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Author(s): Rosenthal, Denise
Date: 2001
Abstract: A mentally healthy human being can go insane if suddenly diagnosed with leprosy. Eugen Ionescu finds out that even the “Ionescu” name, an indisputable Romanian father, and the fact of being born Christian can do nothing, nothing, nothing to cover the curse of having Jewish blood in his veins. With resignation and sometimes with I don't know what sad and discouraged pride, we got used to this dear leprosy a long time ago. With these words, the Romanian–Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian expresses within his private diary some of the darkest moments of a World War II “transfigured” Romania, populated as they are by the gothic characters of legionaries, Nazis, and antisemitism. His death soon followed in 1945, when Romania was at the threshold of fascism and communism. However, with the discovery and the subsequent publishing of Sebastian's diary in 1996, and following 50 years of communist mystification of the Jewish Holocaust, the entire chaotic war atmosphere with the fascist affections of the Romanian intellectual elite was once again brought to light with all the flavor and scent of the dark past. In this entry from Sebastian's diary he speaks of his friend, Eugen Ionescu who, born of a French-related mother and a Romanian father, was living in Bucharest at that time. He would later become known to the world as Eugène Ionesco, the famous French playwright and author of the well-known plays The Bald Soprano and The Rhinoceros. The above quote from Sebastian's journal, predating the international fame of Ionesco, but already marking the end of Sebastian's career under fascism, remains a traumatizing testimony of the Jewish Kafkian torment as “guilt,” a deeply claustrophobic identity that many Eastern European Jewish intellectuals have learned to internalize. Beyond this symbolism, the publishing of Sebastian's diary in Romania unintentionally challenged an existent post-communist tendency of legitimizing inter-war fascist personalities within the framework of a general lack of knowledge about the Jewish Holocaust in both the communist and post-communist periods.