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Ornea, Zigu

(1930–2001), literary historian and editor. Zigu Ornea (Orenstein) was born in Frumuşica, a village near Botoşani in northern Moldavia. In 1941, when racial laws enforced by Antonescu’s regime forcefully transferred Jewish inhabitants from their villages to the administrative center of each county, Ornea’s family moved to Botoşani, where he attended a Jewish high school. He studied philosophy at Bucharest University between 1951 and 1955, graduating after writing a dissertation on Romanian thought in the mid-nineteenth century.

From 1955 to 1959, Ornea worked as an editor in the state publishing house for literature and arts, but was fired for being a “dubious element” not in compliance with Communist ideology. He rejoined the publishing sector in 1966, first as an editor for the Meridiane publishing house, and later for Minerva, focusing on Romanian classical literature. He helped launch an ambitious program to publish fundamental works of Romania’s literary heritage, eventually issuing (as he became the director of Minerva in 1992) important sets of documents, correspondence, and memoirs. He also republished the classics of Romanian literature. In 1995, he was appointed director of the publishing department of the Romanian Cultural Foundation and, in the same year, became director of Hasefer—the most important Romanian publisher of Jewish topics.

In 1960, Ornea made his debut in the press with his comments on literary history, which he published in Gazeta literară. His first book, Junimismul. Contribuții la studierea curentului (Junimism: Contributions to the Study of the Trend; 1966) was a pathbreaking study of one of the main trends of ideas in Romanian culture of the nineteenth century. Ornea’s encyclopedic knowledge of the history of social and political ideas, as well as of social and economic doctrines, made him a reliable analyst of ideological trends in Romanian culture. He continued to write for the journals România literară (Literary Romania), Dilema, and Realitatea evreiască (The Jewish Reality), and wrote monographs on cultural personalities such as Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea (1855–1920), Titu Maiorescu (1840–1917), and Constantin Stere (1865–1936). His reference books on the history of Romanian culture are dedicated to such trends as Țărănism (țăran; “peasant”), Sămănătorism (semănător; “sower”), Poporanism (popor; “people”), and the extreme right in Romania in the 1920s and 1930s.

Suggested Reading

Dumitru Micu, “Ornea Z.,” in Dicționarul scriitorilor români, ed. Mircea Zaciu, Marian Papahagi, and Aurel Sasu, vol. 3, pp. 549–552 (Bucharest, 2001); Geo Şerban, ed., Zigu Ornea: Permanența cărturarului, Caietele culturale, 12 (Bucharest, 2002).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea