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Dorian, Emil

(1891–1956), writer and translator. The son of a teacher of German, Emil Dorian (originally Lustig) received his early education at Jewish schools in Bucharest. After graduating from medical school in that city, he was sent to the front as a physician during World War I, even though, as a Jew, he was not yet a Romanian citizen. After a two-year medical specialization in France, he returned to Romania and worked as a physician until the end of his life, publishing numerous books on popular medicine. After World War II, he became involved in Jewish community life in Bucharest as a secretary general and afterward as director of the documentary library and archives of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania.

An active writer and journalist, Dorian also composed poetry, novels, and numerous translations, mostly from German and Yiddish. His delicate poems focus on intimate and peaceful family settings, an atmosphere reflected in his Cântece pentru Lelioara (Songs for Lelioara; 1923) and In preajma serii . . . (Before the Nightfall . . . ; 1924). Another volume of poetry, De vorbă cu bălanul meu (Conversations with My Horse; 1925), describes his wartime experience in pacifist tones.

Dorian’s novels depict the social and ideological conflicts of the interwar years in Romania, focusing on Jewish life. The hero of Profeți şi paiațe (Prophets and Clowns; 1930), Avram Gut, is a young man growing acquainted with both materialism and idealism. The story dramatically exposes the struggles of Romania’s Jewish community at the end of World War I, the evolution of relations within the community in a period of economic change, and the political options available to its members—especially the growing impact of leftist discourse on Jewish life—in dramatic tones. Two other novels, Vagabonzii (The Vagabonds; 1935) and Otrava (The Poison; 1947), are also set in a Jewish context.

Although he came from a non-Yiddish speaking family, starting in the mid-1930s Dorian developed a keen interest in Yiddish poetry. In an effort that reflected a courageous act of Jewish cultural resistance, he subsequently translated and collected more than 400 poems to include in Antologie de poezie idiş (Anthology of Yiddish Poetry). Although the material was ready for publication in 1944, the manuscript was not printed until 1996 under the title Idişul cântă (Yiddish Singing). He also translated the works of Heine, Eliezer Shteynbarg, and others.

From 1937 until the end of his life, Dorian kept a valuable and remarkable diary. Characterized as a “triple portrait—of a man, of a country, and of an epoch” by his daughter Marguerite Dorian in the preface to the English edition, the journal presents the daily life of the author, revealing his literary struggles, the situation in Romania during the period of right-wing extremism, and the hardships of living in the Jewish community. The diary was first published in English in 1982 as Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary, 1937–1944, while a partial Romanian version appeared as Jurnal din vremuri de prigoană. 1937–1944 (1996). The rest of the work is still in manuscript.

Suggested Reading

Marguerite Dorian, “Preface,” in The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary, 1937–1977, by Emil Dorian, pp. vii–xviii (Philadelphia, 1982); Alexandru Mirodan, Dicționar neconvențional al scriitorilor evrei de limbă română, vol 2, pp. 144–166 (Tel Aviv, 1997); Leon Volovici, “The Victim as Eyewitness: Jewish Intellectual Diaries during the Antonescu Period,” in The Destruction of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews during the Antonescu Era, ed. Randolph L. Braham, pp. 195–213 (New York, 1997); A. B. Yoffe, Be-Sadot zarim: Sofrim yehudim be-Romanyah, 1880–1940 (Tel Aviv, 1996), pp. 174–183, abstract and table of contents also in English.