I am surprised this work is not better known. A literary diary of a Romanian Jew, it captures the beauties of European high culture during the pre-war thirties, most of all classical music and early 20th century literature, but also the only slighter later descent into madness. It’s his friends and fellow intellectuals who turn on him the most. I don’t know a better source for capturing the sense of surprise and then foreboding that people must have felt as Hitler racked up one victory after another.
In late 1944, after the course of the war had reversed, Sebastian wrote:
I am not willing to be disappointed. I don’t accept that I have any such right. The Germans and Hitlerism have croaked. That’s enough.
I always knew deep down that I’d happily have died to bring Germany’s collapse a fraction of an inch closer. Germany has collapsed — and I am alive. What more can I ask? So many have died without seeing the beast perish with their own eyes! We who remain alive have had that immense good fortune.
Miraculously, Sebastian survived the Holocaust and was never deported to the camps. On 29 May 1945, however, he was hit and killed by a truck in downtown Bucharest, while walking on his way to teach class.