Aristide Blank

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Aristide Blank
1910 - Aristide Blank - director al băncii Marmorosch-Blank.PNG
Blank in 1910
Born(1883-01-01)January 1, 1883
DiedJanuary 1, 1960(1960-01-01) (aged 77)
Alma materUniversity of Bucharest
OccupationInvestor, business magnate, patron of the arts, humanitarian, playwright
Years activeca. 1900–1953
Spouse(s)Ecaterina Caragiale (div.)
Cella Delavrancea (div.)
Vota Vesnić (m. 1935)
RelativesEmanoil Culoglu (father-in-law)
Ion Luca Caragiale (father-in-law; posth.)
Mateiu Caragiale (brother-in-law)
Barbu Ștefănescu Delavrancea (father-in-law; posth.)
Milenko Radomar Vesnić (father-in-law; posth.)

Aristide or Aristid Blank, also spelled Blanc or Blanck (January 1, 1883 – January 1, 1960), was a Romanian financier, economist, arts patron and playwright. His father, Mauriciu Blank, an assimilated and naturalized Romanian Jew, was manager of the Marmorosch Blank Bank (BMB), a major financial enterprise. Aristide took up jobs within the same company, and, after seeing action in the Second Balkan War and World War I, began expanding its investments, branching out into maritime transport and founding CIDNA/CFRNA airlines. This period witnessed his attempt at setting up a press empire around the twin dailies Adevărul and Dimineața, and his brief engagement with Epoca.

Inheriting his father's position at the BMB, Blank expanded its activities and expenditures, setting aside money for graft, and allowing his staff to engage in accounting fraud. By 1923, he was also engaged in Romanian nationalist politics, sponsoring propaganda writings and working alongside historians Nicolae Iorga and Vasile Pârvan. He set up his own publishing house, Cultura Națională, and a literary agency, which was for a while managed by philosopher Nae Ionescu—ultimately sacked by Blank upon the discovery of embezzlement. Blak, who allegedly alternated mainstream politics with support for the far-left, found himself pitted against the antisemitic far-right, being brutalized by the National Christian Defense League and marked for retribution by the Iron Guard.

Beginning in the early 1920s, Blank cultivated Crown Prince Carol, who took over as King of the Romanians after a 1930 coup. Emerging as Carol's economic adviser, Blank joined the resulting camarilla, an affiliation which shielded him from the consequences of BMB mismanagement. The enterprise crashed in 1931, unable to absorb the effects of the Great Depression. Blank was removed from his managerial position following intervention by the National Bank of Romania, but used political channels to preserve some measure of control, and was instrumental in toppling National Bank Governor Mihail Manoilescu, who did not wish to refinance the BMB. His influence fluctuated for the remainder of Carol's reign; still unable to fully control the BMB, he still owned Discom, a lucrative retailer for products of state monopolies.

Public antisemitism and fascism took the forefront during the late years of Carlism and the early years of World War II. This period saw Blank marginalized, and resulted in additional scrutiny of the BMB affair, at the end of which he was sentenced to pay 600 million lei in damages. Blank reemerged as BMB manager after King Michael's Coup of 1944, but he and his business were finally repressed by the communist regime from 1948. In 1953, he was sentenced to 20 years for high treason, but managed to have that verdict overturned in 1955. After international pressures, he was allowed to emigrate in 1958, and lived his final months in Paris.


Early life[edit]

Born in Bucharest on the first day of 1883[1] (New Style: January 13), Aristide was the son of Mauriciu Blank. Though his paternal lineage, he belonged to the Sephardi minority within the local Jewish community.[2] The clan, originally known as Derrera el Blanco, had first settled in Wallachia during the 18th century, but their Judaism prevented them from obtaining naturalization.[3] As reported in 1924 by L'Univers Israélite, it became fully assimilated, with Blank Jr appearing to be "Jewish only in origin."[4] By 1920 the family's ethnic background was still largely unknown to the Romanian public, with the Jewish publication Mântuirea noting that Aristide was of "obscure origin".[5]

Circa 1880, Mauriciu was entering the financial elite of the newly established Principality of Romania, having served as head of the Marmorosch Blank Bank (BMB) since 1874. At the time of Aristide's birth, it was the most powerful private bank in the Romanian Kingdom.[6] Blank's political friend and enemy, Constantin Argetoianu, claims that Mauriciu had a marriage of convenience to Aristide's mother Betina Goldenberg, who was "ugly as well as vulgar, avaricious as well as venomous".[7] One of Aristide's sisters were married off to another financier, Adalbert Csillag, who would experience complete bankruptcy.[8] Another sister, Margot, married industrialist Herman Spayer, whose residence on Batiștei Street was briefly used by the BMB.[9] The family finally received Romanian citizenship in 1883,[10] shortly after Aristide's birth.

According to a hostile note by French journalist Jean Mourat, Blank Jr was "raised in luxury, so as to keep up with good traditions."[11] Aristide received an elite education, and was possessed of an artistic sensibility;[12] however, Argetoianu portrays him as "highly intelligent [but] lacking a serious culture", his main attributes being ambition, jealousy, and eventually paranoia.[13] He became a published poet in his teenage years: his Despărțire, a pastiche from Eduard von Feuchtersleben that he signed as "Aristide Blanc", appeared in Foaia Populară in April 1900.[14]

Blank took a graduation diploma from the University of Bucharest Faculty of Law and Philosophy.[1] In January 1909, he married the daughter of politician Emanoil Culoglu, with a civil ceremony attended by Vintilă Brătianu, Emil Costinescu, and Vasile Morțun.[15] Initially, he closely followed his father's career in finance. By 1910, he was serving on the board of directors for various BMB branches, including Moldova Bank of Iași and the Aromanian Bank of Commerce.[16] He was inducted into the Order of Commercial and Industrial Merit in 1912,[12] when he also served on the committee to establish the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies.[17]

In June 1913, Blank was blackmailed by Seara newspaperman Alexandru Bogdan-Pitești, who had inaugurated a smear campaign against the BMB. According to notes left by Seara's Mateiu Caragiale, Blank "trapped" Bogdan-Pitești with direct support from the Romanian Police.[18] This refers to a sting operation at Flora Restaurant, where Blank heard Bogdan-Pitești and his associate Adolf Davidescu state their demands while policemen were standing by.[19] Obtaining legal assistance from Take Ionescu, Blank took Bogdan-Pitești to court and won, resulting in his rival's imprisonment.[20] A month after, Romania entered the Second Balkan War, with Blank enlisted as a Land Forces officer in Southern Dobruja.[12] It was here that he first met historian and politician Nicolae Iorga, with whom he would cooperate on cultural ventures in the early 1920s.[21]

Upon the expedition's end, Blank Jr helped to establish and finance two BMB naval transport enterprises—respectively operating on the Black Sea and the Danube.[22] In the winter of 1914–1915, he was sent to the United Kingdom by the Ion I. C. Brătianu government in order to secure a loan for the state, establishing neutral Romania's closer ties to the Triple Entente.[12][23] This mission caused much controversy at home: Foreign Minister Emanuel Porumbaru refused to sign his name to the deal, believing that it compromised Romania's policy of non-alignment; he was consequently forced to resign.[23] In September 1915, he served as executive of an anonymous partnership for the manufacture and sale of ammunition. This had been established by his father with participation from Culoglu, Alexandru Kirițescu, and Mihail Săulescu.[24] As reported by Argetoianu, Blank Jr still had connections in the German Empire, which he used to plant his protege Felix Wieder in a German consortium—a position which Wieder then used to defraud that firm.[25]

Social rise[edit]

1922 advertisement for CIDNA/CFRNA flights

The Treaty of Bucharest brought Romania into the war as an Entente ally, then its invasion by Germany. Again drafted as a Lieutenant, Blank was spotted at Iași, the provisional capital of a rump Romanian state. Argetoianu reports that wartime Iași was were Blank first earned the trust of Carol of Hohenzollern, the disgraced Romanian Crown Prince, who used him in his attempts to earn support from Premier Alexandru Averescu. Also according to Argetoianu, Blank was also faking asthma attacks, which saw him relieved of his duties and sent to Paris.[26] During late 1918, he was allegedly in Nice, alongside Octavian Goga, the Transylvanian poet-activist.[27] In 1919, he was decommissioned as a Captain in the Second Cavalry Regiment.[1]

Blank remained in France for the rest of World War I, and beyond, working primarily as a propagandist and financier for Romanian nationalist causes.[28] In 1919, he put out the first volume of an illustrated propaganda work, La Roumanie en images. Iorga viewed it as a superior work of art, but noted that its selection of prints displayed "banality" and a "lack of familiarity with all newer discoveries regarding Romania's past". After reading his comments, Blank employed Iorga as his editorial adviser.[29] The following year, he sponsored French editions from Iorga's own works: Histoire des Roumains et de leur civilisation and Anthologie de la littérature roumaine.[30] Blank's profile in culture and politics was intertwined with his personal life. Around 1919, he was briefly married to Ecaterina Caragiale, daughter of the playwright Ion Luca Caragiale and Mateiu's half-sister.[31] After a long courtship,[32] he wed pianist Cella Delavrancea, orphaned daughter of writer Barbu Ștefănescu Delavrancea, at some point before April 1920. Cella called her husband Aladin, and noted that she fulfilled all her financial demands; with her new-found wealth, she funded her own literary club, called Maison d'Art.[33] Their marriage ended in divorce.

Following the establishment of Greater Romania, Aristide and Mauriciu sold BMB to a rival firm, but continued to hold controlling shares between them.[11] Their businesses now branched out into aviation. In 1920, Aristide used BMB funds to set up CIDNA/CFRNA, alongside aviator Pierre de Fleurieu.[34] This was the first airline to offer a direct Paris–Bucharest flight, with an extension to Istanbul;[12][35] the route was inaugurated by Albert Louis Deullin, with a landing at Pipera Airport in October 1921.[36] According to Argetoianu, Blank also involved himself in setting up the Romanian Air Club, because doing so would bring him closer to Carol, himself an aviation enthusiast.[37] Also then, Blank founded the BMB's General Building Society, which managed construction firms in Bucharest and Câmpina.[38] Both Blanks also became involved in assisting humanitarian work by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. This included a BMB loan for the reconstruction of Bukovina Jewish property, for which Blank offered a reduced interest.[39]

Though a card-carrying member of Brătianu's National Liberal Party (PNL),[1][40] Blank assisted the NationalPeasantist coalition in negotiating an international loan, which was to help Romania rebuild its internal market. As noted at the time by Furnica magazine, this mission could effectively turn Blank against Brătianu and his supporters in the banking industry, since the PNL's policy was to prevent adversaries from "doing even the right thing".[5] A lasting feud ensued between Blank and the National Liberals, which resulted in the BMB being staffed exclusively with adversaries or dissidents of the PNL—including Goga, Alexandru C. Constantinescu, Nicolae Tabacovici, and Alexandru Vaida-Voevod.[1]

In 1920, Blank set up a luxurious Romanian restaurant in Paris' Latin Quarter,[41] which was for a while managed by sociologist Mihai Ralea.[42] Having secured a contract for the transfer of scholarships for Romanian students in France,[43] Blank also sponsored Iorga's Romanian School, created in 1922 at Fontenay-aux-Roses.[44] As seen by historian Petre Țurlea, Iorga's relationship with Blank was "highly profitable for [Romanian] culture".[45] It resulted in the establishment of a popular theater tied to Iorga's Cultural League for the Unity of All Romanians.[46] According to historian Lucian T. Butaru, Iorga appreciated Blank's cultural endeavor, and this may have helped tone down his otherwise entrenched antisemitism.[47] Blank also provided funds for Iorga's son Mircea to study abroad, which, Argetoianu claims, effectively meant that the Iorga family was in his debt;[48] Iorga responded to such accusations, noting that his son was under no obligation to work for Blank.[49]

Adevărul and literary circle[edit]

In addition to being a gifted orator,[12] Blank still had literary pretensions. He debuted as a pseudonymous dramatist in Paris and Bucharest. According to Argetoianu, his work in the field was merely "idiotic",[50] though Blank was admited to the Romanian Dramatists' Society in 1930.[51] His few published plays include Iarna la Hangerli and Rapsodie des dieux.[12] In the 1920s, he founded or financed a series of cultural institutions of his own. These included Cultura Națională publishing house, which was established and named on Iorga's advice[52] and offered lucrative employment to intellectuals such as Dimitrie Gusti and Vasile Pârvan.[53] Blank was also responsible for the Viața Românească editorial office and, in 1920, for a literary club called Societatea Filarmonică.[12]

Also in 1920, Blank became the target of a renewed smear campaign, this time carried by Tudor Arghezi's Cronica. As reported by a Siguranța source, he solved this issue by presenting Arghezi with a gift of 100,000 lei, later supplemented by a monthly stipend.[54] During those months, Blank attempted to built himself a press empire. He sponsored Grigore Filipescu, a BMB associate, helping him relaunch the conservative daily Epoca. He maintained some say in editorial policy, preventing Liviu Rebreanu from publishing an article that was critical of Blank himself.[55] Blank purchased the left-wing dailies Adevărul and Dimineața, which became BMB and Cultura Națională assets. Reportedly, this investment cost him 7 million lei.[56] The circumstances for Blank's takeover, whereby journalist Constantin Mille renounced his most valuable enterprise, were debated by the staff, and remain mysterious.[40][57] Shortly after, Mille used the money to launch another newspaper, Lupta, which competed with Blank's consortium and opened its offices just opposite.[40][57]

Mainly using Adevărul to air his polemics with the National Liberal Viitorul,[1] Blank immediately reassured its readers that the newspaper would remain a strong voice on the traditional left.[40] However, an article in Contimporanul alleges that he personally sacked the caretaker editor, Emil Fagure, which also caused the resignation of another staff member, Barbu Brănișteanu.[56] Management was then handled by militant Romanian journalist Constantin Graur and by Jewish entrepreneur Emil Pauker, who was coincidentally the uncle of a prominent communist, Marcel Pauker.[40] As argued by Argetoianu, Blank purposefully spent his own money on far-leftist causes, so as to undermine the Romanian state. He claims to have personally intervened to have Mauriciu "put a leash" on Aristide, when the latter became involved with Philippe Ciprut in sponsoring the Socialist Party of Romania.[58] In later years, Pauker and his brother Simion took over more shares of Adevărul, which became widely perceived as their newspaper, and therefore as a "Jewish" enterprise.[40]

According to memoirist and lawyer Petre Pandrea, Blank intended to take over as Minister of Finance, and for this reason surrounded himself with intellectuals such as Pârvan and Nae Ionescu.[59] Until 1923, Cultura Națională's printing offices put out the literary magazine Gândirea, managed by Cezar Petrescu and Nichifor Crainic. As reported by Crainic, this partnership broke down when Pârvan attempted to prevent them from hosting criticism of Blank.[60] Also in 1923, Ionescu purchased his Bucharest villa using an affordable credit obtained from the financier;[61] a year later, Blank sponsored Constantin Daicoviciu's research at Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa.[62]

Ionescu was employed by Cultura Națională, but left after a public row with its patron. The issue of contention was Ionescu's fraudulent management of the Central Book Office, a literary agency and subsidiary of Cultura Națională, which allegedly brought Blank losses of 800,000 lei.[63] As narrated by journalist Pamfil Șeicaru, Blank caught on only after attending Ionescu's lavish house-warming party, and later discovered that Ionescu had forged Pârvan and Gusti's signatures on the company's balance sheets.[64] Blank shielded Ionescu from prosecution, but forced him to write a letter of confession.[65] Photocopies of this were kept by all those whom Ionescu had defrauded,[66] while Blank had the original, which he reportedly showed to Argetoianu after Ionescu made attempts to return as a politician.[67]

Far-right attacks and Regency intrigues[edit]

Blank's involvement with youth and left-wing causes during the process of Jewish emancipation saw him engaged in a prolonged conflict with the antisemitic far-right, and in particular with Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, who would emerge as a regional leader of the National Christian Defense League (LANC). Codreanu first identified Blank as an enemy during the Student Congress of 1920, when he attempted to pass motions for religious discrimination; this was opposed by other youth leaders, whom Codreanu then accused of being Blank's agents.[68] In April 1924, at the height of a scandal involving Codreanu, LANC affiliates stormed into a hall where Blank Jr was lecturing on economic matters. During the attack, he sustained serious injuries of the skull.[69] The assailants were put on trial, but acquitted.[1]

A note in L'Univers Israélite claimed that the incident was in fact orchestrated by government,[4] while Argetoianu believes that students in general genuinely detested Blank.[70] The harassment continued over several years. In January 1925, Codreanu's student organizations again alleged that Blank was trafficking in influence through the Romanian universities, and used this issue as a rally call for a student strike.[71] As part of their conflict with Iorga, Lăncieri youths openly confronted him, asking him why had "sold himself to banker Blank"; details about such contacts were popularized by LANC leader A. C. Cuza and by Virgil Madgearu of the moderate National Peasants' Party (PNȚ).[72] The Iron Guard, founded by Codreanu after his split with the LANC, put up Blank's name on an enemies' list which also included Constantin Banu, Alexandru C. Constantinescu, Wilhelm Filderman, and Gheorghe Gh. Mârzescu.[73] As reported by Argetoianu, Blank held the top position on that list, and was effectively marked for death.[74] The Guard, along with other far-right groups, also singled out Adevărul and Dimineața as propaganda for anti-Romanian concepts.[40][75]

In March 1925, Blank married Vota Vesnić, orphaned daughter of Yugoslav Premier Milenko Radomar Vesnić. Their Paris wedding was attended by numerous figures in politics and social life, including the then-Yugoslav Premier Nikola Pašić, Maharajah Jagatjit Singh, diplomat Nicolae Titulescu, banker Robert de Rothschild, and writers such as Marcel Prévost and Elena Văcărescu. A LANC newspaper covered the event, noting: "Blank must be reminded that this international and Jewified society does not impose itself on the Romanian public, who still feels the same way about him as those students who pummeled him out [...] in late March 1924."[76] In honor of his new wife, Blank sometimes used the pseudonym Votaris, which combined their given names.[77] A sport aficionado, Vota organized a tennis tournament at the Blank family villa in Techirghiol.[78] In June 1926, she gave birth to the financier's son, Milenko Blank.[79]

In March 1925, Iorga was enraged by Blank, who had presented a complete list of BMB sponsorships for Iorga's ventures; the two men parted ways.[80] Also that year, Carol was forced out of the country by the political establishment, but Blank continued to cultivate their relationship. As reported by Argetoianu, he effectively managed (and often misused) the Prince's bank accounts.[81] Historian Claudiu Secașiu partly backs this claim, noting that Blank and Carol enjoyed a "great rapport" in 1927, when Blank "supported him financially."[82] Following the death of King Ferdinand I that same year, Carol was sidestepped in the succession list, and the throne went to his minor son Michael. A Council of Regents oversaw matters relating to the court; one of its members was Gheorghe Buzdugan, who, in 1929, declared having "particular high esteem for Aristide Blank, the banker who is a remarkable personality, a man with a big heart and a philanthopist."[83]

Mauriciu, who had withdrawn from active participation at the BMB,[11] died at Vienna in November 1929, with Aristide organizing the funeral ceremony.[84] Blank Jr was by then head of the BMB, allegedly because Mauriciu had overestimated his son's business acumen.[85] According to Argetoianu, he went on to severely weaken the company with a project to destroy the National Liberals' influence in high finance, as well as with unwise investments—such as opening a BMB subsidiary on Place Vendôme.[86] From 1923, the group had three additional international offices—in Istanbul, Vienna, and New York City.[87] Sitting on the BMB's steering board, Argetoianu claimed to have observed the company having engaged virtually all of its available funds in investment schemes.[88] Another issue hindering the bank's activities was the growing rivalry between Blank and his associate Richard de Söpkéz, with both engaged in drawing up capital on their respective side. According to Argetoianu, they each took at least 13.5 million lei in yearly stipends, while also collecting dividends from companies credited by the BMB, and through which Blank defrauded associates such as Ion G. Duca and George II of Greece.[89] A later investigation suggested that Blank had used large sums of money for graft, and that his staff was engaged in accounting fraud.[11]

BMB crash and royal protection[edit]

A September 1929 review in Revista Economică pointed out "conundrums" (buclucuri) having to do with the BMB's investments in industry. It also noted that Blank was spreading rumors that the state bank for industry, Creditul Industrial, needed to be restructured; allegations emerged that this was a deliberate attempt create market panic, so that a new Creditul could then refinance Blank's own projects.[90] By 1930, the BMB had defaulted after registering 1.6 million lei in deficit.[91] The enterprise went bankrupt in October 1931, immediately after being exposed to the consequences of the Great Depression—though, Argetoianu notes, the world crisis only served to obscure the effects of Blank's own managerial "insanity".[92] This crash sparked a national scandal, after allegations that some investors had market moving information, allowing them to withdraw deposits in advance. Blank himself argued that withdrawals were made possible by rumors of a looming war between Romania and the Soviet Union, but his explanation failed to convince the general public.[11] According to Argetoianu, Blank also complained that the investors' walkout was facilitated by the National Bank of Romania, whose Governor, Costin Stoicescu, was a disgruntled BMB employee. He believes that this claim was credible, in that Stoicescu always opposed state intervention in favor of the BMB.[93]

Shortly before the BMB's crash, Carol returned home abruptly, deposing his son and taking over as King. As a result, Blank made his way into the camarilla, a secretive para-legal circle which decided on political and financial matters.[94] Also frequenting this circle, Argetoianu noted that Blank was a second-wave inductee into the camarilla, arriving in at the same time as Tabacovici and "the pimp" Alexandru Mavrodi; but also that, during the first year of Carol's reign, he became his most influential adviser, to the point of "ruling over Romania".[95] The same memoirist further contends that Blank and Carol shared a psychological pathology, namely "hyperacute sexual excitement" and "erotomania", which prevented them for going through with any project.[96] He notes that Blank's vice, which required him to spend large sums for the sexual favors of "women who are into money and luxuries", ended with him going destitute and "half insane".[97]

A doctrinaire on economic matters, Blank served as a trustee of the Academy of Economic Studies (1929–1939), and also oversaw a committee for the administration of penal facilities (1930–1935).[1] He wrote newspaper articles, studies and memorials on Romania's postwar situation. His books include Scumpirea și ieftinirea traiului (Bucharest, 1915–1916), Contribuțiuni la rezolvarea crizei economice (1922), La crise economique en Roumanie (1922), Economice (1932), Literare (1932) and Problema monetară în raport cu creditul public și privat.[12] Argetoianu describes such contributions as "childish inventions" and "theoretical jugglery", noting that "not even Tabacovici would read them"—but also that Carol was highly impressed, for being "entirely ignorant on financial and economic matters."[98] The monarch also recognized Blank's achievements in the transportation, inducting him into Meritul Aeronautic order of chivalry.[12]

As Argetoianu claims, the king eventually grew aware that Blank was not fully competent, but continued to seek his advice. Argetoianu argues that this was because Blank had since earned the confidence of Carol's lover Magda Lupescu, buying her a villa and making it so that she would befriend Tabacovici and Wieder.[99] Reportedly, the only camarilla businessman who could still mitigate his influence at the court was Nicolae Malaxa.[100] Like Malaxa and Max Auschnitt, Blank belonged to Meșterul Manole Lodge, a branch of Romanian Freemasonry which was intimately involved in sponsoring cultural projects by fellow Masons.[101] In 1930, however, Blank gave up on his main investment in the cultural field, allowing Cultura Națională to be taken over by the State Printers and Monitorul Oficial. Two years later, his CIDNA was taken over by the French state and became a component of the state carrier, Air France.[102]

Argetoianu and Blank were instrumental in helping Carol reach a settlement with his former wife, Queen Helen.[103] In January 1931, Argetoianu also sent Blank to approach Titulescu in St. Moritz, hoping to ensure his own political survival as part of a Nicolae Titulescu cabinet.[104] A rumor circulating at the time alleged that Titulescu owed 14 million lei to the BMB.[105] The cabinet, which was never sworn in, was to include Blank as one of the ministers.[106] In addition to endorsing Carol, Blank was going public as a critic of PNȚ governments in matters of economic policy. According to Grigore Gafencu, he was using Adevărul and the Carlist newspaper Cuvântul to criticize attempts at contracting a new loan in France. Blank and his colleagues described these as a sure path to economic enslavement.[107] According to PNȚ man Ioan Hudiță, Gafencu was in fact Blank's man inside both party and government. Hudiță reports several accounts according to which Blank had arranged Gafencu's wedding to an actress, and that she had earlier been his mistress.[108]

Camarilla clashes[edit]

A Iorga government was instead sworn in, with Argetoianu holding several ministerial portfolios. Over the following months, he and Blank came to clash over the issue of Romania's Alcohol Monopoly.[109] Blank associated himself with the "international gangster" Reschnitzer to obtain a lease on that enterprise, but, Argetoianu reports, "didn't get anything out of it, because I myself stood in [their] way" (emphasis in the original).[110] He recalls agreeing to give Reschnitzer's consortium a pre-emption right to the Monopoly, thus placating Blank, but also that he never actually intended to sell the company.[111] The two camarilla figures were also at odds over Blank's creation of Discom, a private enterprise which served as a retailer for the Tobacco, Salt, and Matches Monopolies. Under his management, this business never produced an actual profit for the state, as most surpluses were drawn into covering BMB losses.[112] Carol also intervened to get Discom a share from the Alcohol Monopoly, as well as control over Loteria de Stat; through the king's pressures, the General Council of Bucharest also spent 500 million lei on acquiring Blank's allotment in Otopeni.[91]

In June 1931, Blank was dispatched to Berlin, kicking off trade negotiations between Romania and Weimar Germany.[113] By then, the BMB affair had presented an opportunity for another camarilla man, Mihail Manoilescu, who became Governor of the National Bank that same year. Manoilescu claimed that Argetoianu's demands for a bailout were an act of "state-sponsored servitude", and could only serve to demolish whatever remained functional of Romania's industry and agriculture.[1] According to Argetoianu, Manoilescu was "determined to destroy Aristide", unaware that the king had issued orders to protect Blank at all cost.[114] The point is underscored by Pandrea, who also notes that a resentful Nae Ionescu played a part in forcing Manoilescu to push for Blank's bankruptcy.[115] BMB associate Grigore Filipescu openly asked Manoilescu to refinance Blank's enterprise. Once his request was denied, he publicized Manoilescu's conflict of interest and pushed for an audit. Manoilescu sued him, alleging forgery, but failed to make his case in court.[116] This parallel scandal continued to 1937, when Filipescu was able to demonstrate in front of a jury that Manoilescu, despite being publicly antisemitic, had been bribed by Jewish finance.[117] As noted by Argetoianu, Blank and Manoilescu also continued to attack each other as "scoundrels and profiteers", and were equally right: "their readers should embrace [the respective] half of what each one writes down".[118]

The BMB crash, which brought down other banking instutions, convinced Argetoianu to legislate debt relief; however, when it emerged that Blank and Manoilescu were acting in bad faith, he made efforts not to bail out the bank itself, but merely contained the effects of its failure.[119] As he reports, Stoicescu also played a part in this controversy. He "had poor Aristide grilled and spinning over burning coals",[120] finally obtaining Blank's resignation and replacement with Söpkéz. His shares in the company were then handed in as a loan collateral to the Romanian state.[121] As claimed by Argetoianu, Blank continued to defraud his own bank by cashing in a check for 43 million lei, which he then deposited for safekeeping with Blanche Ulman-Vesnić, his mother-in-law.[122] He and Argetoianu, working together, collected a dossier showing Manoilescu's own history in illegal trading.[123] Reassured by Carol's support, Blank was ultimately victorious and, as a result, Manoilescu lost his camarilla privileges in November 1931.[124]

Argetoianu himself was eventually replaced after proposing that the BMB merge with other credit enterprises into a single private entity supervised by the National Bank. As he reports, his fall was made possible by a businessmen's coalition, which included Manoilescu and "even the right honorable Aristide Blank".[125] In 1932–1933, the National Bank refinanced the BMB, though the latter had to concede its shares in Discom; this operation failed to keep the enterprise afloat, and it was finally liquidated in 1936.[11] According to Mourat, Blank "does not seem to have been seriously compromised" by BMB scandals, and continued to be credited by foreign investors, "keen on learning about the 'immense potential' of his rich country."[11] Blank also preserved his standing in literary circles. He entertained and dined cultural figures, including writers Scarlat Froda and Mihail Sebastian—in his diaries, the latter refers to Blank as a "poser".[126] According to Sebastian, Blank and Froda had threesomes with actress Leny Caler.[127] Sebastian also claims to have had a sexual encounter with Blank's daughter Dorina, who "offered herself" to him.[128]

Return and marginalization[edit]

Blank slowly lost his influence at the court, allegedly because he no longer had enough funds left for sponsoring Carol's enrichment schemes.[129] He focused on philanthropic work, and, in 1933, opened up Caritas Hospital with a ceremony attended by Carol.[1] Reportedly, he still had leverage in February 1935, when he obtained the sacking of Finance Minister Victor Slăvescu.[130] In preparation for this intervention, Blank had published an op ed in Universul of January 28, detailing his own solutions to economic problems. In his diaries, Argetoianu referred to his contribution as "intelligent, though occasionally veering into utopia."[131] The two were again on friendly terms, since, as Argetoianu argued, "it's better to have him on my side then against me."[132] He heard Blank's "interesting plan" for developing tourism in Romania.[133] Blank also expressed an interest in funding Haig Acterian's project to pioneer television in Romania, then supported creating an Italo–Romanian film company under Cines, but ultimately withdrew from both.[134]

Argetoianu noted that Blank's political agenda involved keeping a low profile, but also that he was regaining his influence on Lupescu, even as Wieder was losing his.[135] He reports that Carol's sister, Elisabeth Charlotte, detested Blank and Malaxa, asking her brother to remove them from his entourage; Carol allegedly replied that he had a set of obligations toward Blank.[136] Also according to Argetoianu, Blank's intrigues also resulted in Mitiță Constantinescu's appointment as Governor of the National Bank, who then proceeded to persecute investor Oskar Kaufmann, Elisabeth's alleged lover.[137] Constantinescu and Blank formed a clique which opposed Slăvescu's attempts to regain control of credit institutions, and obtained conditional support from Premier Gheorghe Tătărescu. This conflict reflected splits inside the PNL, between Tătărescu and Dinu Brătianu's factions (the latter of which included Slăvescu).[138] At the time, Argetoianu claimed to have discovered Blank's actual stake in such affairs—namely, that he hoped Constantinescu would allow the BMB to survive by returning it control over Discom, which had remained profitable.[139]

Argetoianu looked back on 1935 as the worst year in Romanian history, only similar to the period of Ottoman dominion over the Danubian Principalities: "It would still appear as the better alternative to be trampled on by the Padishah that by that Yid Aristid Blank or the alms-giver Malaxa."[140] As reported to Argetoianu by Elisabeth's lover, Sandi Scanavi, Blank was deemed "public enemy number 1" by the conservative establishment, with Malaxa a close second.[141] In early 1936, Argetoianu claims, Blank was the "real master of this Romanian land", but had also registered a defeat when Slăvescu returned to the National Bank leadership.[142] When Kaufmann began a legal battle against journalist Alfred Hefter, Argetoianu argued that the latter was being paid to calumny by Blank.[143] As he noted: "that the bankrupt Blank has enough money on him to get Hefter moving, that is after all his own business, and at most something that would interest the prosecutor's office. The plot thickens and the issue turns messy because Mitiță Constantinescu also gets involved into this personal conflict, and that the wheeler-dealer Aristid goes out of his way to also involve the King" (emphasis in the original).[144]

On the night of May 4–5, 1936, an Iron Guard youth narrowly missed a chance to assassinate Blank outside Hefter's editorial offices, and, out of frustration, physically assaulted Hefter himself; in the aftermath, Blank spread rumors that the attempt was a false flag operation by Kaufmann's own clique.[145] A month later, he and Șeicaru reacted against their rival Ionescu, who had been identified as an agent of influence for Nazi Germany. They presented Carol with a copy of the incriminating letter, which Carlist Ion Sân-Giorgiu allegedly took to Berlin "and showed it to a number of ministers there."[146] By August, Blank was reportedly attempting to gather support for a "strongman government" that would quell Guardist agitation, and proposed either Argetoianu or Alexandru Averescu for the premiership.[147] In January 1937, British plenipotentiary Reginald Hoare left comments on Blank's newfound enthusiasm for regaining control of the BMB, as well as on his limited competence.[82] Also according to Argetoianu, Vota had left Aristide, and, in October 1936, was living with Radu Polizu in Monaco. An inveterate gambler, Polizu allegedly relied on her for money.[148]

By 1939, the National Bank had taken over the BMB's patrimony.[149] Blank also lost his father's home on Dionisie Street, which was bought by Eduard Mirto, and then leased to the American Legation.[150] Following national elections in December 1937, Carol allowed the fascist National Christian Party, a successor of the LANC, to form government; Blank's erstwhile friend, Octavian Goga, took over as Premier. As reported by Sebastian, the passage of antisemitic legislation was played down by Blank, who argued that the "continuation of the Goga government" was in then Jews' best interest, since "what would come after it would be infinitely worse."[151]

Outcast and hostage[edit]

Adevărul was finally banned on Goga's orders.[40][152] After Carol engineered a self-coup and formed the National Renaissance Front, Blank made attempts to regain his standing in political life. He followed Carol on his final trip to Britain in November 1938, and was registered with the royal retinue at Claridge's of London. This prompted Argetoianu to comment that Carol was still unable to renounce his "gang of tricksters", comprising Blank, Hefter, and Eugen Titeanu.[153] He reports meeting the "all-too-serene" Blank visiting the Wallace Collection alongside diplomat Dimitrie N. Ciotori: "I never asked him why he was in London: I don't doubt for a moment that he's here to pick up scraps from the table that's being set for King Carol".[154]

In Romania, the outbreak of World War II saw the generalization of antisemitic laws, followed in 1940 the ascendancy of hardliner Ion Gigurtu. As reported by Sebastian, news of his ascendancy struck his "millionaire friends" Blank and A. L. Zissu, who were "terrified and cracking up", but who still pestered him with "abstract conversations."[155] Such radicalization was followed in September by Carol's ouster, and afterward by the establishment of an Iron Guard-led "National Legionary State". This new regime blocked all of Blank's Romanian assets in October 1940, and instituted a special commission for re-litigating the BMB affair. This body resumed work after the Iron Guard's ouster in early 1941, and determined that Blank owed the Romanian state 600 million lei.[1]

Frequenting the left-wing journalist Tudor Teodorescu-Braniște in April 1941, Blank expressed confidence that Germany would lose in its war with Yugoslavia.[156] They resigned themselves by June, when Blank also circulated rumors about Romania's imminent participation in the invasion of Soviet territory. He still owned a paper mill, which was ordered to prepare for distribution in Bessarabia.[157] According to Sebastian, Blank argued in late 1941 that the war would only last for two more years, but was then "disgusted at the British lack of seriousness in Libya."[158] He had by then sent his son to study in the United States. Milenko took American citizenship and returned to Europe with the United States Army.[159]

In 1943, the Ministry of Finance sued Blank for the recovery of his assets, and obtained a foreclosure of his property on Berthelot Street, outside Cișmigiu.[160] According to one report, Blank left Romania in 1941, together with members of the British Legation.[12] However, Sebastian's accounts place him in Bucharest in 1942–1943, noting that his library was being seized by Romanian authorities on orders from Paul Sterian.[161] In late 1942 or early 1943, Blank was included on a list of Jewish hostages, presented by the Central Jewish Office as a guarantee of its loyalism toward the Ion Antonescu regime; also featured were writers Henric Streitman and Iosif Brucăr.[162] In early 1943, Sebastian notes, Blank was "looking for some refuge in the countryside."[163] He finally left Bucharest in April, at the peak of Allied bombing raids, and by June was living in Butimanu.[164]

Immediately after King Michael's Coup in August 1944, the Romanian Jewish community still looked up to Blank. Its members viewed him as the would-be Minister of Finance.[165] In January 1945, Blank (whose domicile was on Ferdinand Boulevard) reopened Cultura Națională as its majority stockholder. His new associates on this project were Teodorescu-Braniște, Sebastian, Alexandru Rosetti, and painter Jean Alexandru Steriadi.[166] Blank also helped Rosetti and Ionel Jianu with printing an art magazine, Lumină și Culoare.[1] With Teodorescu-Braniște, Rosetti, Gala Galaction, Petre Ghiață, Isaia Răcăciuni, Valentin Saxone, and Ion Vinea, he set up a liberal-democratic club, Ideea.[167]

Convict and emigrant[edit]

Blank also made repeated attempts to have the BMB assets returned to him, initially by cultivating National Peasantists such as Hudiță, but later focusing his efforts on the more powerful Romanian Communist Party.[82] As part of this approach, he joined the Romanian Society for Friendship with the Soviet Union and presided over its Financial Section.[82] Initially, Blank obtained support from a Communist Party leader, Ana Pauker, who was an in-law of his Adevărul colleagues. In October 1945, she allowed him to access BMB funds, with Blank promising that he was going to fully repay his creditors.[82] However, Blank also protected his family from the communist threat, sending Vota to live with Milenko in the United States; he visited them there in 1946, but opted to return to Romania in January 1947.[82] One of his final activities at Cultura Națională was putting out the first edition of Pavel Chihaia's novel, Blocada, which was immediately removed from bookshops by communist censors.[168] The publishing house was shut down that same year.[1]

Blank himself was eventually singled out for retribution after having maintained contacts with British and American diplomats. He witnessed the proclamation of a communist republic in 1948, by which time he had lost touch with his Western backers.[82] That year, the BMB was nationalized (though it continued to exist as a separate entity, under state management, to 1951); the company's former offices, a granite building on Doamnei Street, were taken by Romania's new secret police, the Securitate.[169] Blank himself was arrested as a spy on April 18, 1952, and put on trial for high treason, then sentenced to a 20-year imprisonment in May 1953.[82] At the time, his rival Manoilescu had also been identified as an enemy of the communist regime, and was sent to the labor colony of Ocnele Mari. Here, he met Pandrea, who recalls: "I made him recount the Blank bankruptcy, as a way of entertaining xenophobic inmates".[170]

Memoirist Ion Ioanid, who was held with Blank in Jilava prison for a while in 1954, recalls that the financier was well groomed, and still wearing a two-piece suit. According to Ioanid, Blank missed his son Milenko, whom he believed he would never see again, but resented him for choosing a career in the army: "I feel like a hen that's been hatching a duck's egg!"[159] Children from his other marriages had stayed behind in Romania. Reportedly, one of his daughters, Tina Stănescu, had married a mayor of Buzău, and was still living at Sinaia in the late 1940s, shunning all relations with less assimilated Jews.[171] Novelist Matei Călinescu remembers that one of Blank's former wives was living at a part-nationalized villa in Floreasca in 1954, alongside her daughter, Helen Blank-Bogdan, and two granddaughters, Mab and Manola. Helen's husband, the lawyer Horia Bogdan, was also serving a jail term.[172]

Blank's defense team was able to show that his conversations with foreigners were not covered by the Penal Code, and that papers found in his home were actually the early drafts of a novel.[82] In April 1955, his conviction for treason was overturned, and commuted into a three-year sentence for mishandling national secrets; he had by then served the equivalent in Jilava and Pitești, and was consequently set free.[82] Blank's health was compromised, and, having been made an Officer of the Legion of Honor before 1925,[173] he relied on medical support from the French Embassy. His visits brought him attention by Securitate operatives, and he was placed under surveillance.[82] Throughout the late 1950s, he made several requests for an emigration visa to France, supported in this by the French government and Zionist groups responding to Vota's appeals; in 1956, a delegation of the French National Assembly visited him in Bucharest.[82] His applications were denied by the Romanian side until March 1958, when he was finally allowed to leave for Paris.[82] Blank died there on January 1, 1960, his official birthday.[1][82]


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  2. ^ Annamaria Damian, "Expoziția El Bucarest sefardi. 500 anos de historia contados en 100 imagenes", in Revista de Istorie a Evreilor din România, Issue 2 (18), 2017, p. 15; George Gîlea, "Datorie de onoare pentru Mauriciu Blank", in Realitatea Evreiască, Issues 526–527 (1326–1327), November 2018, p. 25; Maschio & Păduraru, p. 287
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  167. ^ Ion Cristofor, "Memoriile lui Valentin Saxone", in Tribuna, Issue 58/2005, pp. 5–6
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