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Stern, Adolphe

(1848–1931), politician, lawyer, diplomat, and man of letters. Adolphe (Avner) Stern was born in Bucharest, where his father was a jeweler. After completing high school in that city, Stern moved to Berlin to study law. He then defended a doctoral thesis in legal and administrative sciences, earning his degree in Leipzig in 1869. He was the first Jewish lawyer in Romania.

Stern returned to Romania to work as secretary to the first consul of the United States to Romania, Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, who was also Jewish. Stern and his brother Leopold were encouraged by Peixotto to publish the Rumänische Post, a newspaper that dealt with issues relevant to the Romanian Jewish community. Stern also contributed to other Jewish publications, as well as to prestigious secular Romanian ones. Among these were Adevărul literar şi artistic (The Artistic and Literary Truth) and the German-language review Bukarester Salon, in which he published translations of nineteenth-century Romanian writers. After Peixotto’s departure, Stern took the position of honorary consul of the United States to Romania.

The fact that Stern was granted Romanian citizenship in 1880 was due to a great extent to his reputation as a translator. Early in his career he had translated Schiller, Goethe, Heine, and D’Annunzio, and was the first major translator of Shakespeare into Romanian. His versions of The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, King Lear, and other plays were acclaimed by the intelligentsia.

Stern served as secretary of the Înfrățirea Zion (Zion Brotherhood) association (also set up at Peixotto’s initiative) and in 1886 became president of the B’nai B’rith lodges of Romania. As a lawyer, he published the Codicele române adnotate (Annotated Romanian Codes of Law) and lectured on public and private international law at the School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest.

Stern was a political activist on behalf of Romanian Jews. On 27 November 1909, the Union of Native Jews was established; this organization worked at enabling Romanian-born Jews to obtain civil and political rights. Stern was among the movement’s founders, and after its name was changed to the Union of Romanian Jews, he served as its president until 1922. That same year, he was elected to the parliament on the lists of the Peasants Party for the 1922–1926 legislature. He dedicated his activities there to dealing with the “Jewish question,” the upsurge of antisemitic manifestations, and private education, underlining discriminatory aspects of law with regard to minorities’ rights.

Stern supported setting up a National Jewish Party to carry out the political goals of an ethnic minority; however, his views were considered anachronistic and were criticized by Romanian Zionist leaders, especially Abraham Leib Zissu. Nonetheless, Stern did not support assimilation. Although he did not consider himself a Zionist, he enthusiastically greeted the Balfour Declaration and supported the activities of Keren Hayesod activities in Romania, especially after he traveled to Palestine in April 1910.

Adolphe Stern’s memoirs, Din viața unui evreu român (From the Life of a Romanian Jew; 1915) and Însemnări din viața mea (Notes from My Life; 1921), as well as the last part of his journal, which was published in serial form in Renaşterea Noastră (1929–1931), are a record of the campaign for the emancipation of Romanian Jews, as well as an evocation of the contradictory tendencies within the Jewish society of Romania from the end of the nineteenth century through the 1920s.

Suggested Reading

Adolphe Stern, Din viața unui evreu roman, ed. Țicu Goldstein (Bucharest, 2001).



Translated from Romanian by Anca Mircea