Benjamin Fundoianu was the penname of Benjamin Wechsler, born into a Jewish family in Jassy, Moldavia, in 1898. Like many other modernist and avant-garde poets of the inter-war period, Fundoianu began as a symbolist, inspired by a long list of Romanian and foreign poets, including Alecsandri and Eminescu. His early symbolism occasionally alternates with the neo-romanticism typical of the time. The modernism that emerged in his poetry was inspired by his contemporary Tudor Arghezi, whom Fundoianu emulated in some of his writings.
Fundoianu proved to be an avid reader of poetry and a remarkable essayist, capable of incisive critical judgements in articles on works by his contemporaries and writers of the past.
In his History of Romanian Literature from its Origins to the Present (1941), George Călinescu classes Fundoianu as a traditionalist poet, even though the poems themselves point to the same Expressionism as can been found in the work of Lucian Blaga, another great name in Romanian literature.
Fundoianu and Blaga are regarded as Romanian literature’s only Expressionist poets. Fundoianu’s Expressionism resides in his ability to harness destructive forces, allowing him to present objects in a distorted way without them disintegrating, to shake the world to its foundations without destroying it.
Fundoianu’s Hertsa cycle is one of his most significant, depicting nature as a paradise on the verge of collapse, a place that is now bucolic, with herds of cows wending their way home to a village that merges with the surrounding fields, now a strange world in which noise and silence become indistinguishable, in an undeniably consummate stylistic effect.
After emigrating to France in 1924, Fundoianu began signing his work—now mostly philosophical essays—under the Gallicised name Benjamin Fondane. In February 1940, he was called up by the French Army and in June was taken prisoner. He escaped and was recaptured, but was eventually released due to illness. In 1942 he lost his Romanian citizenship as a result of anti-Semitic legislation passed by the Romanian fascist dictatorship and, having been deemed Jewish, his work was officially banned in his home country. In 1944, Fundoianu, who had been living clandestinely, was anonymously denounced as a Jew, arrested by the Gestapo and, after deportation to Auschwitz, murdered in a gas chamber.