Benjamin Fondane  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Benjamin Fondane (November 14 1898, IaşiOctober 2 or 3 1944, Auschwitz-Birkenau) was a Romanian and French poet, playwright, literary critic (noted for his works on Lev Shestov's vision and on that of Søren Kierkegaard), film director, and translator.


Born as Benjamin Wechsler or Wexler to a family of Jewish heritage, he published poetry after 1912 under the pen name of B. Fundoianu or Barbu Fundoianu (he is still known by them in Romania) in such magazines as Rampa and Hatikvah. In 1918, he authored the drama Tăgăduinţa lui Petru.

After unfinished law studies at the University of Iaşi, he left for Bucharest in 1919, and became the center of an avant-garde 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 Brancusi, 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.

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