Dorian, Emil

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DORIAN, Emil

Nationality: Romanian. Born: Bucharest, 1893. Education: Attended medical school, ca. 1916. Military Service: Physician during World War I. Family: Married Paula Fränkel; two daughters. Career: Physician and writer. Secretary general, Jewish Community of Bucharest, following World War II; director, Documentary Archives of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, following World War II. Died: 1956.

Publication

Diary

The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary, 1937-1944, edited by Marguerite Dorian. 1982; published in Romanian as Jurnal din vremur de prigoanæa, 1996.

Novels

Conversations with My Horse. 1928.

Profeti si paiate. 1920; as Prophets and Clowns. 1930.

The Poison. 1939.

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Critical Study:

"The Victim as Eyewitness: Jewish Intellectual Diaries During the Antonescu Period" by Leon Volovici, in The Destruction of Romanian and Ukrainian Jews During the Antonescu Era, edited by Randolph L. Braham, 1997.

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Early in his publishing career the child born to Herman and Ernestina Lustig in 1893 took the pen name Emil Dorian. He grew up in his native Bucharest at a time when the Jews of Romania had not yet been granted citizenship. Therefore, if Jews wanted to attend public schools, they had to pay exorbitant fees. Because his father earned only a modest income as a German language teacher, Dorian was forced to attend the newly founded Jewish schools, where he received something less than a traditional Jewish education. By the time he graduated from high school in 1910, he was already a published poet and an avid student of literature. He enrolled in medical school and was in the last month of his studies when Romania entered World War I in the summer of 1916. Dorian was sent to the Moldavian front to serve as a physician, an experience that later formed the basis for Conversations with My Horse (1928), his dark satire on war. Soon after the end of the war he married Paula Fränkel, with whom he had two daughters.

By the mid-1920s Dorian had become a poet whose work was widely known for its pacifist views and its eloquent expression of love for humankind. And yet the more he devoted his thinking and writing to themes of social justice, the greater his impatience and exasperation, which ultimately turned into despair. Among his works are several volumes of poetry, novels, essays on popular topics in medicine, and numerous articles on Romanian and Jewish life. Two of his novels—Prophets and Clowns (1930) and The Poison (1939)—are on specifically Jewish themes. The first is a critique of the Jewish and Gentile Romanian bourgeoisie, and the second is an intense analysis of Romanian anti-Semitism. Dorian also published translations of works by Heinrich Heine and Eliezer Steinberg's Yiddish fables, all the while operating a medical practice from an office in his home.

In 1937 Dorian began keeping a daily account of his life in Romania, which he maintained until his death a generation later. The entries from the first seven years of his diary form his Jurnal din vremur de prigoanæa , the Holocaust diary that was published in Romania in 1996, 14 years after the English edition, The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary 1937-1944, appeared in 1982. Because he successfully avoided being sent to a concentration camp or being deported to Transnistria, Dorian was able to chronicle one of the most violent periods in Romanian history. During the years he kept his Holocaust diary he also completed a three-volume anthology of Yiddish poetry in translation, and scattered among the entries describing the devastation of Jewish life and European culture one finds progress reports on his Anthology of Yiddish Literature, a project that became all the more dear to him as European Jewry was being wiped out.

After the war Dorian held two important positions in the Romanian Jewish community. He served as secretary general of the Jewish Community of Bucharest and later was the director of the Documentary Archives of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania. Because of what he viewed as the collapse of the moral fiber of Romanian society, however, he resigned from both positions. When Dorian died in 1956, it was perhaps due as much to disillusionment and a broken heart as to any other cause.

—David Patterson

See the essay on The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary, 1937-1944.

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