Benjamin Fondane

Benjamin Fondane (November 14, 1898, Iaşi – October 2 or 3 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau), Romanian poet, playwright, literary critic, film director, and translator.

Born as Benjamin Wechsler or Wexler to a family of Jewish heritage, he published under the pen names of Barbu Fundoianu (he is still known by them in Romania) and Benjamin Fondane. He published poetry after 1912, translations of Yiddish poetry and its own "biblical sonets" in the Jewish journals Rampaet, Chemarea, Hatikvah, Lumea Evree, "Bar-Kokhba, "Hasmonaea". After unfinished law studies at the University of Iaşi, he left for Bucharest in 1919, and became the center of an avantgarde group which also included Marcel Iancu, M. H. Maxy, Iosif Ross, Saşa Pană, Ion Vinea, Ştefan Roll and Ilarie Voronca. He published frequently in major periodicals such as Contimporanul, Adevărul literar şi artistic, and Sburătorul, and formed a short-lived (1921-1923) theatrical company named Insula ("The Island"), influenced by the views of Jacques Copeau.

After moving to Paris in 1923, Fondane wrote his first French language poem, Exercice de français, in 1925. He met Tristan Tzara in 1927, interviewing him for the Integral magazine (for which he was the French-section editor), and affiliated himself with Surrealism, publishing notable poems, such as A Madame Sonia Delaunay, part of his unfinished Projet Ulysse 1927. He then adhered to the subgroup around Arthur Adamov and his Discontinuité paper. Fondane became close to such figures as Shestov, Martin Buber, Constantin Brancuşi, and Victoria Ocampo (whom he visited in Argentina in 1929). In 1933, he worked with Dimitri Kirsanoff on the experimental film Rapt, a free screen adaptation of La séparation des races, the novel by Charles Ferdinand Ramuz. He wrote and directed the Argentinian film Tararira in 1936.

In 1940, Fondane was drafted upon Nazi Germany's invasion of France. Taken prisoner, managing to escape, and recaptured, he was hospitalized at the Val de Grâce for an appendicectomy. After regaining his house, Fondane started work on Projet Ulysse and several essays. In March 1944, he was arrested by Vichy France policemen and held in the Drancy camp, until being deported to Auschwitz on May 30. He was killed in the infamous gas chamber.

A place in Paris bears his name from 2000, his name is also on the Mémorial de la Shoah (Paris) and at Pantheon - the French Resistance wall, and from 2006 The Romanian Cultural Institute in Paris, the B. Fondane Study Society and Le Printemps des Poètes Association created the Prix Benjamin Fondane for francophone literature.