Geschwister-Scholl-Preis 2006 - Mihail Sebastian

dankesrede von Michele hechter

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am deeply touched to be able to thank you in person for the reward attributed to my uncle’s Diary - this on behalf of my sister, Dominique, who is among us, of my cousin Miky Sebastian and her mother Bea Sebastian (Mihai’s sister -in -law) both of whom, unfortunately, could not attend tonight.

Neither my sister and my cousin, nor I, ever knew our uncle Mihai, who died before our births. That is why, when we learned that you had selected Sebastian’s Diary for the very prestigious Geschwister-Scholl-Preis, our first thought went out to his siblings; our fathers, Pierre (Poldy, as his brother Mihai used to call him) and Béno, who both died without ever imagining that such an honor might be bestowed on them: their satisfaction and pride would have been immeasurable.

It was a matter of time until the originality of Sebastian’s voice could finally be appreciated and understood – it was a matter of time until his watchfulness, his lonely and pain-fraught resistance, his inner wounds, the heartbreaks concerning his exfriends, could find an audience and be crowned with the worthy and honourable prize being presented to him tonight.

I would like to take a short moment of your time to give a brief insight into the long and complicated family history concerning this text. When Béno left Romania in 1961, he took the manuscripts to France. My father had already moved there before the war, and lived through his capture during the Drancy (near Paris) roundup of Jews, managing to escape in 1942-43, thus surviving where thousands of others had not.

Mihai had written his diary, without any intention of seeing it published, in the early years of Nazism and throughout the war that followed - Romania being then a member of the Axis Powers, where racial laws had begun clamping down on the Jews. The Diary was to be strictly personal and my uncle Béno, who was in Bucarest with Mihai during those years, was adamant that it should remain so.

On the other hand , my father Poldy thought it was worth trying to have it published, all the more so as, at the time, a movie had come out based on one of Mihai’s plays, A Star without a Name, starring Marina Vladi, and another had been translated and was being performed in Paris. He was aware of the Diary’s historical value and was receptive to its literary qualities. Being, as Mihai, a good friend of Eugène Ionesco’s (The Bald Soprano), he sounded the literary circles about publication and was firmly advised – (by whom- it’s all quite hazy) – to definitely forget it. It would allegedly interest no one in France: too alien and parochial! Of course, that was far from being the real reason! Actually, the Diary revealed the political involvements of a few Romanian celebrities in France , Mircea Eliade and Cioran –among others- who had entanglements with the Iron Guard: Nobody wished to bring their dark past back to light.

Poldy and Béno had often openly and vocally disagreed on the subject of whether to publish or not. But we were young, and these problems about a dead uncle were very remote. Besides, we had no real knowledge of the Romanian language. Later in life we understood what all that hustling was about: Béno’s fear was that in publishing the Diary, old wounds would fester again and his brother Mihai would again be attacked: on the one hand by Jews who already had blamed him for not being a hardline Zionist; on the other hand, by Communists who were still in power in Eastern Europe and, of course, in Romania.

My father who had been immersed in French culture for such a long time remained convinced that all this was to be disregarded. Near the end of his life, he was so sure of his opinion that he had even begun to translate the Diary. His death came in 1979, after his having finished only a few pages. Béno refused to reconsider and ignored the propositions that were starting to pour in from people who had come to be aware of the existence of the Diary . When Béno died in 1991, the manuscripts fell into our hands.

A friend of Mr. Volovici’s, a truly unique, extraordinay man, came all the way from New York in order to see us and ask if we would accept publishing the Diary in Bucarest. He found the words to convince us and said that many, many people, in New-York, in Tel-Aviv, Bucarest and Paris attached great importance to these memories. We agreed on terms. We, the new generation, were eager to reveal what had been said about that little known page of history. Furthermore, to be totally honest, we were also avidly curious to read about it. Following the first publication in Romania, which occurred in 1996, everything moved quickly to this Claasen Verlag German translation by M. Edward Kanterian and ultimately to this coveted prize.

We are extremely touched that this testimony - our uncle’s book - concerning the dark years in the life of an intellectual Romanian Jew has found such a warm welcome in Germany. We are proud, just as Mihai and his two brothers would have been, that a foundation in honor of two brave opponents to the Nazi regime should grant distinction to his work.

Once again, we would like to extend our deepest felt, most sincere and grateful thanks. Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts.

Michèle Hechter, München 20.11.2006


Michèle Hechter ist die Nichte des Preisträgers Mihail Sebastian.


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