Friends and Fascists - diaries of Mihail Sebastian

New Yorker, October 2, 2000 issue, pages 106-113 

When the Romanian Jewish writer Mihail Sebastian began keeping a diary in 1935, at the age of twenty-eight, he was already well known as a journalist, playwright, and novelist. An assimilated Jew, he felt contempt for tribalism and was skeptical of ideological causes: ''I have faith only in the individual man, but in him I have a great deal of faith," he wrote that year. He was part of a brilliant literary group that included Mircea Eliade, Eugene Ionesco, Camil Petrescu, E. M. Cioran, and Constantin Noica, but when many of his friends became involved with the Legionary movement, an extreme right-wing group also known as the Iron Guard, he was forced to distance himself from them. (Eugene Ionesco was the only one who refused to embrace totalitarianism.)

During the socio-political crises of the nineteen-thirties, anti-Semitism became prominent among both the population at large and the intellectual elite. Early in 1938, the government of Octavian Goga (a talented poet) revoked the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Jews. In September, 1940, the Iron Guard, who fostered pro-Nazi tendencies, including violent anti-Semitism, briefly came to power, and General Ion Antonescu, one of their allies, was proclaimed the country's conducator. Four months later, however, he suppressed a coup d’état by the Iron Guard and established his own military dictatorship. The anti-Semitic strategy of the Antonescu regime varied – harsher – in the early years, more cautious when German victory in the war no longer appeared certain; most barbaric in the eastern border regions of Bessarabia and Bukovina, where Jews were deported en masse to camps in Romanian-occupied Transnistria, and less virulent in the rest of the country. Yet even in Bucharest, where Sebastian spent the war years with his mother and his younger brother, there were cyclical outbursts of ferocity, grotesque humiliation, and blackmail, as well as periods of forced labor.

The number of survivors of the Holocaust in Romania is as striking as the number of victims. Of the seven hundred and fifty-six thousand Jews registered in Romania in 1930, roughly half as many were still alive in 1944, in part owing to the government's shifting position on "the Jewish problem." The missing were mainly those who had died in Transnistria, plus a hundred and thirty thousand who had been deported to concentration camps in Poland and Germany from the part of Transylvania ceded to Hungary in 1940.

Sebastian's journal proves to be one of the most important testimonies of the Jewish tragedy during that period, comparable to Primo Levi's "Survival in Auschwitz" or the diary of Anne Frank. Unlike Levi and Frank, who write from inside Hell, portraying life in the concentration camps or in hiding, Sebastian writes, with honesty and analytic acuity, from the purgatory of his own room in Bucharest, where he lives with the impending danger of deportation and death, questioning the moments of ease that his provisional freedom allows him: the enjoyment of music, of love affairs, of reading books, writing, or learning English. (His experience was not unlike that of Victor Klemperer, a Dresden Jew, whose diary was published here in 1998.)

When Sebastian died, in 1945, one of his brothers hid the nine notebooks that contained his journal, for fear that the oppressive Stalinist regime would confiscate them. They were later smuggled to Israel, with the help of the Israeli legation in Bucharest, and then returned to Sebastian's brother, who had since moved to Paris. It was not until 1997 that the Sebastian family finally released the text for publication. An edited selection, translated by Patrick Carniller, appears here in English for the first time.

-Norman Manea


May 3rd. General meeting at the Writers' Association. How can they take seriously such ridiculous farces?

What do I have in common with all that plotting and politicking? What an awful dump of a place, a dump filled with literary types. Horrible, really horrible! I am feeling poisoned by literature. Why didn't I become an ordinary professional – lawyer, civil servant? Why wasn't I destined to have a house of my own, a life of my own, a love of my own—without complications?

June 25th. I met Camil Petrescu this morning. He repeated what he thought of the latest anti-Semitic attacks.

"It's regrettable, old man. But all Jews have a responsibility for it."

"How's that, Cami!?''

"Because there are too many of them."

"But aren't there even more Hungarians?''

"Maybe, but at least they're all in one place, in the same region." (I didn't understand the argument, but I didn't want to insist. What was the point?)

He went on to say, "My dear man, the Jews provoke things: they have a dubious attitude and get mixed up in things that don't concern them."

That is Camil Petrescu speaking. Camil Petrescu is one of the finest minds in Romania. Camil Petrescu is one of the most sensitive creatures in Romania.

September 25th. Yesterday evening Mircea [Eliade] flared up in the middle of a fairly calm conversation about foreign policy, raising his voice with that terrible violence that sometimes surprises me. "Titulescu? [An anti-German Minister of Foreign Affairs] He should be executed. Put in front of a machine-gun firing squad. Strung up by the tongue." I should like to eliminate any political reference from our discussions. But is that possible? Street life impinges on us whether we like it or not.

Will I lose Mircea for no more reason than that? Can I forget everything about him that is exceptional—all that is youthful, childlike, and sincere in him?

He is able to work comfortably with the anti-Semitic Vremea [a newspaper), as if there were nothing untoward about it. Nevertheless I shall do everything possible to keep him.


January 8th. Sinaia. In some four hours of work, I barely managed to write three pages – and even these were full of corrections. I so much envy Mircea's prolificness.

I thought a lot about this yesterday on a walk in the mountains. I have a certain lack of spontaneity, which no other quality can ever overcome. So I can create stories of two hundred pages, with the tone of a private diary, but not a novel. I also think I could write very well for the theatre; it has a number of standard routines that help me along, because I am so lacking in imagination. . . . If l were not a Jew and my plays could be performed, I would most likely have become a "dramatist" and nothing else.

January 15th. Bucharest. I haven't seen Marietta [Sadova, an actress] for a fortnight She's been having an attack of anti-Semitism: "The yids take the bread from our mouths; they exploit and smother us. They should get out of here. This is our country, not theirs. Romania for the Romanians!"

February 25th. Yesterday evening, there was a little party at our place. Mircea, [his wife] Nina, Marietta, [her husband] Haig, Dinu [Noica].

I wonder if this won't be the last time I ask them round. I don't feel I can stand the duplicity that our friendship has required since they went over to the Iron Guard. Is friendship possible with people who have in common a whole series of alien ideas and feelings – so alien that I have only to walk in the door and they suddenly fall silent in shame and embarrassment?

October 20th. On Saturday evening I went out with Leni [Caler, an actress] and [her husband] Froda. I drank a lot, on purpose. (I'd like to drink all the time, so as to forget ... )

While the three of us talked about this and that, I was feeling up Leni beneath the table; she not only let it be done but discreetly helped me along. I spent the whole evening with my hand between her thighs. I watched her, but nothing gave her away. She was talkative, cheerful, attentive, pleasant, and self-assured. And her husband was sitting next to her. And she looked him in the eyes. And that is the woman I loved like a dog for two years. I, too, finally know Leni the petit e putain charmante, the one everyone but me has known—of course.

In all likelihood my play will not be performed. There are anti-Semitic pressures that the theatre has no reason to resist. The national conscience does not allow a play by Mihail Sebastian to appear onstage in Bucharest.

I give up.

December 29th. The Goga government has been installed. The first measures of state anti-Semitism are expected for tomorrow or the day after. a citizenship review, probably elimination from the bar and, in any case, from the press.

The papers are lifeless, inexpressive, without any note of protest. I think it is only now that we will start learning what censorship means.

In these conditions, is it not a childish stupidity to be writing literature?


April 12th. Dinner at Mircea's on Sunday evening. I have so much to say to him about the Iron Guard and his unforgivable compromises. There can be no excuse for the way he caved in politically. I had decided not to mince words with him. In any case, there's not much left to mince. Even if we meet again, our friendship is at an end.

May 20th.Yesterday evening, who should appear on the pavement below my open window, walking in her amorous way with an elegant young man? Leni!

How lucky I was to have been at the window just at that moment. A second later and I'd have remained in ignorance, continued to make a complete fool of myself (No other interpretations were possible, of course. A man with whom Leni goes for a walk at seven in the evening, on a little side street, is a man with whom she has already slept, or with whom she will soon sleep.)

At Mermoz's, where I thought I'd stop by for half an hour, a party was awaiting me –among them Zoe Ricci, the painter I met last November.

I had decided to get drunk, and never was an evening's boozing more timely. The memory of Leni faded. I spent all evening close to Zoe Ricci. Soon our mutual attraction was being helped along in the usual way, by the other people there, who teased us, drew attention to silences, gave an occasional prod, and turned a simple joke into the beginning of a relationship. Her body is extremely youthful. She has slanting eyes, slightly overdefined cheekbones, a child's mouth. She kisses timidly, but also with a kind of despera­tion. Later, at her place – for we left the others without too much embarrassment—she cried in my arms, “How nice it is not to be alone."

When I think about it, the affair with Leni had to end, in any case, so this is not the worst that could have happened.

August 22nd. An exhausting day. I saw Marietta: she is choking with anti-Semitism. Not even the fact that she was talking with me could stop her from ranting and raging against potbellied Jews and their bloated, bejewelled women – though she did make an exception for about a hundred thousand "decent" Jews, probably including myself, since I have neither a potbelly nor a bloated wife.

October 1st. The Munich Agreement. Now we will start to see the kind of pressure that the Hitlerites exert.

It seems logical to expect a move to the right in France and a powerful anti­Semitic lurch in Romania. I can easily envision a new Goga-Cuza government, or perhaps even a gradual transition to a Legionary regime, suitably decked out.

October 15th. As if Leni and Zoe were not enough to complicate my life, now there is Alice Theodorian. She phones me ten times a day. It's all getting too comical. What an irony of my fate: to be Jewish and to look an homme a femmes.


March 20th. The obliteration of Czechoslovakia has affected me as a personal drama. I was reading in the street an account of Hitler's entry into Prague-and I had tears in my eyes. It is so abject and humiliating that it offends everything I have felt able to believe about people.

It would appear that - despite the denials in yesterday's papers - Romania, too, received an ultimatum. For the moment, it is being asked only to dismantle its industry and to revert to a strictly agrarian country supplying Germany alone. If this is accepted, we shall have the Germans here by autumn at the latest. If it is not accepted, we shall have war in ten to fifteen days.

Emil Gulian, with whom I spoke over the phone on Saturday, suggested that some of us get together and swear that whoever remains alive will edit the manuscripts left behind by the ones killed in battle. I must confess that I am not particularly bothered about my manuscripts. What concerns me more are the books that I may no longer write – and especially this life, with which I have done nothing up to now.

September 2nd. Strange days of war. The first moment was overwhelming: when the first dispatches appeared yesterday morning about the bombing of Warsaw, I felt that everything was crashing down. I quickly wrote a letter to Poldy [Sebastian's older brother, who lived in France], not even knowing whether it would reach him but feeling a need to say something, to embrace him and offer my best wishes. But I didn't have it in me to finish the letter. I had an intense and painful feeling of farewell—and broke into tears alone.

What l find completely implausible is this brightly lit Bucharest, with packed restaurants and lively streets, a Bucharest at best curious about what is happening, but not aware that a tragedy has begun.

September 8th. It seems that I haven't been called up yet. I am part of that mysteriously safe category "D.l.," which left me as a civilian. Obviously my liberty is only provisional; obviously I can be called up in the event of a general mobilization. But for now the fact is that I remain at liberty. Never has a "for now" been more precarious and more treasured.

September 20th. Titel Comarnescu tells me of a political conversation he had recently with Mircea, who is more pro­German than ever, more anti-French and anti-Semitic.

"The Poles' resistance in Warsaw," says Mircea," is a Jewish resistance. Only yids are capable of the blackmail of putting women and children in the front line, to take advantage of the Germans' sense of scruple. Rather than a Romania again invaded by kikes, it would be better to have a German protectorate."

Now I understand perfectly why he is so reticent with me when it is a question of politics, and why he appears to take refuge in metaphysics to escape "the horrors of politics."

Just look at what he thinks, your ex­-friend Mircea Eliade.


January 9th. Today at the adjutant's office, Ghita Ionescu told me that the call up on January 15th will be especially for Jews. There will be fifteen hundred Jews and not one Christian. v"I don't understand why," he said. "I suppose it's O.K. in time of war. You can form special units of Jews and send them to be mowed down at the front. But what sense does it make now?"

I left there depressed. Everything is bearable until you start feeling acted on not as a soldier, not as a citizen, but as a Jew.

June 16th. On the Eiffel Tower, the swastika. At Versailles, German sentries. There will be newspapers, declarations, and political parties that present Hitler as a friend and sincere protector of France. When that time comes, all the panic and all the resentments will find release in one long pogrom.

Where can Poldy be? What will he do? What will become of him? And what of us here?


January 1st. Since the fall of Paris, last June, when I decided not to write any longer (I felt disgust and, above all, a terrible sense of futility), I have tried only once, last October, to start keeping a journal again, but I did not have sufficient perseverance.

In the end, there is something artificial in the very fact of keeping a private diary; nowhere does the act of writing seem more false. I remember that in Paris with Poldy we never spoke French when we were alone, though we would have liked to do so for the sake of practice. It seemed to us unnatural, pretentious. There is some of the same embarrassment in writing "for myself." For if writing does not help me communicate with someone it begins to seem – a least initially – absurd and lacking in personal depth.

Nevertheless, I regretted so many times not having the stoutness of heart to continue my journal over the last half year.

Happy New Year! Perhaps it won't be "happy": we shouldn't ask too much.

January 2nd. This morning I met Cioran in the street. He was glowing. He has been appointed cultural attaché in Paris.

"You see, if they hadn't appointed me and I'd remained where I was, I would have had to do military service. I actually received my call-up papers today. But I wouldn't have gone at any price. So, this way, everything has been solved. Do you see what I mean?"

Of course I do, dear Cioran. I don't want to be nasty with him. (Especially not here – what good would it do?) He is an interesting case – remarkably intelligent, unprejudiced, with a twin dose of cynicism and idleness.

January 21st. Revolution? Coup d’état? [The Iron Guard had launched an armed rebellion against Antonescu, accompanied by a pogrom.] In the evening, some five to six thousand Legionaries demonstrated on Calea Victoriei, chanting, “We want a Legionary government!" It seems that police headquarters had been occupied by Legionaries and was now under Army siege.

General Antonescu has issued an appeal to the country: "Order will be restored in twenty­-four hours!"

January 24th.Yesterday at about 11A.M., a procession started along Calea Victoriei and on toward the Sosea – long, motorized German columns, with rifles and machine guns at the ready. They certainly made an impression. And it was crystal clear that the German Army was on the side of General Antonescu against the insurgent Legion.

Yesterday morning, candles were burning opposite our building at the corner by the Thoiss pharmacy, where one of the soldiers fell. Passersby stopped and asked about him. In the middle of five or six passersby, I glimpsed the poor madman who once used to wander with a switch and whistle from one streetcar to the next, giving imaginary signals for it to stop or start. Well, that stuttering half-wit was telling how "a yid woman fired with a revolver last night, from the roof of that building over there-and a trooper was hit."

"A yid woman, you say?" asked an elderly gentleman, quite well dressed, quite unruffled.

"Yeah, one o' them yid bitches!"

"And didn't they do anything to her?"

"You bet they did. They arrested her, took her away."

I looked closely at the people listening. Not one had the least doubt about the truth of this absurd story. Did they not know that the soldier fell yesterday in a real street battle, in which hundreds of bullets were fired? But what was the point of asking? Who would have listened? Isn't it easier and quicker to believe what others tell you? "A yid woman opened fire."

That's how a pogrom begins.

February 4th. I cannot (and would not wish to) forget the horrors through which I have lived. For the last few days, all I have read are the chapters in Dubnov's "History of the Jews" about the great pogroms of the late Middle Ages. Whether the official figure is correct (three hundred Jews killed) or the much higher one that people mention in whispers (six hundred to a thousand), the fact is that we have experienced one of the worst pogroms in history.

The stunning thing about the Bucharest bloodbath is the quite bestial ferocity of it, apparent even in the dry official statement that ninety-three persons ("person" being the latest euphemism for Jew) were killed on the night of Tuesday the twenty-first in Jilava Forest. But what people say is much more devastating. It is now considered absolutely certain that the Jews butchered at Straulesti abattoir were hung by the neck on hooks normally used for beef carcasses. A sheet of paper was stuck to each corpse: "Kosher Meat." As for those killed in Jilava Forest, they were first undressed (it would have been a pity for clothes to remain there), then shot and thrown on top of one another. I haven't found anything more terrible in Dubnov.

February 10th. Eugene Ionesco, who doesn't take long to get drunk, suddenly started talking to me about his mother after a few cocktails on Saturday morning. (Although I heard some time ago that she had been Jewish, the issue had always been closed between us.) Yes, she had been Jewish, from Craiova; her husband left her with two little children in France; she remained a Jew until her death, when he – Eugene – baptized her with his own hand. Then he went on to speak about all the "Jews" who are not known to be such. He mentioned them with a certain spite, as if he wanted to avenge himself on them. Poor Eugene Ionesco! I would have liked to say how fond I was growing of him – but he was too drunk for me to start being sentimental.

March 28th. All the morning papers give banner headlines to the expropriation of the Jews. The rest of the news (the war, the victories in Africa, the coup in Belgrade) is pushed to the back. What is important in Romania today, on Friday, March 28, 1941, is that the Jews have had their homes taken away from them. Camil Petrescu complains that he probably won't even get one of the houses taken from Jews.

"They never give me anything," he said, disheartened. Not only did he see no reason not to take possession of a house that had been taken from a Jew; he actually expected to be given such a house, and would be disappointed if this did not happen.

August 4th. Early this morning, sergeants and policemen went from house to house in various parts of town – and woke people to inform them that Jews aged thirty-six to fifty must report to police headquarters. The alarm I felt at first is returning. Are we facing a mass roundup of Jews? Internment camps? Extermination? When I went out at ten, the city had a strange air: a strange kind of nervous animation. Agitated groups of people hurrying around, with the mute despair that has become a kind of Jewish greeting. Shops were taken over by Jews buying all kinds of things for their departure. The price of the simplest things suddenly shot up. I went to Calea Vacaresti to buy a couple of canvas hats for Benu [Sebastian's younger brother] and myself, and the labels with yesterday's price (a hundred and sixty lei) had been covered over with the new price (two hundred and fifty lei) in ink that was not yet dry.

Meanwhile, nobody knows what to do. To report? Not to report? As for ourselves, we have decided to wait.

August 5th. We didn't report today either, and I don't yet know whether we will tomorrow. There seems to be a conflict of authority between the recruitment office and the police, and this may explain the fact that no coercive measures have yet been taken. It is impossible to get certificates from the doctors who treated my food poisoning. Dr. Kahane advised me to eat contraindicated food so as to bring things to a crisis: only then will the commission believe I am really sick. And this evening I did begin methodical eating of Sibiu salami. Tomorrow I'll drink black coffee. Then we’ll see....

Visoianu [a politician] (who is no sentimentalist) said, "Whenever I see a Jew, I feel an urge to go up and greet him and to say, 'Please believe me, sir, I have nothing to do with all this.'"

Everyone disapproves and feels indignant – but at the same time everyone is a cog in the huge anti-Semitic factory that is the Romanian state. Whether or not people are staggered or disgusted, they and tens of thousands like them sign, endorse, and acquiesce, not only tacitly or passively but through direct participation. The bloodying and the mocking of Jews have been public entertainment par excellence.

September 5th. This morning, the community was informed that beginning Wednesday we will have to wear a piece of material with the "six-cornered star" stitched to the top left of our coats. I feel like dropping everything and saying, "Shoot, kill us, put an end to it." But, of course, it is not with that kind of despair, and anyway not with that kind of surrender, that the Jews have survived down the ages.

September 12th.Today they disconnected my telephone, after leaving it on (probably by mistake) for two months. "If Mr. Sebastian is Jewish, the telephone will be cut off," someone phoning from the company told Mama. Two hours later it was all over.

September 25th. The landlord wants ninety-three thousand lei to renew the lease. I'll accept, of course, because it is impossible to move now.

September 27th. I live, as always, in a mindless series of dreams, passing from one to the other, incapable of waking up to reality. I see myself in Geneva with a million Swiss francs (or sometimes only three hundred thousand or a hundred thousand or even thirty thousand). I see myself in London, as an editor at the BBC for forty pounds a month, or working all day at the British Museum and spending misty holidays somewhere by the sea. I see myself at the Russian front, as the special correspondent for an American or a London newspaper. I see myself in New York, and then – weary of all the noise – in a quiet provincial town, where I write smash-hit plays for Broadway without feeling curious enough to go and see them. I stay alone at home, with a gramophone and hundreds of records of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. I see myself with Nadia in New York or California, but I have some problems because I don't get on too well with her parents.

Meanwhile, life is closing in and crushing me. Where will I get money? What will I give Mama for the market on Monday or Tuesday, when the last two thousand left after the rent has been used up? When I don't think of killing myself, I think of begging.

October 3rd. Hitler spoke this afternoon. I was with Eugene (Ionesco) around six o'clock, just when the speech was being broadcast. We went to the Buturuga (where there is a radio) and sat down at a table. I wanted to listen – but after a few seconds Eugene turned pale and stood up.

"I can't take it! I can't!"

He said this with a kind of physical desperation. Then he ran off. I felt I could have hugged him.

October 13th. The Bukovina Jews have been taken from various localities and sent off to an unknown destination. To Transnistria, some say. God knows what awaits us, too, this winter.

October 18th. Many short dreams last night.

I am with Zoe. She has decided to marry me, and I don't have the courage to refuse – which in the dream gives me great pangs of conscience. The funny thing is that she made up her mind because she thought I was suffering too much, even fasting for her sake – whereas, in reality, I had been fasting for Yom Kippur. We go together to the registry officer, who is a friend of mine. I say that I want him to marry us. Someone congratulates Marna. I am very unhappy at the whole event. I think that we won't be able to make our trip to Italy. On the other hand, I think that my telephone will be reconnected if I marry her.

October 20th.The roads in Bessarabia and Bukovina are filled with corpses of Jews driven from their homes toward Ukraine. Old and sick people, children, women – all indiscriminately pushed onto the roads and driven toward Mogilev. What will they do there? How will they eat? Where will they find shelter? Death by shooting is a much gentler fate.

It is an anti-Semitic delirium that nothing can stop. The number of Jews murdered since June is more than a hundred thousand (according to Gaston Antony).

"Leave!" Rosetti [a publisher] advised me yesterday.

It was more than a piece of advice.

What he outlined was a definite plan. But everything is immeasurably difficult, beginning with the first steps of obtaining a passport, a Turkish visa, a Bulgarian visa – not to speak of money. Above all else, there is my own doubt. Do I have the right to leave Mama and Benu alone? On the other hand, is it not madness to wait – helpless and falling apart – to be killed?

October 21st. All Jews are obliged, under a law that appeared in this evening's papers, to deliver items of personal clothing to the state. The required quantity is laid down for each of seven categories: from those without any income to those with an annual income of five hundred thousand lei. It would be hard to copy the whole text, which in terms of anti-Semitism is perhaps the wildest and most unexpected thing I have read up to now. A Jewish person who earns ten thousand lei a month is obliged to donate four shirts, ten pairs of underpants, four pairs of socks, four handkerchiefs, four towels, four flannels, three suits, two pairs of ankle boots, two hats, two overcoats, two linen blankets, two undersheets, two pillow covers, two pillowcases, two sheets. The amounts demanded of the highest income bracket are beyond belief: thirty­six shirts, twelve suits, twelve overcoats, and so on. It is so grotesque that I'm not sure it isn't a sick joke.

December 17th. A new census will begin of all inhabitants "of Jewish blood." "Go over to Catholicism! The Pope's the only one who can still save you!" For several days I have been hearing this same refrain. Somewhere on an island with sun and shade, in the midst of peace, security, and happiness, I would in the end be indifferent to whether I was or was not Jewish. But here and now I cannot be anything else. Nor do I think I want to be.


January 3rd. Nicusor Constantinescu (whom I saw yesterday evening at Leni's) has suggested that I write a play. He is prepared to put his name on it, to offer to have it performed by a theatre. The author's share would be paid to me, and after the war the truth would be told. It is a moving gesture; I wonder whether I would be capable of it myself in such a situation. I want to use the opportunity he has offered me. It is a way of earning a few tens of thousands of lei, maybe even more. All day I have thought of nothing else. I must write a play fast. Fast! Will I be up to it?

April 12th. Nothing new at the fronts. Leni readily tells me of the affairs she had three or four years ago – affairs for which I would have felt like killing her if I'd known at the time, but which now leave me cold.

September 16th. Last night, in various districts, Jewish families were picked up and taken away. I don't know how many or why. But from now on none of us can be sure when we go to bed at home that we will still be there the next morning.

November 5th. The Ministry of Propaganda has ordered the removal of books by Jewish writers from libraries and bookshops. Today, at Hachette, I saw two printed boards with huge letters: "Jewish Writers." There, too, of course, I was presented as a troublemaker or a criminal, with my parents' names, my date of birth, and a list of my books. Only my distinguishing features were not mentioned. At first I laughed (especially as the whole board was full of mistakes), but then I thought that this kind of poster does us no good. I fear that it will attract attention. For two years, I have not been to the theatre or gone to restaurants; I avoid walking around the city center-and now here is my name in all the bookshops!


January 4th. Beginning today, Jews will get not fifty but a hundred fewer grams of bread than Christians.

Rebreanu [the director of the National Theatre] is preparing Shylock for the National. Camil Petrescu, who reported the conversation to me this evening, asked him whether the passage in which Shylock rebels against anti-Semitic hatred (Are we, too, not human? If you prick us, do we not bleed?) would not be difficult to act in today's conditions.

"No, it won't," Rebreanu replied, "because we'll give it an anti-Semitic interpretation."

January 12th.The night of Thursday to Friday was the kind of feverish night that usually follows my first vision of a book or play. The plan was simple: to make the scenario tend toward farce; to eliminate elements of poetry, delicacy, subtlety, etc. I would ask Nicusor for fifty thousand and we'd get straight down to work, so that rehearsals could begin at once.

October 11th. Saturday was Yom Kippur. I fasted, and I went to the synagogue in the evening to hear the sound of the shofar. Reading over someone 's shoulder, I tried to intone the Avinu Malkenu.

Why? Do I believe? Do I want to believe?

No, not even that. But it is as if, in all these unthinking gestures, there is a need for warmth and peace.

October 22nd.[The mathematician] Onicescu (so Devechi tells me) has made up his mind to commit suicide if Germany loses the war. He cannot resign himself to living in a Europe occupied by the descendants of Australian convicts and American emigrants, come back to destroy Western culture. He cannot accept the annihilation of culture.

I asked Devechi [a journalist] to tell him on my behalf I'd gladly tell him myself (if I met him) that if culture is the issue at stake he missed the right moment to commit suicide.

December 8th. A grave letter from Poldy, who is very ill and needs to have two operations. He was in a concentration camp for three months in 1941 and came out with his health ruined.

"J'ai eu faim, horriblement faim," he tells me. And I knew nothing of it. I still know nothing.

December 14th. Today the manuscript was delivered to the theatre. A quarter of an hour later, Soare [a theatre producer] (already introduced to the plot) presented the play on behalf of a teacher who wants to remain anonymous.

Everyone is intrigued, and happy about it .The first rehearsal will take place tomorrow. If this venture makes some money, the rest is unimportant.

1944 April 8th. Four days after the bombing, the city is still in the grip of madness. Everyone is fleeing, or wants to flee.

From the railway station to Bulevardul Basarab, not a single house was untouched. It is a harrowing sight. On one street comer, a group of three women, pulling their hair and tearing their clothes, let out piercing wails over a carbonized corpse that had just been taken from the debris.

Leni's house is completely wrecked. Mary, the young manicurist who used to come every Friday morning, was killed. She was so young, so sweet, so honest. When, among the thousands of anonymous dead, you come across a face you know, a smile you have seen before, death becomes terribly concrete.

August 29th. How shall I begin? Where shall I begin?

The Russians are in Bucharest. Paris is free.

Our house on Strada Antim has been destroyed by bombs.

It was all quite extraordinary-and then horrifying. All over the city, people shouted with delight. Antonescu had been overthrown in five minutes, the new government formed, and the armistice accepted. We hadn't had time to drink a glass of champagne to Paris (now back in French hands) when the true avalanche of events reached us.

In the morning, the sirens began to wail: the Germans had launched a bombing attack on the city, which kept us in our shelters for sixty hours. And at the last hour, toward Saturday evening, our house was hit. But we are alive.

How afraid we were on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that the Germans might return to Bucharest, if only for an hour! A single hour would have been all they needed to exterminate us. Each one of us. No one would have escaped.

September 16th. I am not willing to be disappointed.

I always knew deep down that I'd happily have died to bring Germany's collapse a fraction of an inch closer. Germany has collapsed – and I am alive. What more can I ask? So many have died without seeing the beast perish with their own eyes! We who remain alive have had that immense good fortune.

And now? I don't know.

And now life begins. A kind of life which has to be lived. There is a frightening spirit of conformism,

new in its orientation but old in its psychological structure. But, over and above everything, there is the one redeeming truth: the Germans are done for.

December 31st. I returned half an hour ago from the mountains. A clear white light gave depth to the wintry landscape. I must be getting very old. I didn't find my usual exuberance in the mountains. I was melancholic, almost despondent. Everywhere I go I carry my incurable loneliness around with me.

The last day of the year. I am ashamed to be sad. After all, it is the year that gave me back my freedom. Beyond all the bitterness and suffering, beyond all the disappointments, this one basic fact remains. I think of Poldy and feel bad that he is so far away. I can't wait to see him again. Everything else melts into regrets and hopes.

On May 29,1945, in Bucharest, Mihail Sebastian was hit by a truck and killed.

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