The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary 1937-1944 (Jurnal Din Vremur De Prigoanæa)

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THE QUALITY OF WITNESS: A ROMANIAN DIARY 1937-1944 (Jurnal din vremur de prigoanæa)

Diary by Emil Dorian, 1982

Emil Dorian's diary Jurnal din vremur de prigoanæa is an eloquent text written by one of Romania's major Jewish literary figures. It is the work of a mature man who had devoted his life to the cause of peace and tolerance but who lived to see the atrocities of the Holocaust. Because of the censorship policies of Romania's Communist government, the diary was first published in English translation in 1982, and it did not appear in Romanian until 1996. It was only because of the devotion of a close friend to whom he entrusted the diary notebooks that they were preserved. The English edition was prepared by his daughter Marguerite Dorian, who excerpted entries from the first seven notebooks that Dorian kept from 1937 until his death in 1956.

With its first entry dated 30 December 1937, The Quality of Witness presents the reader with rare insights into prewar Romania and the rise of anti-Semitic legislation, as well as with other measures taken against the Jews before the outbreak of hostilities. The published excerpts of the diary end on 24 August 1944 with Dorian's reflections on Romania's surrender to the Allies. More than most other Holocaust diarists, Dorian recognized from the very beginning the profound nature of the historical upheaval that was taking place. On 11 February 1938, for example, he wrote, "One could feel every human being shiver at the intimate contact with the essence of historical events." Further, the more intense his collision with history, the more radical his experience of the collapse of time. On 22 October 1943, for instance, he declared that he had lost all interest in the future. Three years later, to the very day, he had lost his sense of the present, wondering, "What does it matter that I jot down dates?" This obliteration of a present and a future came in the wake of a radical assault on memory and therefore on the past. Thus measuring time a day at a time, Dorian's diary contains a record of the assault on time.

This collapse of time had implications both for the individual and for his or her world. For the Jew, Dorian pointed out on 22 May 1944, the world became a place where death itself—that is, the natural death that befalls a normal humanity—no longer existed. On 5 February 1941 he noted how other nations reacted to such a condition, lamenting that Jews "have been expelled, tortured, massacred—while people, or rather countries, looked on with total indifference." At a time when a Jew's crime was being alive, the world's crime was being indifferent. What this meant to the individual Jew came out in the entry of 15 August 1941: "Getting worse: I'm plunged in silence." Revealing the tension between the need to speak and the oppressive silence, Dorian's diary brings out the serious mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of the annihilation of European Jewry.

Because Dorian was a writer, his diary contains numerous reflections on the literary craft and the spiritual dimensions of writing. "All is not lost," he declared on 12 July 1938, "while the hope of writing a poem is still alive." He even ascribed a certain redemptive significance to his diary. In an entry dated 2 June 1943, he commented on the difference between "writing literature" and keeping the diary. The former he regarded almost as indulging in a luxury, the latter as engaging in a testimony. What is remarkable about Dorian's diary, then, is that it opens up the nature of the Holocaust diary as such. It is not a tranquil reflection on the day's events or on one's personal life for the sake of oneself. Rather, it examines a world, a truth, a horror, and a meaning for the sake of a community.

Dorian demonstrates that the Holocaust diary rests on a fundamental accountability; its cry of "Why?" is not a "Why me?" but "Why my neighbor? Why the children and the old ones?" On 25 January 1942, for example, he wrote, "The thought of what is happening to these human beings [the Jews] poisons every moment of my life." While other diaries offer an account of a life at the end of a day, Dorian's diary reveals the daily struggle to recover a life that is destroyed every day.

—David Patterson

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The Quality of Witness: A Romanian Diary 1937-1944 (Jurnal Din Vremur De Prigoanæa)

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