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In Memoriam Leon Volovici (1938-2011)

de (4-12-2011)
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Personal ties when developed from professional ones, will usually remain linked by the weight of the professional ones. „My times” with Leon, that lasted exactly two decades, are such a combination of closeness based on the profession. Although we never had barbecue together, but we did have pleasant talks at numerous events spanning the years, when one is able to know both his work and the person behind it.

I got to know him for the first time – following brief sayings of „shalom”- twenty years ago, in December 1991, at the first major international conference on the history of the Jews in Romania at Tel-Aviv University organized by Liviu Rotman.  Leon handed me a dedicated English edition ( later to be translated into Romanian) of his Nationalist Ideology and Antisemitism : The Case of Romanian Intellectuals in the 1930’s”, a landmark book not only for the Romanian reader, but even more for the foreign ones. At that conference I heard him for the first time, his paper was on „Romanian Jewish Intellectuals after World War I : Social and Intellectual Trends”.

I have seen him the last time, in November 2011, frail but determined to come with Hanna and serve as chairperson at yet another major international conference on Romanian Jewish history at Tel-Aviv University organized by the Romanian Cultural Institute. I have replaced him after a session, when he looked too tired. I did not refer to his health, but diplomatically remarked that we are grateful that he made the effort to come „down” from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv with the crazy traffic.

In between these two decades I have seen him lecturing and talking, working hard at the Wiesel Commission ( the International Commission of Historians on the Holocaust in Romania) , participated with him in several events commemorating the late Jean Ancel, and at numerous events the he conducted, lectured at Yad Vashem, the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University, where he served for years as Head of Research, and through his deep commitments to the Center for the History of Romanian Jews at the Hebrew University, and at conferences, seminars in Cluj, Bucharest and Iasi.

I got to know him better after reading the dedicated copy that he sent me of his „De La Iasi La Ierusalim Si Inapoi. This wonderful and thoughtful book rounded up parts of his personality and personal life on aspects that I did not know, or never came up in our discussions. From this book I learned on the pains of leaving a native land and the early difficulties of becoming an Israeli, a long journey from Iasi to the hills of Jerusalem, and perhaps in sense, a journey also back, as the title of his book.

In 2001 or was it 2002, when there were daily shellings of his Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem with people injured, and houses destroyed from the close Palestinian village, we were standing during a reception with warm and cold drinks on a balcony during a conference at the Hebrew University He was updated ( was it already by mobile?) that his family is OK, and I told him that in Iasi you could never have such a display of contrasts, drinking and eating as your house is being shelled, and all this in one city, a few kilometers away. His reply was, that „Yes, true, but we did have other scenes in Iasi”.  It was so characteristic of  his sense of humor, quite similar to that of Jean Ancel, a sarcasm that always returned to the pains of Jewish history.

Leon was an utterly convincing and receptive person without raising his voice. Even his polemical language that became known to readers in the Romanian media, was calm and measured, emotional but without becoming too emotional. His contributions during the sessions of the Wiesel Commission were on this line, a deep analysis and not so much arguments on facts and statistics. He was always open to various ideas, expanding his horizons, and perhaps the Romanian readers were less exposed to his vast contribution to the understanding of the dynamics of modern anti-Semitism, especially in the former communist states.

His modesty was well known, so was his readiness to advise and help, yet without being the „macher” type who „arranges” contacts and meetings by activating people and „networking” as a way of life.

Perhaps it was in his typical sense of humor, that the chapter entitled „Experienta Poloneza” in his book describes his meeting with Hanna (Hania), which became a loving marriage with her and Polish culture. He was proud of Anna and Marc, but not pushing his pride, as some of us parents and grandparents do it, you had to show keen interest in order to receive an update on the family.

We academics, measure losses of friends also through a „historical perspective”. Leon, was among the „younger of the elders”. He belonged to the tragic pre-War generation, born in 1938, in contrast to the „elders of the younger generation” like myself, who were born after the Holocaust. In generational terms Leon’s passing away, at what today is not considered an advanced age, is, as when we mourned Jean Ancel, the passing away of a unique generation with their unique experience and determination to pass on their legacy to the future generations. Leon certainly was a major pillar of this edifice of legacy built for the future.

But behind such generational generalizations, is the private person, so much respected and appreciated and missed by family, friends, colleagues.

Raphael Vago teaches Modern East European history at Tel-Aviv University and was member of the International Commission of Historians on the Holocaust in Romania


  • Singer: (5-12-2011 la 10:12)

    Incredibil, cand si de ce a murit ? Sincere regrete si condoleante.

  • Andrea Ghita: (5-12-2011 la 15:33)

    Leon Volovici a fost un om erudit, modest, nobil si generos. Prin gestul sau minunat de a-l insoti pe Alexandru Sever, in ultima sa calatorie in Romania, i-a oferit batranului scriitor, cu sanatatea subreda, posibilitatea de a participa la premiera piesei sale Ingerului slut, la Teatrul National din Cluj, in martie 2005.
    Cele cateva intalniri cu Leon Volovici si lectura cartii sale autobiografice imi raman amintiri luminoase.
    Fie-i memoria binecuvantata!

  • Vlad Solomon: (5-12-2011 la 16:48)

    Un excelent articol in memoriam, in care Rafi Vago scrie in amintirea si despre Leon Volovici, nu despre el insusi, relatia dintre ei fiind secundara. Thanks, Rafi.

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Citește articolul precedent:
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