Henry Wald – 80

Wald – as a state of mind

One year ago, Henri Wald recorded for the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Company’s Center for Oral History (C.O.H.) an interview in which he told the story of his life. The interview was conducted by Mariana Conovici, editor in chief of the C.O.H. We are publishing a few fragments from this material that she kindly provided to us.

  • Reflections on one’s own biography

    A childhood opposite the Baraseum

    I was born on October 31, 1920… I might say that I am an Oltenia man, in a way,… on Olteni Street, at the border of the Jewish ghetto, not far away from the Baraseum theater, in a room whose window was facing the theater. And what’s more curious is that I was born in a house where there was never a single book! My parents lived modestly – they were shop assistants. They both worked on Lipscani Street, in shops that were opposite… in fact, this is how they met, got married and made me! When I was 16, I was struck by the passion for philosophy, during a lesson of my teacher, Virgil Bogdan, the son of Bogdan Duica – I can still recall the name of the lesson: “The stream of consciousness in Henri Bergson’s philosophy”. Whether this was some sort of genetic programming waiting to be unleashed or a vocation, I don’t know. Only my readers will be able to tell whether it was vocation, or a mere inclination, or a mere… predilection for this business. My parents were very nice people, who loved me very much and raised me as well as they could with their level of education and culture; they were no culture or book lovers though, they were even a little scared by culture and by books. So not only did they not encourage me, but they also could have discourage me with their worries about a career that does not generally fit a young Jew [...].

    M. C.: I cannot help asking you what the war meant for your family and for you in particular. You told me – and I was already familiar with this – about your Marxist orientation. How did you get to favor the left wing? I asked several questions – this is not a very good thing, but I hope everything will somehow connect…

    My idols

    H. W.: I became familiar with the left wing movement around 1943, through the “Red Aid”. While in forced labor, I met someone who is dead now and who told me about this, and gave me a book. Then I started looking for it myself: Karl Kautsky on Marx, Franz Mehring’s monograph about Karl Marx… I began to like it. I was 21. I would ask myself, like Noica put it: “But who were your idols?” Until then, my idols had been: first of all – and still in place today – Titu Maiorescu, my favorite author at the high-school graduation exam, not just a brilliant mind… perhaps the most powerful, influential and decisive personality in the history of the Romanian culture. I don’t think we treasure him as much as we should!

    Enormously! I read him and read him again, many times until today, when I still read him. Then come the Romanian philosophers: Mircea Florian, I think the deepest philosopher that history, Romania, and the Romanian philosophy ever had; Lucian Blaga, whom I read with passion and interest, despite my disapproving of his right wing ideas, and who taught me many things, including the tremendous, decisive value of the metaphor in the genesis and the development of culture [...]. I first met Dinu Noica through one of his books, then I met him in person and we became friends; not close friends, but friends – a close friendship would have been too much, as he is better than me… Until his death, my relationship with him was a relatively close one; I went a couple of times to Paltinis… I already could not move a lot, but when he came to Bucharest, he called me and dropped by… He sat in this armchair, which was then placed over there, and we argued about some issues. In my opinion, he died with a right wing conception (not in a vulgar, political sense); as for me, I am preparing to do the same, only with a left wing conception! With him, I tried to set an example, to show that we can be good friends, that difference does not mean hierarchy, that divergence does not mean enmity. We find it very difficult to reason with people who are rather inclined to “personal attacks”. We are incapable of having civilized polemics or to write non-offending pamphlets! This proves the level of our culture. And, through joint efforts, we must overcome this level!

    As for your question about how I lived through the war, me, a Jew, I can tell you that everything happened embarrassingly well in comparison with what I found out later that had happened to others. I feel ashamed for having had the privilege of being protected – for I don’t know what merits – by my friends [...]. One of them warned me about the legionary rebellion, one day before it happened…

    M. C.: Tell us about this…

    The temptation to leave the country? Never!

    H. W.: …He told me “Leave your home, take your parents with you, run away and hide somewhere!”. That was all! And this is what I did! But a friend of mine, Nelu Mihailescu, a gendarme captain, found out about this – I didn’t know that he had. Hearing shots at the ground floor of the house where I had hidden (at a friend’s, on Calarasi Ave.), I sort of panicked. I said to myself that they were going to break the door, find me [...] and we were all going to be in trouble… But the ones who were shooting weren’t them! It was Nelu Mihailescu, who had come with his troops, and when the others got near the house, he fired into the air and chased them away! How was I supposed to know that he would spend the entire night in front of the building where I was hiding! [...] Of course, I went through all the general humiliations, but not in particular: I was kicked out of high-school… that is I had finished, but wasn’t allowed to graduate… I forgot to tell you that I had to repeat years twice, one time in the first elementary grade and the other time in the eighth secondary grade. I had to go to a Jewish high-school, where I studied with Mihail Sebastian and Isac Brucker (logics). I had to attend forced labor… I was a porter in the Obor Station, where I unloaded sacks, sacks of sugar… Only it had rained heavily and the sacks were impregnated with rain; they were full, and my physical appearance (which wasn’t much more Herculean than it is now) did not allow me to carry 100 kilos on my shoulders from the train to the warehouse. It was there that I was fondled by some sturdy Jews who later left for Israel and, with their dedication, sturdiness and heroism, built what came to be called the “wonder” of our century, the State of Israel.

    M. C.: I ask you once again if you never felt tempted to leave Romania and go to this wonder state which I see you truly admire, with all your heart?

    The Romanian language made me as much as I am

    H. W.: Not for a moment, not for a single moment, did my wife and I (my wife being Gothic-Dacian, not Jewish) think of leaving for Israel; the thought of leaving this country never crossed my mind! I feel tied not to the anti-Semitism in this country, but to this superb language and culture that I love! It made me as much as I am and I try to give back as much as I can! This was never an option and I wouldn’t be interested in it!

    …And I still am, I say it once again, a Marxist and an atheist.

    In my opinion, Judaism is, in its essence, an atheist philosophy, by the very fact that God is, after all, everything that is godly in us – spirituality, freedom, creativity… There isn’t anything else; these are God’s fundamental traits and these are man’s fundamental traits. Whether He gave them to us or we give them to Him, this depends on the position taken! I believe that God is the projection of our godliness in Heaven. I never hesitated to show my Jewishness, I never changed my name, I didn’t sneak perfidiously into the Romanian culture, but I entered it with verticality – as I was told when I was awarded a prize –, and I stayed vertical in it, I was never a conformist, but I always stayed true to my faith, I was always consistent, although Iorga said that “only oxen are consistent” – however, I did not risk this… I couldn’t do it otherwise; I have been and I am a consistent person.

    My conception of the world is based, from the point of view of the method, of the way of understanding, on the Marxist materialist dialectics. Oh, I don’t agree with all the things that some who were more or less Marxist did, though Marx himself wouldn’t have approved of them! I am always told that my Marxism is a Waldian one – some even call it Waldist! But there are other kinds of Marxism than the Leninist Marxism: the Stalinist Marxism, the Trotskyist Marxism, Rosa Luxemburg’s Marxism. So I am entitled to my own Marxism, too! But could it be otherwise? Is it possible for one to acquire a conception of the world without the very act of acquiring it already representing a personal interpretation? It’s not possible!

    Against the official ideas

    I cannot say I was a dissident, except during the last year of Communism… What I can say is that I was a “resistant”! The proofs are written down: my works from the last 40 years show how negligible the compromises I made (through language, through mentioning the Soviet Union, the Socialism…) were. In exchange, in all my papers, I rose myself against the official ideas? What are these ideas that I advocated? I’ll tell you some of them, very briefly:

    • the eulogy of individuality, seeing homogenization as reactionary, as a manifestation of the increasing entropy which levels, standardizes…

    • the eulogy of difference, thinking that unity doesn’t mean uniformity, but, on the contrary, that unity only exists through differences – the greater the differences, the more productive the unity…

    • I advocated creative liberty…

    • at the peak of the void Communist language, I pleaded – like Andrei Plesu said in a public speech, when I turned 75 – against this type of language, and for the use of an authentic speech, for the value of style… I pleaded for all these ideas that were against the cultural policy of the time, and this was no secret!

    To finish my answer, I resisted within ideas! I wasn’t a dissident, for I didn’t perform public actions, political actions, and I stayed – in my opinion – on consistently Marxist positions. I still show people who contradict me today that Marxism is about individuality; it is against individualism, but in favor of individuality; against subjectivism but in favor of subjectivity; in favor of creativity, of the freedom of speech and of opinion. Was it actually like that? Well, if it wasn’t, that means it wasn’t Marxism, Communism, but something else! National-Communism, national-Socialism! [...] I came to this paradox: when the Left becomes totalitarian, it ceases to be Left, it turns into the Right! For what characterizes the Left is the encouragement of differentiation, of individuality, of the development of the creative abilities – individuality being the sole source of creation! The community, the collectivity isn’t creative, it is productive! A creative collectivity is nothing but a group of creative individualities who collectivize, gather their creations.

    M. C.: Being a left wing thinker, you probably enrolled early in the Communist Party!

    H. W.: I only became a member of the Communist Party in 1946!

    M. C.: In what circumstances? Was it at your request?

    A resume full of penalties

    H. W.: It was by recommendation of the Communist organization of the Faculty of Philosophy, I guess… In 1946, I was still a student of the Faculty of Philosophy! Having been expelled from the University as a Jew, I was able to pass my exams between 1944 and 1946 and, in 1946, I got my degree with my professor, Mircea Florian, whom I continue to admire and to keep in the attention of the public opinion – and I see that others do it too, finally! So I think I became a member in 1946! Prof. Cioculescu, my former French teacher at the “Sf. Andrei” High-school, once asked me: “So, Wald, are you still in the Party?” I had already figured things out… Maybe I joined a party that I hoped would do what I thought it should; but later, step by step, not suddenly…, I realized that it had overturned the ration between the means and the purpose. The means became more important than the purpose, while the latter was put between parentheses! I was afraid, I had a wife, a child… I could not sacrifice them, so I was afraid to get out! I stayed in, but I wasn’t appreciated too much, they would always marginalize me; three votes of censure with warning, kicked out from the Faculty of Philosophy, kicked out from the Philosophy Institute, kicked out from the Linguistics Institute, kicked out from the Faculty of Journalism… I was saying earlier that life fondled me… When I told the former secretary of the Communist organization (whom I met after 1989) “Well, I was sort of a privileged, fondled, I always received from society more than I deserved!”, he said to me “But only ourselves gave you no less than two votes of censure with warning!”. “Precisely”, I replied, “that was more than I deserved!”.

    M. C.: You said, among other things, something extremely interesting about the right wing habits of the Romanian people? What did you mean by that? What are they?

    Not even Hitler accepted that those who were Christianized not be considered Jews anymore

    H. W.: [...] The Jews are rightfully considered oriented towards the future; they are seen as people who are always dissatisfied with the present and their dissatisfaction dissatisfies those amidst whom they live. Their perpetual uneasiness makes the peoples amidst which they are destined to live uneasy [...]. The Jew is an outside element, not because he belongs to another race, but – like I wrote in “Intelesuri iudaice” (“Judaic Meanings”) – because Jews share not the blood of their veins, but the blood that was drained from their veins by the others. To a large extent, Jews are being preserved and kept alive in history by the hatred around them, not only by their conception of the world, which is one of the two main conceptions of the European culture. I repeat it now, the whole European culture is based on a two-millennium old dialogue between a Greek and a Jew. All the other cultures are variations of this fundamental theme, in the absence of which we cease to exist. So, I am very proud of the contribution of the nation I belong to. But the exact thing that makes me proud, also makes us suspect to the others, the sedentary. It’s the suspicion of the sedentary against the nomads. And Jews continue to be nomads, not as much with their feet as with their mind. They run towards the future, towards utopias, dissatisfied with this present, always attracted by the most advanced ideas [...]. Not even Hitler accepted that those who were Christianized not be considered Jews anymore. Jews can be Christian Jews, Mosaic Jews or, like me, an atheist, atheistic Jews. This is why I can understand this suspicion – I don’t approve it, but I don’t condemn it either. I understand it and I think it ought to be overcome by culture. I think the entire Romanian people should understand that the difference between a Jew and a Romanian is equally beneficial for Romanians and Jews and that difference is the only thing that can nourish unity. Uniformity kills unity and turns it into uniformity. And uniformity is the stagnation of culture [...].

    Our brother and friend over the years… Dear Ricu Wald!

    Today we celebrate your anniversary – 80 years old – and we pay homage to your work of a lifetime. More than half a century passed from that first study published by “Revista Fundatiilor Regale” (“The Magazine of the Royal Foundations”) on “The Metaphysics of Mircea Florian’s Logics” and from those fascinating conferences of an unforgettable youth, on Gutenberg St…

    A prolific period, ennobled by a long train of researches and studies, of a genuine Waldian reference:

  • from “Rolul limbajului in formarea si dezvoltarea ideilor” (“The role of language in the formation and development of the ideas”) to “Structura logica a gandirii” (“The logical structure of thinking”);
  • from “Realitate si limbaj” (“Reality and language”) to “Limbaj si valoare” (“Language and value”);
  • from “Homo significans” to “Puterea vorbirii” (“The power of speech”);
  • from “Expresivitatea ideilor” (“The expressiveness of ideas”) to “Tensiunea gandirii” (“The tension of thinking”)…

    Let’s not leave outside this quick enumeration the captivating “Introducere in logica dialectica” (“Introduction to the dialectical logics”), nor the elements of “general epistemology”… And let’s not forget – but, on the contrary, mention it as a testimony coming from deep down inside – “Intelesuri iudaice” (“Judaic Meanings”), a genuine anthology of spirituality… Thus, your meditations on Judaism came to be entwined with your remarkable concern with the theory of language, showing us once again – as you claimed yourself – “the importance that Jews attach to word, reason, critical sense, progress, individuality”, to the firm belief that “An idea is born while talking”; and why the same Jews “reject both hermitage and gregariousness, both anarchy and tyranny, both skepticism and fanaticism”… For the rest, quoting you again: “the history of ideas is in a perpetual crisis”… but “humanity cannot live humanly without ideals”.

    And if “Israel means fighting God”, not capitulate before Him, what else could we wish our lifetime friend, Henri Wald, on this anniversary, than to keep fighting, never to capitulate, to resist with his noble moral obstinacy… And especially not to forget that every word and thought that he writes down, apart from completing his life and work, also gives us the power to endure!

    Our esteem and love for you, our dear friend, are limitless! And we wish you, on behalf of the entire board of our Federation, a happy anniversary, good health… and, once again, lots and lots of strength!

    Academy member Nicolae Cajal

    “He is continually driven by an unstoppable thirst for knowledge, for study, for synthesizing the Judaic philosophy. It appears that, like most of our intellectuals, he did not receive a Judaic education (spiritual, scientific or historical). But, in contrast with most of them, he ceaselessly wanders through the rich paths of the Judaic Eden, continuously tastes its fruits, partakes of its ravishing aroma, sips from the ‘ever-livelier’ source of the Torah. It is on these paths that we met – me, the rabbi, and him, the ‘atheist’ – and we became friends, despite this fundamental difference [...]. To be a Jew is to be [...] ‘a seeker of God’. Wald is seeking Him without realizing it”. (Chief Rabbi Dr. Moses Rosen)

    Leaving the strictly anniversary routine, Prof. Henri Wald’s joining the ranks of the eighty-year old offered – apart from the extolment of one of the most important Romanian Jewish contemporary scholars – the measure of true friendship, stronger than suffering. If the guide of so many brilliant incursions into the Judaic philosophy, the remarkable essayist present for 20 years on the pages of our magazine, could not be celebrated at the Federation’s headquarters, at the Library of the Coral Temple, the traditional place to celebrate the Judaic spirit, then the management of the Federation came to his home – the place of birth of his priceless books and articles – to pay their tribute of esteem to his work and their tribute of affection to the man. Academy member Nicolae Cajal, “Ricu Wald’s lifetime friend”, as he likes to call himself, expressed these feelings in his greeting letter and the excellence diploma “for the entire philosophical and pedagogical creation”, presented on behalf of the Federation’s board. Counsel Iulian Sorin pointed out the verticality of this intellectual’s conduct during the years of totalitarianism, when few intellectuals resisted the leveling conformities, beginning with the “obsessing decade” and finishing with the national-Socialism of the 1970s and 1980s. Writer Dorel Dorian recalled an impressive scene that had occurred in the foyer of the Radio House, during the recent exhibition “150 years of Jewish-Romanian journalism”: a group of students reading and discussing for long Henri Wald’s article “Vremea individualitatii” (“The time of individuality”), on the front page of the “Ideea” (“The Idea”) magazine, displayed on one of the panels. “The real vitality is measured in to the vigor of the human mind”, Dr. Alexandru Elias praised and encouraged Wald. To which the latter, visibly weakened from the physical point of view and walking with difficulty, replied: “If I were able to walk with my mind, I would run like Zapotek.”

    Visibly touched, Wald thanked the speakers and all the participants. He paid an affectionate tribute to the memory of his wife, who continued to live within his heart, he spoke of the telephone “presence” of his daughter, Ruxandra, calling from far away with clockwork-like precision, of the supreme values that he believes in: sincerity of the creative act, “touching” the idea in the classic colloquy, friendship. His spiritual joys, capable of facing the precariousness of the human condition, were completed that day by the joy to see himself surrounded by the respect and love of the close ones who wished him a happy anniversary and to be in good health.

    The cult of loyalty and the breezy colloquialism

    Paul Cornea

    “The cult of loyalty and the extraordinary inclination to breezy colloquialism are among the qualities of Ricu Wald that I would like to evoke on this festive occasion of his 80th anniversary. It would seem these are traits from separate fields, which may cross each other when necessary but do not bear anything intrinsic that would associate them. This is usually true, but, in Wald’s case, they are melded into the structure of his personality. Ever since I met him – and I am frightened by the number of years – Ricu Wald has bet on rationalism, but a flexible rationalism, which takes into consideration the affective tension of thinking and dialectically modulates itself. In many of his books, he defended rationalism against its numerous adversaries, including the “Trojan horse” represented by the dogmatism of reason, which forgets the critical sense, wastes itself in carelessness and can attain a blind ferociousness.

    A supporter of Marxism ever since the war, but of a Marxism rid of eulogy, of the simplifications of the party ideology, as well as of the social engineering of Leninism, Wald continues, somewhat ostentatiously, to parade these last years, when it has become an apparition for some and an uncomfortable mention for others. He discovered his vocation of philosopher as early as the college period, probably stimulated by the lectures of an eminent professor, Mircea Florian. He always thought – as he witnessed somewhere – that philosophy is the fullest expression of man’s liberty from the nature inside and outside him, from the superstitions and preconceptions of the societies amidst which he lives. He constantly defended this creed and he verified it by his own existence.

    And this is where what I called “breezy colloquialism” comes in; it is that unique ability of Ricu to turn an ordinary conversation into an ex cathedra lecture, or even an ephemeral exchange of words into a little charming show. The witnesses, limited to one person or extended to an audience, were enchanted by the impeccable clarity of his speech, by the wit of his language tricks and puns, by the entertaining spontaneity of his replies, by the effigy-like profile of his ideas. Behind this cascade of sparkling intelligence (relished by his friends, by many generations of students, but also by first-class intellectuals, very different from one another, from, say Ralea to Noica, or from Plesu to Paleologu), one could invariably feel the spiritual delicacy, the past, the wish not to offend anyone, the affectionate sociability.

    Now that I detach myself from the subjectivity of friendship and I try to behold him with the serenity of a destiny perspective, I notice that he consumed himself in self-consistency, in loyalty to his ideas and friends, in a relaxed and refreshing environment, made up of a rare combination of wisdom, verticality, humor and openness towards the others.

    May you live many years from now on, dear friend, and may these years be as good as possible!”(Paul Cornea)

    An irreducible

    Mihai Sora

    More than 50 years have passed since I met Ricu Wald, at Barbu Campina’s. (This is how the friends he had then called him and this is how he remained for me ever since: Ricu.) I don’t think he remembers meeting me: I stood secluded in a corner and said nothing. But I, in my turn, remember him very well, for he was occupying the proscenium: with his irresistible verve, he was telling what had happened to him, deciphering the meanings and laughing. His laughter was unforgiving, as if he were already foreseeing (an irreducible Marxist that he was) what was to come. He was laughing at the stupidity that was irresistibly multiplying all around us, at the wickedness that was catching shape with a frightening speed and was preparing to fasten its grip on us. Fallen from the Moon as I was, and seized by a horrified astonishment – for I couldn’t believe my eyes (being used to the normality that I had just left behind coming “home”) –, I remained silent. But he was telling the story and laughing. He was laughing because, being a Marxist (a true follower of Marx, not of the Leninist Marxism), he had already understood it all.

    Indeed, a sagacious analyst – natively endowed with that – and little willing to succumb to the illusion that had fooled some of his more naïve (and consequently more passionate) friends, he knew how to expose all the tricks of the monster that was attacking us from all directions. A salutary dose of skepticism grafted onto a foundation of irreducible rationalism helped him keep the verticality of his intellectual approaches intact. Of course, this came at a price: a certain self-marginalization that, if not entirely intended, was consented to, being seen as the price for the freedom of the expressed thought. (I say self-marginalization with a good reason: all that an intellectual of his size – and a genuine Marxist, too! – would have had to do was to consent and he would have been seized immediately by the ideological apparatus of the “leading force” and pushed into the “decision bodies”.)

    The same freedom of the thought that – despite his proclaimed Marxism – kept him away in the past from the stratagems of the dismantling Power that was just catching shape in Romania in the year when I met him (1948!), also helped him to defend his Marxist position these last ten years, when the repudiation of went on before December 1989 generally became a radical (imaginary) metamorphosis of the role played in illo tempore as the foundation of the role claimed today.

    Well, not him! Ricu Wald has no reason to revise his past in order to contrast it with his present somehow. Faithful to himself, he remains for us the unengaged intellectual whose thinking is only governed by a freely accepted rigor.(Mihai Sora)

    (from the “Ramuri” – “Branches” – magazine, no.9, September, 2000)