“A Journey into the Intellectual World of the Romanian Jew Mihail Sebastian: Works, Testimony, Identity” – Yehoshafat Christian POP

Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts, Department of Jewish History, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, under the supervision of prof. Tuvia Friling, november 2013 [PDF]

Abstract: Both historiography and history of the Romanian Shoah are a matter which could be tackled without obstruction only after the fall of Communism (from the last decade of the past century on) with the accretion of documentary collection and the opening of archives that began in the 1990s. Then and then only, maybe finally and certainly more comprehensively, documents from Romania offered opportunities for studying a wartime regime that was second only to Germany in the killing of the Jews. The intention of my thesis is to create a very specific picture within the historiography of Romania’s fascism as well as its Holocaust, through the lenses of a historical figure who turned out to be one of the main catalysts for awareness of the Shoah in post-communist Romanian culture and society, namely that of Mihail Sebastian (born Iosef Hechter) and three sources written by him: the first one being his novel For Two Thousand Years / De două mii de ani (1934), the second a follow-up journalistic essay to his novel, entitled How I Became a Hooligan / Cum am devenit huligan (1935) and the third, his posthumously released Journal, 1935-1944, originally unintended for publishing. This study will deal with events and phenomena leading up to the Romanian Holocaust. The chapters are divided in chronological order according to the time of the works’ writing and publishing, beginning with the first primary source, a novel which has often been called – against the author’s will – autobiographical, and which will start the first chapter with a short literary critique, contextualizing afterwards the novel and using it to naturally call for a biographical portrayal of the Romanian Jewish intellectual Mihail Sebastian. The second chapter will focus on the essay Sebastian had written as a response to the scandal following the printing of For Two Thousand Years, entitled How I Became a Hooligan. The third and last chapter will look at the years during which the Journal was written. Each of the three works’ discussion will intersect and raise questions of intellectual history, politics and identity as these emerge from the testimony and personal journey of the young author, playwright, lawyer, journalist and intellectual, Mihail Sebastian. The occupation with these various forms of literary witness will investigate the contribution of Sebastian to understanding the political but especially intellectual picture of the 1930s in Romania, up until the end of WWII. Last but not least, my hope is that the research will address questions referring to the protagonist’s personal journey, his identity and position as Jew and intellectual in the midst of an increasingly anti-Semitic and fascist Bucharest intelligentsia.


Chapter 1: For Two Thousand Years and the Period of 1907-1934

1.1. Literary Introduction to the Novel and its Context
1.2. The Novel and the Historians
1.3. The Author behind For Two Thousand Years
1.4. For Two Thousand Years and Dictatorship
1.5. For Two Thousand Years and Anti-Semitism
1.5.1 The Anti-Semitic Preface to the Novel
1.5.2. A Jewish Novel in an Anti-Semitic Milieu

Chapter 2. How I Became a Hooligan: The Hooligan Year 1934-1935

2.1. Mihail Sebastian’s Hooliganism: Neither Right nor Left
2.2. The Credo and Testimony of a Romanian Jewish Intellectual

Chapter 3. The Journal and the Fascist Years 1935-1944

3.1. A Jewish Journal
3.2. A Historian’s Journal
3.3. A Public Intellectual’s Journal