|Henric Ștefan Streitman|
Streitman in 1938
|Chairman of the
Central Jewish Office
February 1942 – December 1942
|Succeeded by||Nandor Gingold|
|Political party||People's Party (to 1932)|
|Profession||journalist, essayist, publisher, civil servant, diplomat|
|Religion||Jewish (lapsed Romanian Orthodox)|
Henric Ștefan Streitman (first name also Henric Șt., Henri or Henry, last name also Streitmann, Streittman, Ștraitman; 1873 – 1949) was a Romanian journalist, translator and political figure, who traversed the political spectrum from socialism to the far-right. He was a physicist, social commentator and publisher, known for both his polemical stances and his erudition. Often struggling financially, Streitman set up several short-lived periodicals, and involved himself in the cultural and political debates, from 1889 to the time of his death. In his early years, he was a promoter of natural selection ideas, and a translator of Marxist and naturalist literature.
A Romanian Jew who only preserved loose links with Judaism, Streitman left socialism behind before World War I, moving closer to the National Liberal Party, working alongside Ion G. Duca and Constantin Banu; he returned to public life in the 1920s as an anticommunist. He then affiliated with the People's Party, serving two terms in the Senate of Romania, where he represented Bukovina. He associated with figures on the Romanian far-right, including Octavian Goga and Pamfil Șeicaru, and eventually joined the National Agrarian Party in 1932. However, in the late 1930s, the ascent of antisemitism put his political career on hold.
Streitman turned to Nazi collaborationism during World War II, becoming president of the Central Jewish Office. This assignment pitted him against non-collaborationists such as A. L. Zissu, whom Streitman had imprisoned. However, his was a ceremonial office, with many of its functions supplanted by the executive leader, Nandor Gingold. Streitman survived the war by a few years, but, unlike Gingold, was never brought before the Romanian People's Tribunals.
Streitman was a native of Piatra Neamț town, which is located in mountainous Western Moldavia. He was born into the Judaic religion, and converted to Romanian Orthodoxy later in life, but was again a practicing Jew by 1941. Like the majority of Romanian Jews living before 1920, Streitman was non-emancipated and not yet eligible for Romanian citizenship. Young Streitman was privately tutored, in both German and French, by the Count Jurawski, a Polish refugee. As he recalled decades later, "the all-knowing, all-forgiving" Jurawski was also an amateur scientist, introduced his pupils, and Moldavians in general, to Lamarckism and Darwinism.
Enrolled at high school, Streitman also followed Romanian politics, and was close to the budding socialist movement of students. In 1889, he began collaborating with Garabet Ibrăileanu's journal Școala Nouă, appearing alongside the young socialists Izabela Andrei, Panait Mușoiu, Raicu Ionescu-Rion. His articles covered a vast category of subjects, introducing the Romanian public to developments in sociology, hard science, and philology. The only speaker of German in that group, he is presumably by some as the author of articles signed I. Chilieanu (others believe this was Ibrăileanu's own pen name). Both the anonymous article and Streitman's signed pieces discuss the differences between literary naturalism and realism, and the naturalism vs. "pornography" debate of the 1880s.
Streitman was educated abroad, and trained in several fields. He studied Physics and Chemistry at the universities of Göttingen, Zurich, Berlin, and then at the Technical College Stuttgart. Although he had become an expatriate, he continued to send his articles to Școala Nouă, before it ultimately succumbed in May 1890. In Germany, Streitman was university colleagues with several prominent Romanian intellectuals of various political hues: Barbu Brănișteanu, Gheorghe Gh. Longinescu, Simion Mehedinți, Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaș, etc. He also traveled out of Central Europe, and heard lectures in Philosophy at Rome University. He eventually obtained a Sc.D. in Physical Chemistry, and a license degree in Philosophy.
Reportedly, the young writer made his full debut in journalism in 1894, when he contributed to the radical-liberal newspaper Românul. However, he was by then affiliated with the Sotir Circle of socialists, Bucharest, and began contributing to the socialist magazine, Munca. Among his colleagues there was a female journalist, Rachel Vermont, who became his wife. Together, they completed and circulated translations of scientific and scientistic literature. In 1894, Henric and Rachel Streitman published the first volume of Max Nordau's Degeneration. A year later, the literary duo returned with a version of August Bebel's Woman.
Prezentul and Viitorul
Streitman's work was soon acknowledged in the literary profession, and discussed by Constantin Stamatin-Nazone in his 1894 essay Profilurĭ ("Profiles"). As argued by historian of journalism G. Brătescu, Streitman impressed and influenced the greats of Romanian journalism with his "subtle, malicious, ironic, doubting, often indulgent" writing style. Moreover, Brătescu writes, Streitman was an "erudite" and a competent reader of both secular and religious literature. In 1902, Streitman followed up with the booklet Oamenii zilei. Instantanee ("People of the Day. Snapshots"), signing it with the pen name Almaviva.
In February 1903, he was ultimately naturalized Romanian by special vote of the Senate. For a while, he affiliated with the Romanian Society for Literature and Arts, an abortive professional organization, noted for attempting to group under one roof the Romanian writers and their non-emancipated Jewish colleagues. This body, created by N. Petrașcu, officially admitted him in December 1904. With Dumitru Karnabatt as his secretary, Streitman was putting out a new Bucharest newspaper, Observatorul ("The Observer").
He took his journalistic career further when he a new daily, Prezentul ("The Now") and, in 1908, the weekly Cuvinte Libere ("Free Words"). Prezentul was engaged in polemics with Furnica, the satirical magazine. The latter hosted rhyming jokes about Streitman's supposed sensationalism. Streitman's coworkers and employees were Rudolf Uhrinowsky, ridiculed by Furnica for his unusual surname, poet Victor Eftimiu, and (Eftimiu noted) Adrien Le Corbeau, already famous as a habitual plagiarist. Joining them as literary contributors were three young poets, all of them representing the Romanian Symbolist movement: Mihail Cruceanu, Al. T. Stamatiad, and Eugeniu Sperantia. According to Eftimiu, Prezentul was a struggling business, occupying an unheated room on Macca Arcade, with Streitman often missing out on payments for his staff. In March 1910, Streitman's entire mobile property was confiscated by court order, and auctioned off to pay off his debt to an R. Goldemberg.
The two papers did not survive this, and Streitman returned to regular publishing work. He was soon appointed editor in chief of Viitorul, a newspaper put out by the National Liberal Party, with Ion G. Duca and Constantin Banu as managers, while he was also a "very close" collaborator of Banu's own review, Flacăra. Still a nominal left-winger, Streitman announced in December 1912 that he would be putting out a new magazine of his own, Realitatea ("Reality"), its mission being to "strip public life of all ideology, of all phraseology"; during those years, he was being approached by right-wing politicians, becoming friends with Duca, then also with Constantin Angelescu and Constantin Argetoianu. In January 1913, Streitman also became involved with Romania's first journalists' union, the General Association of the Press. Alongside Karnabatt, Constantin Bacalbașa, Constantin Costa-Foru, Scarlat Lahovary, Constantin Mille, Barbu Brănișteanu, I. Hussar, he held seat on a steering committee which approved of new entries.
In 1910 and 1911, Streitman worked as a translator for Biblioteca Lumen company, publishing Henri Murger's Scènes de la vie de bohème, Bebel's Women and Socialism, and the short stories of Vladimir Korolenko. Streitman's version of Henri James de Rothschild's play, La Rampe, was used in production by the Alexandru Davila company. N. D. Cocea, a fellow socialist and a theater chronicler, noted that the production failed, not least of all because of Streitman's adaptation. According to Cocea, Streitman had an "elevated style" of writing, but was also a "very busy man", which meant that his text was published with many grammatical mistakes.
World War I and People's Party
Streitman's career came to a halt during the debates and campaigns of World War I. In 1914, when Romania was still neutral territory, he published a monograph on the life and ideas of Jean Jaurès, the recently assassinated SFIO leader. His old adversaries at Furnica alleged that he was in business with his National Liberal contacts, a middleman for "compensation" exports to countries of the Central Powers. Streitman stayed behind enemy lines after the occupation of southern Romania. According to several accounts, he was picked up as a hostage by the German Army, and interned for a while at Tismana Monastery. He was active in occupied Bucharest following Romania's armistice, an editorial director of Virgil Arion's Renașterea newspaper, which promoted reconciliation with the Germans. According to Alexandru Macedonski of Literatorul (himself a Germanophile), Streitman's arrival at Renașterea was good news, Streiman being "one of the most brilliant Romanian journalists", "a man of great culture and a writer of great talent".
After the German capitulation, Streitman returned in force at the center of Romanian cultural life. He became known as the owner of a library and art salon, Hasefer, which occupied a Venetian-style villa in Bucharest. In January 1919, he was at the forefront of trade unionism in Greater Romania, becoming co-founder of the Union of Professional Journalists (UZP). At age 44, he was the oldest member, unanimously voted in as UZP President following a proposal made by Pamfil Șeicaru.
The journalist then returned to political life, a committed anticommunist. As Brătescu writes, he rejected socialism after the October Revolution, and supported the National Liberal Party without joining its ranks. Before the electoral year 1920, Streitman joined the politically diverse People's Party (PP), where he worked alongside the Romanian nationalist poet, Octavian Goga. The Jewish journalist sent articles to the PP's own press organ, Îndreptarea. He was an enthusiastic follower of the party leader, General Alexandru Averescu. In retrospect, he spoke of Averescu as an "imperturbable and incorruptible" figures, chosen by providence to enact a program of "prosperity and order".
Streitman was nominated for an eligible seat in a Jewish circumscription, in the newly attached region of Transylvania. Goga campaigned in his favor, telling Jewish voters that "a Jewish intellectual of the Old Kingdom" would be best positioned to advance their demands; Streitman failed at convincing them, probably because Transylvanian Jews wished to be considered separate from the Old Kingdom Jews. More recognition his public role in Jewish and Romanian life came in early 1921, when the PP government assigned him to welcome back in Romania Moses Gaster, the expelled Jewish community leader and scholar. Streitman met Gaster at Curtici, and led him to Arad, inspiring his subsequent address to the city's Jewish community.
Following the 1920 setback, Streitman focused his political ambitions on another one of Greater Romania's newer regions, campaigning for the Jewish vote in Bukovina during the race of 1922. As a PP candidate, he was involved in the provincial conflict opposing two advocates of Jewish rights: Mayer Ebner, of the People's Council Party, and Benno Straucher, of the Jewish National People's Party. While Straucher became a National Liberal ally, Streitman and Karl Klüger where signed by Ebner onto a People's Council Party list for the Senate: Streitman for Storojineț, Klüger for Cernăuți. Streitman worked as a councilor for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which probably interrupted his senatorial mandate. Records of the time describe him as "formerly a senator".
At that stage, Streitman was being courted by the radical modernists and the avant-garde. Resuming his contacts with the socialists, he with N. D. Cocea's leftist review, Facla. In his articles there, Streitman used the pen name Omul de pe stradă ("Man on the street"). Streitman's essays were also featured in Contimporanul, a political and art magazine put out by Cocea's pupil, Ion Vinea: his name appears Contimporanul pages from the very first issue, on June 3, 1922. He thus joined the original Contimporanul crew, which mainly comprised left-wing or politically independent social critics, generally adverse to the National Liberal Party. These included,among others, Eugen Filotti, Benjamin Fondane, Nicolae L. Lupu, Camil Petrescu, and Dem. Theodorescu. Streitman was also one of the guest writers for the special issue honoring Arghezi's contribution to literary life. As "V. Dănoiu", Fondane celebrated in Streitman a contributor to both Romanian journalism and Romanian literature: "[In Streitman,] the Jews have given us a journalist who could become illustrious in any foreign literature, considering his gracious style, his subtlety and delicious irony."
In July 1923, Streitman represented the Jewish Romanians at a congress of ethnic minority journalists, hosted by Árpád Paál in Arad. Also that year, he collected a volume of his Revizuiri ("Revisions"), republishing his 1894 translation from Nordau in 1924; his wife Rachel remained focused on Darwinist literature, and, before the echoes of the Scopes Trial were first felt in Romania, had translated a Darwinian popularization booklet by Émile Ferrière. Overall, according to his colleague Fondane, Streitman remained an "isolated" journalist, shunned by his press colleagues, "many of whom are Jews". Eventually, two Jewish avant-garde magazines took up his work: Puntea de Fildeș and Isac Ludo's Adam.
Both Streitman and Klüger were reelected to Senate on the Averescu–Ebner platform during the race of May–June 1926, which returned the PP to government. The PP's selection was hotly contested by Romania's other right-wing venues, who accused Streitman of harboring anti-Romanian sentiments, and implied that his patron, Goga, was politically incompetent. A rumor circulated that, at the height of the world war, Streitman had called the Romanians "a gang of thieves, consumed with alcoholism and syphilis".
The antisemitic attack on Streitman was taken up in Parliament by the opposition National-Christian Defense League (or LANC), through the voice of Transylvanian Valeriu Pop. Pop, who noted that the supposed quote could be traced back to Die Weltkampf paper (of the Militant League for German Culture), accused the PP of having betrayed the cause of "nationalist activity". Streitman was publicly defended by another parliamentarian, Mișu Papp-Craiova, who called himself a man of "antisemitic principles". Papp-Craiova argued: "Streitman was the only Jew to have exhibited a dignified attitude during the war. [...] this particular Jew has never described himself as a Jew, but has always said he was a Romanian."
Streitman was among the diplomats who worked at tightening Romania's links with the Polish Republic, in the context of the Polish–Romanian Alliance. He was an official rapporteur at the Polish–Romanian Conference, held at Galați, and contributed an essay on the history behind that cooperation. It was taken up by Societatea de Mâine magazine, with an editorial note announcing that Streitman was working on three "literary volumes": Între da și nu ("Between Yes and No"), Ziua e scurtă ("The Day Is Short"), Elogiul ipocriziei ("In Praise of Hypocrisy").
Averescu's premiership ended abruptly in June 1927. Streitman still served in the Foreign Ministry after the National Liberals carried the day, and, during the mandate of Nicolae Titulescu, traveled extensively in Europe. Nevertheless, he maintained a correspondence on the subject with Averescu, informing him about things he had "seen, heard, and thought about" during his trips. The People's Party made Streitman its Lower Chamber candidate in the 1928 election, moving him from Storojineț to Cernăuți. Of his planned volumes, only Între da și nu came out, in 1928, at Editura Cultura Națională, earning attention as a "paradoxical and savory" work.
Between Facla and the far-right
Although no longer holding a seat in Parliament, Streitman was one of Romania's delegates to the 25th Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference, while also representing Romania within a journalists' version of the Little Entente, alongside Filotti and Emil Fagure. He also remained active as an adviser of the Romanian far-right. In his own pamphlet, Mustul care fierbe ("The Boiling Must"), Octavian Goga paid homage to Streitman as the "fine analyst". Goga cited his admiration for Streitman against those who reproached him his antisemitism: "I have never professed that stupid kind of intolerance." At the time, Streitman also advised and financed his friend Șeicaru to set up the nationalist daily, Curentul. In its original edition, this political tribune employed other Jewish men of letters, among them F. Brunea-Fox and Moses Rosen. In 1930, Streitman launched a new magazine of his own, the short-lived Observatorul Politic și Social ("Political and Social Observer").
Streitman signed up for the 1931 electoral campaign as a PP candidate, again in Bukovina. When, in 1932, Goga left the PP to found his own National Agrarian Party (PNA), Streitman followed suit. Three years later, this group merged with Streitman's old adversaries, the LANC. Paradoxically, the Jewish Streitman became an election agent for the resulting National Christian Party (PNC), a notoriously antisemitic force. The PNA and PNC both had fascist leanings and, according to political scientist Manus I. Midlarsky, were ideologically close to the more powerful Iron Guard. He writes: "The PNA had been founded by the poet Octavian Goga who propounded an anti-Semitic populism. [The PNC and the Iron Guard] would compete for the right-wing nationalist votes".
Although working within the PNA and befriending the fascists, Streitman still assisted with leftist causes. Also in 1932, he joined the staff of Facla, where he was colleagues with several leftist and rightist political commentators: Sergiu Dan, Ion Călugăru, N. Davidescu, Sandu Eliad, Nicolae Carandino. Following up on Între da și nu, he returned in late 1933 with the volume Mi se pare că... ("Signs Point to..."), at Alcaly Publishers. A praise of agnosticism and relativism, it appeared on Pompiliu Păltânea's list of notable prose works for 1934. According to Păltânea: "Mr. Henri Streitman reveals his very own manner [...] of searching for the truth through the most distant detours, those that run into surprises and open up grand perspectives." Doctor Ygrec, the reviewer at Adevărul, found the book amusing overall, but objected to its "commonplace" jokes about God as an anthropomorphism deity. Underneath this covering, "it would seem to me that Mr. Streiman is a religious man".
Streitman was still a confidant of Duca, by then National Liberal chairman, who ultimately became Prime Minister in late 1933. He recorded Duca's premonition of his assassination by the Iron Guard: "Now begins the I. G. Duca tragedy..." A while after this, Streitman was a correspondent for N. D. Cocea's far-left magazine, Reporter, which published his essays (signed Quidam and Alcest); but also worked with the right-wing Ion Gigurtu at Libertatea. On May 21, 1937, he was one of several journalists awarded Czechoslovakia's Order of the White Lion—other recipients for that day include Brănișteanu, Fagure, Demostene Botez, Ion Clopoțel, Romulus Dianu, and Constantin Gongopol.
At an early stage in World War II, under successive fascist regimes, Romania sealed its alliance with Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers, and made antisemitism an official policy. When the Iron Guard imposed its National Legionary State, Streitman found himself included on lists of "Judaic writers" or "Hebrew thistles", who had "nothing in common with the spiritual structure of the Romanian peasant". The Guardists were eventually thrown out by Conducător Ion Antonescu, but this turn of events only increased pressures on the Jewish community. Radu Lecca, the Jewish Affairs Commissioner, began organizing a system of coercion, which was to be supervised in his name by the so-called Central Jewish Office (CE). It was seen by the German envoys as the Romanian answer to a Judenrat, capable of assisting in the enforcement of the "Final Solution".
Streitman probably owed his appointment to the CE to his good rapport with all sides of the political spectrum, and especially to his friendship with Antonescu's friend, Veturia Goga. According to University of Haifa scholar Bela Vago, he may also have been favored by a special German envoy, Gustav Richter, who also approved of Lazar Halberthal (Streitman's proposal for the Bucharest Jewish Community Presidency, and formerly a Macabi București sportsman).
The journalist remained a figurehead, publishing appeals to calm and obedience, and leaving most administrative work to his second-in-command, Nandor Gingold, M. D. Ethnically Jewish, but a lapsed Catholic by religion, Gingold justified his own compliance by noting that obvious resistance to Nazi demands would bring immediate destruction upon the Romanian Jews. Similarly, in the Jewish weekly Gazeta Evreiască, Streitman informed his fellow Jews that the moment required a special kind of reasoning: "with our heads, and not with our nerves, and not with our backbone."
This attitude made Streitman and adversary of the dissident Jews, who still refused to take Lecca's orders. At some point in 1942, Streitman found himself opposed by the Zionist activist A. L. Zissu, who called him a traitor and a renegade. According to historian Hildrun Glass, Zissu was making himself known as the "intransigent" community leader, and, as result of his conflict with Streitman, was interned at the Târgu Jiu camp for political prisoners.
Although they countersigned Lecca's extortion measures, no CE official was ever directly involved in the main criminal actions against the Jews, including the deportations to Transnistria. Streitman himself only served in the CE between February and December 1942, being succeeded by Gingold. His last years were brought his return to activism, this time as a Revisionist Zionist, working for a massive Jewish resettlement in British Palestine. Meanwhile, in February 1946, his CE colleagues were brought in front of the Romanian People's Tribunals, whereupon Gingold and Vasile Isăceanu were given life sentences. Streitman survived the 1947 establishment of a communist regime, which, although anti-Zionist, preferred to ignore him and his political stances.
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- Deletant, p. 121; (Romanian) Edward Kanterian, "Subiectivitate și obiectivitate în Jurnalul lui Mihail Sebastian", in Revista 22, Bucureștiul Cultural supplement, Nr. 11/2007; Vago, pp. 696, 707–708, 717–718
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