Celebrating a life

Iosif H Bercovici, circa 1985Iosif H. Bercovici-Andronic was a writer and translator of Yiddish language in Romania, whose value was recognized with a prestigious translation award of the Writers Guild in Romania in 1977. Self-taught and bohemian intellectual, journalist, left-wing militant for a better and fairer society, well acquainted with Romanian culture and lifetime friend with important writers, poets, journalists, artists of the interwar and post-war period, he had a long and tumultuous life marked by the two world wars and dictatorships of the twentieth century. He was devoted to making the Jewish culture known in Romania.

Iosif H Bercovici-cu un prieten-Bucuresti-1922
Iosif Bercovici (right), with a friend; circa 1922

Iosif H. Bercovici (Iosub Herş Bercovici) was born on April 14, 1898 in the village of Comăneşti, Suharău commune, Dorohoi County (today in Ukraine), as a son of Leiba and Malia Bercovici. He also had a three-year-old sister, Adela. His parents had a small shop in the village of Comanesti and they were in good relations with the villagers. Iosif’s father died when he was small, so what ensued was a very difficult childhood. Following the 1907 peasants’ revolt, the administrative authorities forced them to move to the city, although they had nothing to suffer from the villagers’ revolt. So the mother, Malia, a widow, moved with her two children, Adela and Joseph, to Herta, where she opened a small shop, which barely secured they livelihood. Later she remarried. Iosif was eager to learn and inherited from his mother the pleasure of reading, but because of the family’s difficult material situation, he could not continue his school. He had to start as apprentice when he was 11 years old, first at a local bookstore, then at a bookstore in Herta, and later as a shop boy at Braila. The First World War took him to Iassy and Odessa – living the dramas of refuge and war. After the war, he did his military service for three years at the cavalry (1919 – 1922), from where he remained with a lifetime love for horses. He married Riva Isac of Roman and they moved to Bucharest, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He had one child, Ana (1929-2001).

Iosif H Bercovici-portret-1922
Iosif Bercovici circa 1930

Iosif was a self-taught intellectual and an avid reader, with an endless thirst and an impeccable taste for quality literature. He earned his modest existence as a clerk at the Sugar Sales Office, at various editorial offices of newspapers and magazines (newspaper “Agrarul”, newspaper “Excelsior”), at the National Culture Publishing House. Between October 1940 and 1945, he lost his right to work due to being Jewish and had to perform compulsory labor, digging up corpses from bombings ruins, snow shoveling, and other chores imposed on the Jews.

Iosif H Bercovici-portret-1938
Iosif Bercovici circa 1950

After 1945 he was rehired as clerk at the Sugar Office, where he worked until 1948. He then worked at the Flacăra and Viaţa Românească cultural magazines, then at the Military Publishing House and at the “Military Life” magazine, from where he retired in 1957, at the age of 60. He had a career as editor, journalist, radio theater writer, playwright and translator of Yiddish culture into Romanian. He also published under the name Iosif H. Andronic.

Iosif H Bercovici - c. 1980
Iosif Bercovici circa 1975

He enjoyed the lifetime friendship of great culture figures of the time in Romania, mainly from the cultural avant-garde, such as Victor Brauner, H. Maxy, Ştefan Roll, Marcel Iancu, Brunea Fox or Saşa Pană, I. Ludo. He was a friend from his youth with the writer Ion Călugăru, with Cella Serghi and also with younger writers, such as Sânziana Pop, Gabriela Melinescu, Ion Horea, Paul Anghel and many others. He was loved for his culture and for his warm, generous, passionate nature. He had humor and spirit, he was elegant and polite, he had the cult of friendship. Literary talks, writings, conferences, and theater were his true passions. He contributed to the foundations of the “Flacara” and “Viata Romaneasca” journals, in the early years after WWII. He wrote to “Romania Libera”. His radio plays on historical themes were broadcast, casting major Romanian actors.

Iosif H. Bercovici-Andronic devoted the last decades of his life making known to the Romanian public the work of great Yiddish writers who were born and created in Romania, and who were important representatives of modernist trends in Europe between the two wars . He held numerous talks and published articles on these topics, as well as translations from Yiddish literature.

“The Book of Heaven,” by Itzic Manger, appeared at Kriterion Publishing House in 1971. For this translation, Iosif Andronic received the 1977 Writers Guild Prize. In the preface to this edition, Paul Anghel wrote: “The translator of this book, Iosif Andronic, a fine connoisseur and promoter of Yiddish literature in Romania … The translation of this book into Romanian is a welcome restitution.” “The Book of Heaven” was republished, 2nd Edition, in 1993. Itzic Manger (1901-1969) was a personality of the Yiddish culture in Romania, with a vast activity as a modernist poet, playwright, prose writer, essayist and musician.

In 1983, Iosif Bercovici-Andronic published the translation of a volume of poetry by Iacob Sternberg, “City in Profile” (Kriterion Publishing House, co-translator for poetry Andrei Roman). In the preface to this edition, Aurel-Dragoş Munteanu commented: “Undoubtedly, Iacob Sternberg is an exceptional Yiddish poet, and the difficulties of translating his artistic register into Romanian were not few. Only a lover of Yddish and an enthusiast such as Iosif H. Andronic could venture into such a risky enterprise … Their selection proposes for the first time a Romanian version of Sternberg’s poems, a happy circumstance, which helps us better know a cultural sphere that would should be studied closely, being designed to complete the cultural and historical picture of these places. ” Iacob Sternberg (1890 – 1973) was a director, playwright, avant-garde poet, and short prose writer. He organized the theater of the avant-garde “Theater Review” in Bucharest, the first such theater in Yiddish. In 1930, Sternberg set up BITS (“Bukareshter Yidishe Teater-Studiye”), which enjoyed great success and played a prominent role in the evolution of modernist tendencies in the European theater.

Although by now 90 years old, Iosif Bercovici-Andronic worked tirelessly and translated Itzic Manger’s ” Velvl Zbarjer writes letters to beautiful Malcale”; he did not live to see it published (the book appeared in 1992). Velvl Zbarjer was a Brody Singer, a Jewish troubadour.

Discreetly, simply, decisively, as he has lived all his life, Iosif Bercovici-Andronic passed in a single step, at almost 94 years of age, on December 20, 1991, into the world of memories.

All three books are now available, in their entirety and free, on Google Books:

Itic Manger, „Cartea Raiului” (ediția a II-a)

Itic Manger, „Velvl Zbarjer scrie scrisori frumoasei Malcale”

Iacob Sternberg, „Oraș in Profil”

Last update: March 14, 2022

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