Journal 1935-1944

Source: Mihail Sebastian (trans. Patrick Camiller), Journal 1935-1944 (London: Pimlico, 2003, orig. pub. 1996), p. 162

Text: Saturday, 2 September 1944

I went to the cinema this afternoon. A Soviet film had been billed at the Scala, but there were no tickets for the four o’clock show. So I went to the Aro to see Intermezzo again after all these years, with Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman.

What a pleasure it was to hear and understand English; to see a film so technically subtle and accomplished. How human is Leslie Howard, how decent in his humanity!

On the way out I passed the Scala again and this time found rear balcony seats for Benu and myself at six o’clock.

The newsreel was fascinating. It showed a parade of German prisoners in Moscow. Huge columns of tired, dirty, shabby animals, with nothing recognizable from the sportily provocative elegance of the Hitlerite troops who paraded in Bucharest. Troglodyte faces, as if taken from anti-Semitic and anti-Bolshevik propaganda photos in Das Reich. How easy it is to turn a human face into an animal’s! Those clean-shaven, well-dressed, bathed, groomed, and polished young men, who used to reside at the Ambassador Hotel, did perhaps sincerely believe that the Jews lying in mudheaps and pools of blood in Poland and Transnistria were a lower species of dog that anyone could shoot with impunity.

How stunned, how horrible were the German generals in today’s film, as they marched between bayonets at the head of the column!

In that one vengeful image you can see the reality of victory.

The main feature was a film with a war theme: naive, rather crude and childish. Mais le coeur y est.

Comments: Mihail Sebastian (1907-1945) was the pen-name of the Jewish Romanian playwright and noveliest Iosif Hechter. Sebastian’s journal, not published until 1996 – when it gained huge acclaim – records the rise of Fascism in Romania through to the Second World War, the fall of the dictator Ion Antonescu’s fascist government on 23 August 1944, and Romania joining the Allies. Sebastian suffered from anti-Semitic persecution, but survived the war, only to die in a motor accident in May 1945. The American film Intermezzo was first released in 1939. The Aro cinema refers to the Patria Cinema in Bucharest, part of the ARO office building. It is close to the Scala cinema. Both still operate as cinemas.

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