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Schwefelberg, Arnold

(1896–1979), jurist. Arnold Schwefelberg grew up in Brăila, Romania, where his father, Isac, was a teacher and headmaster of the Romanian-Israelite school, which Arnold and his four brothers attended. Schwefelberg’s paternal grandfather, Iancu Pecetaru Schwefelberg, originally from Galicia, was a well-known engraver (seal maker) in Iaşi. Arnold’s maternal grandfather, Velvl Stein, had been a melamed (teacher) in Galați.

In 1906, Schwefelberg was one of the few Jews to be admitted to the Nicolae Bălcescu high school in Brăila, and there he witnessed acts perpetrated by the first antisemitic student movements. He and some colleagues consequently established the Zionist group Spre Ideal (Toward the Ideal). In 1914, while studying commerce and law in Bucharest, he was an active member of Hasmonaea, the Zionist students’ association, but he also continued to embrace socialist ideas that he applied in “Încercare de interpretare materialistă a istoriei evreilor” (Attempt at a Materialist Interpretation of the History of the Jews; 1916), published in the Hasmonaea review.

Schwefelberg was conscripted during World War I and fought on the front while writing pacifist poems during the truce periods. He was one of 300 Jewish soldiers to be granted Romanian citizenship. After the war, he played an important role in the Jewish community of Bucharest, becoming vice president of Unirea, the association of Jewish scholars. A modern intellectual who had also studied in Western Europe, and who was detached from Jewish tradition, Schwefelberg’s main concern was the defense of recently obtained civil rights, and he worked closely with Jewish communal leader Wilhelm Filderman.

Schwefelberg was centrally involved in the fight against disbarring Jewish lawyers as of 1935. When the Antonescu regime was established, Schwefelberg was assaulted and robbed by members of the Legion during the rebellion of January 1941. During World War II, he was extremely active in providing support for people who had been left unemployed because of discriminatory legislation. He also helped the families of victims of the 1941 Iaşi pogrom, managed the support commission for deportees, and organized assistance for refugees from Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

In 1946, Schwefelberg was elected head of the Romanian section of the World Jewish Congress; he was actively involved in reinstating Jews and in training young Jews for productive professions. In the summer of 1946 he attended the peace conference in Paris. Unlike many Jewish intellectuals, however, Schwefelberg was not deceived about the intentions of the political regime established in Romania. Despite his leftist tendencies, he was skeptical about communism, although his older daughter, the poet Veronica Porumbacu, had been a Communist during the war. In June 1952, he was arrested and charged with having supported Zionist activity and emigration to Israel. After detention and rough questioning, he was released in December 1953. In his older years, Schwefelberg wrote his autobiography, Amintirile unui intelectual evreu din România (Memories of a Jewish Intellectual in Romania; 2000), a work that aimed to provide “a document of the sad history of my generation.”

Suggested Reading

Leon Volovici, “Prefață,” in Amintirile unui intelectual evreu din România, by Arnold Schwefelberg, pp. 7–17 (Bucharest, 2000).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea