitarianism; 1930). He published several books of poetry and prose on social themes, and essays on Judaism and the biblical spirit: Eseuri despre judaism
(Essays on Judaism; 1936). He settled in Uruguay in 1947 and translated many of his essays into Spanish.
(1913–1991), poet and journalist. Rudich worked for the Jewish publications Hasmonaea, Adam,
and Renaşterea noastră.
Accused of Zionist activity, he was imprisoned from 1951 to 1955. His book La braț cu moartea
(Arm in Arm with Death; 1945) includes stories on Transnistria. From 1959, Rudich pursued his literary work in Israel.
(1922– ), editor and essayist. Before moving to Israel in 1978, Rusu was the editor of Revista cultului mozaic.
He also published several books of essays, among which Alef-Bet
(1976), Ițic şi lumea lui
(Ițic and His World; 2000), and Ultimii evrei
(The Last Jews; 2004) included depictions of Jewish market towns from his native Moldavia.
(1875–1951), literary critic and theorist. After Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea, Sanielevici was one of the first Jewish intellectuals to make his mark in Romanian literary criticism and sociology. His original aesthetic theories combined anthropology with a social approach to literary trends; his works include Incercări critice
(Literary Attempts; 1903), Cercetări critice şi filosofice
(Critical and Philosophical Research; 1916), and Studii critice
(Critical Studies; 1927).
(Solomon Zilberman; 1921–2010), novelist, playwright, and essayist. Sever’s novels include vast epics with multiple social and philosophical implications: Cezar Dragoman
(1957); Uciderea pruncilor
(Killing of the Infants; 1966); and Impostorul
(The Imposter; 1977). The novels he published after moving to Israel, Cartea morților
(Book of the Dead; 1995); Insomniacii
(The Insomniacs; 2000); and Cronica unui sfârşit amânat
(The Chronicle of a Postponed End; 2006) had a more obvious focus on Jewish topics. Some of his plays are included in the collection Don Juan apocalipticul
(Don Juan the Apocalyptic; 1984).
(1872–1918), poet and journalist, an active presence in the socialist press. Under Heine’s strong influence, Steuerman-Rodion was among the first to express Jewish writers’ torments, divided between faithfulness to the Jewish tradition and attraction to a Romanian literary career. His works include Sărăcie
(Poverty; 1997), Lirice
(Lyrical; 1898), and Spini
(Thorns; 1915). He committed suicide upon his return from World War I, where he had served as a physician.
(Solomon Moscovici; 1875–1954), poet. Attached to the socialist and eventually Communist circles and periodicals, Toma was oriented toward poetry of social militancy that became in the Stalinist period a proletarian rhetoric very much appreciated by those in power. His publications include Poezii
(Poems; 1926) and Poezii alese
(Selected Poems; 1952).
(Iosif Netzler; 1889–1917), literary critic and essayist. Trivale made a brilliant debut with his book of Cronici literare
(Literary Chronicles; 1914) and intensive journalistic activity. His death at the front in World War I prematurely ended an extraordinary promising critical career.