Benjamin Fondane : biography
Benjamin Fondane () or Benjamin Fundoianu ( born Benjamin Wechsler, Wexler or Vecsler, first name also Beniamin or Barbu, usually abridged to B.; November 14, 1898 – October 2, 1944) was a Romanian and French poet, critic and existentialist philosopher, also noted for his work in film and theater. Known from his Romanian youth as a Symbolist poet and columnist, he alternated Neoromantic and Expressionist themes with echoes from Tudor Arghezi, and dedicated several poetic cycles to the rural life of his native Moldavia. Fondane, who was of Jewish Romanian extraction and a nephew of Jewish intellectuals Elias and Moses Schwartzfeld, participated in both minority secular Jewish culture and mainstream Romanian culture. During and after World War I, he was active as a cultural critic, avant-garde promoter and, with his brother-in-law Armand Pascal, manager of the theatrical troupe Insula.
Fondane began a second career in 1923, when he moved to Paris. Affiliated with Surrealism, but strongly opposed to its communist leanings, he moved on to become a figure in Jewish existentialism and a leading disciple of Lev Shestov. His critique of political dogma, rejection of rationalism, expectation of historical catastrophe and belief in the soteriological force of literature were outlined in his celebrated essays on Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud, as well as in his final works of poetry. His literary and philosophical activities helped him build close relationships with other intellectuals: Shestov, Emil Cioran, David Gascoyne, Jacques Maritain, Victoria Ocampo, Ilarie Voronca etc. In parallel, Fondane also had a career in cinema: a film critic and a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures, he later worked on Rapt with Dimitri Kirsanoff, and directed the since-lost film Tararira in Argentina.
A prisoner of war during the fall of France, Fondane was released and spent the occupation years in clandestinity. He was eventually captured and handed to Nazi German authorities, who deported him to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was sent to the gas chamber during the last wave of the Holocaust. His work was largely rediscovered later in the 20th century, when it became the subject of scholarly research and public curiosity in both France and Romania. In the latter country, this revival of interest also sparked a controversy over copyright issues.
The future writer was born in Iaşi, the cultural capital of Moldavia, on November 14, 1898, but, as he noted in a diary he kept at age 16, his birthday was officially recorded as November 15.Daniel, p. 595 Fondane was the only son of Isac Wechsler and his wife Adela (née Schwartzfeld), who also bore the sisters Lina (b. 1892) and Rodica (b. 1905), both of whom had careers in acting.Daniel, p. 596-597, 641, 643 Wechsler was a Jewish man from Hertza region, his ancestors having been born on the Fundoaia estate (which the poet later used as the basis for his signature).Daniel, p. 596 Z. Ornea, , in România Literară, Nr. 48/1999 Adela was from an intellectual family, of noted influence within the urban Jewish community: her father, poet B. Schwartzfeld, was the owner of a book collection, while her uncles Elias and Moses both had careers in humanities.Daniel, p. 597 Adela herself was well acquainted with the intellectual elite of Iaşi, Jewish as well as ethnic Romanian, and kept recollections of her encounters with authors linked with the Junimea society.Daniel, p. 597; Sandqvist, p. 355 Through Moses Schwartzfeld, Fondane was also related with socialist journalist Avram Steuerman-Rodion, one of the literary men who nurtured the boy’s interest in literature.Daniel, p. 596-597, 602
The young Benjamin was an avid reader, primarily interested in the Moldavian classics of Romanian literature (Ion Neculce, Miron Costin, Dosoftei, Ion Creangă), Romanian traditionalists or Neoromantics (Vasile Alecsandri, Ion Luca Caragiale, George Coşbuc, Mihai Eminescu) and French Symbolists.Daniel, p. 598, 601. See also Tomescu (2006), p. 122 In 1909, after graduating from School No. 1 (an annex of the Trei Ierarhi Monastery), he was admitted into the Alexandru cel Bun secondary school, where he did not excel as a student.Daniel, p. 599, 602-603 A restless youth (he recalled having had his first love affair at age 12, with a girl six years his senior), Fondane twice failed to get his remove before the age of 14. Roxana Sorescu, , in Observator Cultural, Nr. 501, November 2009