Jewish Identity In Postwar Yugoslavia

By Dina Katan Ben-Zion
My curiosity with regard to the literature written in Yugoslavia in the second half of the twentieth century was aroused by the impact of reading Tomb for Boris Davidovic by Danilo Kis, a few years after its publication in the mid-seventies. It was emotionally and intellectually a moving experience, which led to my taking a growing interest in fiction written by Yugoslav authors. Their work revealed to me a whole world, elements of which were in many ways profoundly familiar to me. I was surprised to discover that a handful of the Jews remaining in Yugoslavia, after the extensive Jewish emigration at the end of the forties, gave birth to relatively numerous writers of great talent, and that even non-Jewish authors wrote about Jews and Jewish life in a surprisingly authentic manner and with profound understanding.
Studying at Zalman Aranne School of History at Tel Aviv University I became interested in researching that theme from both literary and historical aspects. The study that followed (based on my M.A. thesis)1 and the present volume represent a unique research - until lately one of its kind2 - of the literature dealing with Jews and Judaism, written in the former Yugoslavia after World War II. In the course of working on this study additional chapters were added, so as to deal with the state of the literature and with its development in Yugoslavia, including some works that were published in the nineties.
Since any discussion of literature involves the aesthetic aspect as an inseparable part of what the author seems to convey to the reader, and since many of the works mentioned are not available in Hebrew, I preferred to include as many citations as possible. Thus the reader is presented in many cases with a sampling of the text that bears witness to the subject matter and the literary form or to its unique style.3
In several cases the discussion of the work includes some aspects of its reflection in the mirror of the local literary criticism and research. I chose to include this so as to enlarge the scope of the study and saw this as part of the task that seemed indispensable when one writes about the literature of the so called "local language", which a foreign reader is naturally not familiar with, even when a work happens to exist in a Hebrew or other translation, all the more important when discussing works unavailable in any other language.
I have been attracted to this theme partly out of a personal curiosity: what is it that writers in Yugoslavia could tell me about the past, both recent and of far gone days, with regard to the Jews of Yugoslavia? How do memories of the past turn their work into an integral part of our contemporary reality? How do they conceive and express the experiences of their childhood and youth, having stayed in that country, which remained their homeland, mostly within the same society and the same places where they grew up to live and write as free from repression and de-legitimation of past times traumas, writing in a language which remained their mother tongue, for a public of readers who were as themselves the victims of the Second World War horrors, and who therefore could relate to the Holocaust merely as part of the huge calamity that befell their country and their nation. How do those writers relate to their Jewishness, not as Israelis and when Israel is not their utmost goal?
(1) Dina Katan Ben-Zion, 'Jewish Identity in Postwar Yugoslavia, Patterns of Organizational Drive and Aspects of Literary Expression' M.A. Thesis presented to the Zalman Aranne School of History, Tel Aviv University, 1987
(2) While completing the manuscript of this book, I received the book Jewish Writers in the Serbian Literature by Prof. Predrag Palavestra, published in May 1998 by the Institute of Literature and Arts in Belgrade. An extensive reference to it see in Appendix A. ( D.K.B)
(3) I have translated all the Serbo-Croatian citations, unless specified otherwise. (D.K.B.)
Finally, it is apparently also an attempt to deepen and enrich my own world as an Israeli who came to Israel as a child, while the traces of that language and other remembrances of that country remained imprinted in many ways in her life.
I am thankful to all those who have accompanied me in the long journey until the crystallization of this book and helped me in the various stages of my work: first and foremost to the advisors of my M.A. dissertation, Dr. Raphael Vago (in history) and Prof. Sasson Somech (in literature), since without their willingness this undertaking would not have been possible. My thanks to Mr. Alex Zehavi for his professional as well as attentive work in editing the original manuscript. The help of the staff of the Jewish Historical Museum and Archives in Belgrade, and especially Mrs. Milica Mihailovic, enabled me to reach some of the sources that were essential for my work. A special thank-you I owe to Mr. Raul Teitelbaum, who read the manuscript and his important suggestions, given in a spirit of moderation and broad-mindedness, were of essential importance in overcoming some of the difficulties that are naturally involved when writing about a country as complicated as Yugoslavia. Thanks also to my friend the historian Zeni Lebl, who devoted much time and effort in reading the manuscript and making her comments regarding details that needed correction. Special thanks to Mrs Tamar Gillis-Cohen, who laboured devotedly and patiently in preparing the text for publication and succeeded in endowing it with the quality of a unified and flowing entity. My deepest thanks to the staff of The Hebrew University Magnes Press, especially to Mr. Dan Benovitz, who with great precision and unrelenting effort helped in endowing the book with its present quality. To my life partner, Joseph Ben-Zion, thanks for so many years of understanding and patience without which, I am sure, it would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, to complete the toil of writing and rewriting .
The birth of this book came about as a result of a surprising literary phenomenon. It concerns the abundance, in terms of both the scope of subject-matter and the variety of genres, that characterizes the presence of "the Jewish theme" in post-World War Two Yugoslavian literature.
As a literary phenomenon it comes as a surprise to me, particularly considering the small number of Jews that remained in Yugoslavia after the Second World War, in which eighty percent of Yugoslavian Jewry were killed. Of the prewar 75,000 Jewish population in Yugoslavia only about 15,000 were to survive the Holocaust. Half of the survivors immigrated to Israel and other countries, most of them at the end of the forties, so that the number of Jews left in the former Yugoslavia amounted to about 6,000. Less than 0.03 percent of its total population. The abundance of Jewish themes in the post-Second World War Two literature, written in the language that, until the end of the eighties, was called Serbo-Croatian, is indeed of interest as a literary phenomenon, as a process of development and as a spiritual and intellectual fact. The mere fact that so many works appeared may be attributed to an expression, though a paradoxical one, of "Nezah Israel" in a society and in circumstances where it might be least expected. Particularly so when we bear in mind the reverse relationship between the numerical impact of the Jewish minority within a population of over twenty million people. All this takes place of course before the dismemberment of the Yugoslav Federation in the early 90's. Since then, following the immigration of many Jews due to the civil war, the Jewish population was even further reduced.
Since the circumstances in the post-World War Two Yugoslavia might have actually produced a total disinterest in Jewish identity, literature dealing with Jews and Judaism in Yugoslavia after World War Two surprises us by the very fact of its quite impressive existence, in terms of extent, of thematic and philosophical scope as well as of its aesthetic qualities. One also has to bear in mind, that the regime in the Yugoslav Federation cherished ethnic pluralism, as founded first and foremost on a declared equality of all of its peoples and minorities. The Jews, as one of the minorities, were not prevented or harassed with regard to any organized and institutionalized form of Jewish activity. In such circumstances, anti-Semitic manifestations were generally prohibited and condemned. Jews were considered a national minority (narodnost), even though theirs was rather a small one: on the eve of the Second World War about 75,000 Jews out of a population of 14 million, while in the postwar Yugoslav Federation about 6,000 within a population of over 20 million.
The Jews, dispersed among the peoples of Yugoslavia, considered themselves first and foremost as Yugoslavs and then Jews. During the Yugoslav Federation, i.e., in the so called former Yugoslavia, it was considered quite legitimate to belong to both entities. There was a declared policy of prohibiting any discrimination against the Jews. Neither they, nor their heritage, were discriminated against, a fact that eventually alleviated the actual process of assimilation and the gradual loss of interest in questions concerning Jewish identity. Indeed, many of the few thousand remaining Yugoslav Jews were quite assimilated. Most of them were quite divorced from Jewish tradition, and in their everyday life had scarce contact with their Jewish heritage. Since many of the survivors married non-Jews, with whom they built a new life, their children had scarcely an opportunity of absorbing any elements of the age-old Jewish tradition, unless they were exposed to some of it in the summer camps and other activities organized by the Yugoslav Federation of Jewish Communities (SJOJ). In many cases the awareness of their national affiliation and affinity became an issue in 1967, when Yugoslavia broke its diplomatic contacts with Israel. It also became even more acute upon the growth of nationalistic trends that brought about the civil war in the nineties. At that time the term "Yugoslav" was no more used, but rather one was either a Serb, or a Croat, a Bosniac or a Macedonian, who suddenly became enemies.
It may surprise us that following the Holocaust, in a secular, multi-national and multi-cultural most complex reality, the need to tackle with questions regarding Jewish destiny and its meaning and Jewish identity in a new and changed world actually became all the more urgent. This became a basis for the comprehensible body of publications that dealt with Jews and Judaism. It is perhaps all the more interesting since the Jews had apparently not been given to any kind of pressure on the part of the government institutions, which might have revolted them and spurred them to ardent activity aimed at achieving recognition and strengthening their heritage so that they may endow it to their offspring. In this frame of reference there arises the question, whether the abundance of literary works dealing with Jews and Judaism does not reflect a secret and profound anxiety of disappearance in view of the assimilation, that in those circumstances became so easy, along with the growing awareness that still the sense of fully belonging on the one hand, as well as a total assimilation on the other, were also both impossible.
In terms of both the contents and the specific weight of Jewish thematics in the modern post-war Yugoslavian literature, one may reflect upon the adverse connection between various factors. Thus, notwithstanding conditions meant to provide a state of basic security for the Jewish minority in Yugoslavia along with recognition of its equality and rights as a minority, the anxiety of the disappearing Jew was not reduced, but rather seems to have become a significant factor underlying the expression of the Jewish theme in literature. Literature about Jews and Judaism in the post-World War Two reality arouses more than one question. As long as nationality is identified with religion while life itself is being conducted within a secular frame of reference, while one's Jewish origin is experienced as a bond to a spiritual and cultural possession that dwells in the deepest layers of the Jew's soul, such questions seem to concern a new interpretation of the old notion of Godfearing.
This study examines the questions raised in literary works. Various components of Jewish identity as expressed in literature represent, after all, an understanding of the author as an artist, which means that mainly questions, rather than clearly formulated theories, are voiced on various levels. However, as a study, it involves an attempt to describe elements of a foundation, based upon the heritage of Jewish learning, wisdom and culture, which might be portrayed in literary images within a secular frame of reference. They originate in the sense that Judaism is in the first place a common destiny as well as a unique culture, expressed whether in customs provided by an age-old tradition or in a specific spiritual and ethical affinity. In quest of its code, literary works provide a new frame of reference, within the context of the Yugoslav heterogeneous society abounding with strong antagonisms.
In Part I the reader is presented mainly with background sources. They include a short survey of Jewish communities in Yugoslavia before the Holocaust, their origin, structure and development, and their respective experience during the Holocaust. The fate of the Jewish survivors is then briefly described, and their status in the postwar era, as part of the heterogeneous society of the Yugoslav Federation. Some basic information is also given about the language/s in the former Yugoslavia.
Part II includes a short historical survey of the state of literature in the former Yugoslavia, including specific developments that occurred in that country after the end of World War Two, until the beginning of the nineties. In another chapter some facts are brought about the literature and specific manifestations and reactions of individual writers during the traumatic times of the nineties, on the background of the nationalistic extremes that accompanied the dismemberment of the Federation.
The core of this study is the discussion of Jews and Judaism in Yugoslavia in the mirror of literature. Within this frame of reference, the growth of the language of literary imagery in the autobiographical context is described. Further on, an attempt is made to describe the Jewish aspect in the works of writers of Jewish origin in comparison with other cases, to also emphasize some specific qualities of literature in which the Jewish theme is present and portrayed, whether by Jewish or non-Jewish authors. The central part of the discussion is devoted to the study of works written either by several authors as a group in terms of subject matter or perceptions, or, in other chapters, to dealing specifically with the literary corpus of single authors, as micro-monographies of their work surveyed from the Jewish aspect. In addition, works published during the nineties, in which some new facets have been revealed, are also examined.
As there is scarcely any source material to be found with regard to the specific subject matter of my study, I had to examine varied fields. Since I was also interested how the works discussed were received, in several cases reference has been made to literary criticism or research that reflects on the main subject matter of the books reviewed. Unless indicated otherwise, I have translated into Hebrew all the quotations.
Before World War Two, Eliezer Levi was the first to deal with the Jew as a literary figure in early Yugoslavian literature. In an article published in a Jewish Yearbook that appeared in Sarajevo in 1933, Levi claimed that until then Jews were not portrayed as literary figures, as concrete human beings, but rather as stereotypic creatures that served as models representing the Wandering Jew, who was characterized by traits that were related by the non-Jewish population to Jews as a collective entity. A change occurred at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Jews emerging from isolation and with the appearance of skilled writers, fluent in Serbo-Croat, could portray, with great talent, the real life of Jews as human.
The Holocaust put an abrupt end to that era. Whatever has been written about Jews and Judaism in the postwar era bears the impact of the catastrophe.
Ever since the appearance of the Jewish theme in postwar Yugoslavian literature, the question seemed to be how to present the specific experience of the Jews -the historical age-old as well as the recent - within the context of the reality that came into being after the Holocaust. Of particular interest was the era between the two world wars, when Jewish life and culture had flourished. This was of particular importance in view of the loss of the major part of Jewish population during the Holocaust, partly by the Croat Ustashe and in the concentration camps that were established within Yugoslavia. All this notwithstanding the participation of Jews in the Partizans' warfare against the Nazis, which had been impressive in terms of its level and dimensions. Since Federal Yugoslavia was established at the end of the Second World War, until the end of the nineties, when the ferocious civil war changed the face of this country, literature dealing with Jewish themes and Jewish life has continued to be written in the countries that composed the former Yugoslavia. This is first and foremost a fact, that even though it is not presented or discussed in terms of numbers and exact percentage, evidence to it may be found while examining some of the masterpieces of modern post-World War Two Yugoslavian literature. This literature has become a matter of public interest, it has attracted the attention of the literary establishment, won important literary prizes and was translated into foreign languages. Looking into it further, one is impressed by the scope of the presence of "Jewish themes" in well known novels written in Serbo-Croatian in that period, as well as by their variety in terms of genre, style and conception. This abundance raises in itself questions regarding the motivating drive at the basis of this phenomenon. In other words, why is the Jewish theme as such so troubling while in reality discrimination of Jews is explicitly condemned and forbidden? To what extent and in what ways does dealing with the Jewish question in literature serve as a possible response to latent guilt feelings, on the part of both Jews and non-Jews, each from its own aspect? Does canon literature dealing with those questions indicate that the Jewish theme serves perhaps as a kind of test-case, or is it eventually only a matter of ephemeral "fashion"? These, and other questions, are of special interest as they concern a multi-national heterogeneous society as that of the former Yugoslavia. Of particular interest is the dialectic connection between the relative freedom enjoyed by the Jewish community in the former Yugoslavia and its gradual process of increasing assimilation, on the one hand, along with the deepening sense of the "double belonging" frustration and the meaning of Jewish identity in this specific context, on the other hand. Another question of interest regards the eventual - if at all - connection between the activity of the Association of the Jewish Communities in the former Yugoslavia (SJOJ) and the presence of Jewish themes in the literature of that country. Ever since the Second World War, SJOJ has most actively engaged in such activities as research, publication, education and culture, with the aim of expanding the development of Jewish culture, including a yearly prize-winning contest in the fields of research and arts dealing with Jewish themes. It may have served to stimulate and encourage the interest in Jews, in their destiny and their culture, yet it can hardly explain the scope and the intensity of dealing with Jewish themes in the literature of Yugoslavia, especially in the canonic part of it - in works which are considered to have gone beyond the limits of the country and language, in a manner that has placed the Jewish theme well beyond any communal, institutional, tribal or religious context.
As much as writers in the former Yugoslavia who have dealt with Jews and Jewish life and thinking were Yugoslavians living within their environment, even if with a double identity and a double belonging, so were their heroes familiar in their homes and belonging naturally to their native surroundings, as were the other characters involved in their lives. Nevertheless, many of them are also still perceived as in a way estranged individuals, who emotionally live in a kind of exile within their natural environment. They are wandering the streets of Belgrade (David Albahari, Ana Somlo) or of Novi Sad (Aleksandar Tisma), belonging, yet also alien to all of it, burdened with far reaching thoughts and remembrances that do not naturally connect to their own time and place. I found special interest in the Jewish aspect of the worlds of such literary figures, who in spite of their natural belonging wander as exiles within their domestic places.
It appears that by dealing with the Jewish theme a whole world is portrayed, and struggling with what happens to the literary hero - who happens to be a Jew -serves in many cases as a touchstone by which the society is evaluated or judged and a more comprehensive insight is achieved. In a secular modern multinational heterogeneous world, Jewish identity seems to be apprehended in literature in more than one way, as part of a general identity problem. The past or the present evil against the Jews is conceived, however, as part of a general world wide framework of phenomena that should be judged by ethical, social or political categories. This fact in itself means that voicing in literature (or otherwise, for that matter) the problems of double identity and belonging becomes in itself an expression of a specific pattern of profound belonging and painful involvement, whether in the Jewish context or otherwise.
The abundance of questions raised in literature that deals with Jews and their life makes one wonder about the kind of urgency that it conveys, though it would be rather difficult to specify it. In addition to the awareness of disappearing, it concerns also the attempt to find new answers to old questions regarding how non-Jews understand Jews, as well as the understanding of the Jews with regard to their destiny and their heritage in the world established after the Second World War. In this world religion itself, as it were, seems to have undergone a modular course: from the phase of its almost complete destruction and disappearance shortly after the Second World War, until its revival and intensification, up to the grotesque and tragic extremity it has reached in the last decade of the twentieth century.
Some questions implied by the above course of events may be guessed at rather than answered. The attempt to look into some of their meanings rather than to answer them is at the core of this book. They concern the awareness of a Jewish self-identity in a secular environment, undominated by a religious faith, while the remaining remembrances of tradition in terms of life style are scarce and fading away. In other words, what is Jewish identity without the Synagogue? What future changes can be expected? A Jewish identity merely as an issue determined by the genetic fact, arbitrary by its very nature, how and in what way, if at all, can it be referred to as a spiritual focus, or described as a psychological universum? And if so, what form does it take? What is the kind of transformation it is undergoing? In the post-Synagogue era, while the religious framework as a social and organizational institution has been lost or diverted into something different, with no traditional normative form that obliges the individual and society, could there be found an authentic spiritual program to turn to and adopt? Is there a Jewish identity without religion, without the religious faith? Without it, what kind of Jewish "faith" can there be in a world governed by a secular outlook and life style, detached from religion and its tradition? Is a faith in God possible while Man is dominated by the feeling that he has lost God, or that God lost him; that, furthermore, in the contemporary world of the twentieth century the capacity of believing in God, that has been alive in the hearts of many generations of the people of Israel, has diminished, if not almost altogether been lost - in any event, the faith in Him as the source of authority or an address to the individual or national prayers and yearning. Is it indeed the feeling that God has been lost or does Man discover in the conception of Him a new and ever renewed face? The God of Israel - as an address to the never-ceasing quest for another dimension of existence - to which one does not look any more with the hope for a messianic redemption, which the secular individual can no longer believe in any more, but rather as to the origin of the existential orphancy and an address for the human need in emendation, in the spirit implied by the ancient essential laws, as well as by their interpretations throughout the ages, an experience that results in binding to the fractures of the broken Tablets.
God fearing, what can it mean in a secular environment? What is the implied meaning of belonging to the people of Israel in a secular environment and actuality, while the age-old remembrances of the Jewish tradition are fading away, in a multinational society split into three religions, each of them representing a specific heritage and outlook? Can an authentic Jewish entity exist as a spiritual, an ethical or a social category, or as a sphere of an individual or communal reference, yet without a religious faith and without any kind of Jewish political state-oriented mode of life, but only as a tiny minority within a multi-national society? And if so, what is its countenance and how does it appear to be portrayed and reflected in literature? What does it still maintain of its past heritage, what kind of identity has been imprinted on it by force of birth as by an iron heated seal, namely that having been born a Jew has become a fact of ultimate and fatal significance for one's life? In terms of an image, the starting point of the discussion is the Synagogue, that as a religious, a social and communal, spiritual, ethic and metaphysical institution has remained pitifully deserted and the silenced voice that still hovers in its ruins is actually a loud cry, as Rasha Livada, a poet born in 1948, expressed it in his poem 'Sinagoga': *

In that tiny God's ear
There's no living soul
Only mice nibbling at
Decayed Trapist light
And everywhere a desolation
Like a mouth of forgotten kisses
And like an overturned waggon
Dense with a thick poisoned silence.

On the walls everywhere the inscriptions
If I forget thee,
O City Let my right hand forget
And my left hand
My left will forget
And let the seed
Be extinguished.
And whoever is reminded of you
and returns to you
no more merchants at the gate
nor harlots nor scholars
only the wild sea-gulls
as a living rain
whipping upon the tiles
yet who could have known that the Mashiach
will return and snatch the followers
and that as a girl
after a bad curettage
you'll on the Tisha be'Av
wait for me to come and irrigate
that willow in the yard
the only one
to bow low enough
to behold the face of God.

And Livada says

The beginning's good, the end bad
The message is left.
From R. Livada's book named Karantin Translation: Dina Katan Ben-Zion

All the events in the life of the Jews and in the literature dealing with Jews and their culture in the former post-World War Two Yugoslavia bear the impact of the major loss of Yugoslav Jewry in the Holocaust, as well as of the inevitable process of assimilation and gradual disappearance of its remnants. The number of Jews that survived the Holocaust in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, which amounted to about 15 percent of the prewar Yugoslav Jewry, has considerably declined after the main wave of immigration to Israel and other countries at the end of the forties, and even further upon the emigration of those who left Yugoslavia during the civil war of the nineties. Nevertheless, the awareness of the hovering danger of the disappearing Jew has produced throughout years, and in fact it still continues to produce within the remaining Jewish community an extensive activity of cultivating their specific identity.
In the complex world that surrounded writers in the former Yugoslavia, literature that raised the question of the Jewish existence might be regarded as searching, on various levels, for patterns of new understanding of the Jewish identity in a modern, secular and ever changing, ethnically many-faceted and multifocal reality, in which the inescapable process of assimilation continues to take place.
Writers in the former Yugoslavia who dealt with Jews and Judaism and who were themselves of Jewish origin, were mostly under the impact of a twofold or threefold cultural identity. Whether in terms of their ethnic identity in a multiethnic country, or with regard to Judaism as a cultural heritage, manifested in patterns of their family life as well as their linguistic background, their cultural identity was compounded of many components. Nevertheless, it has to be stressed that all of them were first and foremost native authors, born to parents who were native Yugoslavians (even though in many cases their parents' mother tongue might have been Hungarian or German, since the parents were in some cases born and educated in the time that preceded the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, established in 1918). In their writing there are no elements of duality, characteristic to the world of immigrants and their offspring, as in other countries. In other words, we are not dealing with a literature that raises the problem of being an outsider and feeling as alien within the society of natives, as an experience of detachment, in which the Jewish component also plays its role. Similarly, there is no wish to endeavor familiarization of distant places, as in the case that characterizes the generation of the double-rooted "Shadow Children", who were writing in Israel and for the Israeli public, in Hebrew, about their childhood in distant places and times that were naturally unfamiliar to their readers. When writers in the former Yugoslavia express alienation, problems of identity or difficulties on account of their double identity, these are problems of individuals well rooted within their society, as well as in the language and culture of their homeland. Since we are concerned with literature written after the Second World War, in a world that was free from the dominance of religious authority, the awareness of the Jewish origin and the relation to it in terms of an identity question generally does not touch upon any religious aspects. Judaism is conceived rather as a culture, as a world of concepts and values that are liable to new interpretations. Each of the writers who dealt with Jews and Judaism, refers to it in a way that bears witness to a necessity of a new definition of the attachment to an ancient and fateful heritage that is no longer taken for granted in the new reality that was established in the period after the Second World War. As far as the Yugoslav context is concerned, one can also speak about a secular frame of reference of a world in which a rich many faceted religious tradition is being transformed into a cultural heritage, wherein Judaism as one of the three monotheistic religions has its specific impact.
In the post-World War Two Yugoslavia, Judaism is represented by a small Jewish community consisting of an assimilated minority of about 6,000 Jews and in the last decade of the twentieth century tragically diminished and further split among Croats, Serbs and other groups antagonistic to each other. In comparison to the bearers of the other religious traditions, who have a territorial center of their own as well as political aspirations, Jews in Yugoslavia have no territorial base, but rather a piece of congregational-tribal, communal-social and spiritual-cultural existence. Organizationally and administratively, at their head is the Association of the Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia (SJOJ), that in addition to its activity in terms of welfare, has engaged in maintaining various types of educational activities as well as in documentation and research of Jewish life in those regions, including an extensive publication program. On the whole it aims at cultivating the Jewish heritage and transmitting it to the younger generation.
As far as former Yugoslavia is concerned, the disappointment from the Communist ideology and ideal of the brotherhood of nations, that were crushed in the last decade of the twentieth century, represents a dramatic phenomenon revealed in developments that occurred since the end of the Second World War, throughout a relatively short period of less than fifty years. It had a major impact in the domain of literature as well. There the emphasis became gradually diverted from the collectivist ideology in the socio-realist period to more sophisticated patterns of quest for truth in terms of the specific individual.
In the sociorealist period, literature was considered as the interpreter of the obliging collectivist ideology, which in terms of the individual had its tragic results. Later on the specific attributes of national groups were sought and gradually recognized and acknowledged as the origins of one's self identity. 'As regards the socialist secular society'- according to a letter written at the end of the eighties - 'it has proved to be disappointed in the opportunity that was granted to it: equality exists only in declarations but not in life, and since all the promised values did not materialize, neither in the West nor in the East, there began a gradual return of each nation to its nationality and its religion. The disappointed society has been returning to its age-old roots in quest for equilibrium.'
Along with the above development, the emphasis moved in time from the stress laid on the common all-Yugoslav identity, that until Tito's death was not only taken for granted but considered as rather sacred, to the tendency of defining the personal identity in terms of its national, ethnic, tribal, religious or communal attributes.
As far as the theme of Jews and Judaism in literature is concerned, the process of retreating from ideology and returning to the origins is manifested in a different manner by writers of different generations. Some elements appear to be common in terms of belonging to a generation. Those who were born during the twenties and the thirties were in their youth susceptible to an ideological education which had its influence on their outlook, along with the impact of the war which had crushed their childhood or destroyed their youth. The younger generation, born after the war and raised in the pseudo-communist environment, that was more open and susceptible to a variety of Western influences, wrote about both the past and the present in a manner that reflected those influences as well. Naturally, the retreat from ideology, its collapse and the great variety of influences, trends and directions, within a short span of a few decades, resulted in ever growing doubts as well as a deepening awareness of the paradoxical nature of life phenomena and the human ability to grasp and relate to them.
On the one hand, the disappointment from religion, that in spite of generations of believers was not able to save the Jews from the Holocaust, and, on the other hand, disappointment from the declared equality, which was unable to eliminate the sense of discrimination and the awareness of the deeply ingrained anti-Semitic notions and manifestations, which even though officially forbidden, their latent existence tended to strengthen the apprehension that it was impossible to uproot them. That perhaps they would never be uprooted, even after many years, even when anti-Semitism in the country concerned has been relatively moderate and more of a latent kind. Yet even more than the anti-Semitic element, there persists the feeling of a double identity - of a Jew who belongs equally to two nations and/or religions, especially if born to only one Jewish parent. This question becomes more acute insofar as Judaism is defined as religion, whether in the atheist world of Communism, that abandoned religion and denied its significance, or in the world that happens to return to it and follow its emblems, as things happen to be in the nineties.
Shortly after the Second World War, before reverting to religion and the ensuing nationalistic extremes in the last decade of the twentieth century, literature in Yugoslavia has grown and developed, distancing itself from religion, with a tendency towards cosmopolitical outlooks, open mindedness and negation of any separatist approaches. On that background, one can discern in several Yugoslavian Jewish writers and intellectuals born at the beginning of the twentieth century, such as Oskar Davico and Oto (Otto) Bihalji-Merin, a declared tendency of avoiding a direct commitment to Jewish themes and defining themselves as Yugoslavs first and foremost - in contrast to others of their generation, as Zak Konfino, Isak Samokovlija and Hinko Gottlieb, who wrote in Serbo-Croatian exclusively about the world of the Jewish people. The conflict between the deliberate choice of Jewish attachment and the tendency to negate it is most remarkable in the case of Oskar Davico, a revolutionary in his youth, who before the Second World War related in a sensitive manner to his Jewish origin, whereas in the postwar period, living in the materialized communist state, preferred to disregard it. Yet in his intricate, multi-faceted anti-apologetic novel Gospodar zaborava (The Master of Forgetfulness) he apparently reached a rather twisted and complicated fusion of the two conflicting tendencies with regard to Jews and Judaism, that in this context might perhaps be called as centrifugal versus centripetal approach.
In literature written in the first postwar years in a country whose population suffered so heavy a loss, it was at first difficult to write about the specific loss of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, since in Yugoslavia the evil that befell the Jews in that country was initially conceived as a part of the general disaster that "Fascism" had inflicted on the country as a whole. Few at that time related to the connection between the Holocaust and the part that was played in it not only by the Nazis, but directly and most cruelly by their collaborators in the so called "Independent State of Croatia" raised and governed by the Ustasha. In other words, in so traumatized a society as in Yugoslavia after the Second World War, under the leadership of the Tito regime and its goals, defined and reunified in terms of common values and aims, it was at first rather difficult to refer specifically to the Holocaust and the terrible dimensions of the disaster that befell the Jewish community. It had suffered the loss of 80 percent of its population, partly due to the Croat collaborators and in any case as victims of deportations, expulsion and persecutions. Insofar as the Jewish catastrophe was partly inflicted directly by the Croats, it was difficult to place responsibility to it in the context of the Yugoslav society as a whole, which during the Second World War suffered not only the losses that the Nazis inflicted on it, but also from the horrible massacres perpetrated on the Serb population by the Croat nationalists, as well as from the retaliations of the Serb Chetniks.
First references to the Holocaust in Yugoslavian literature can be found in extensive realistic and evidential texts, in poems and stories that appeared whether on the pages of the literary supplements of the Jewish almanacs, or in documentary novels, such as No Place Under the Sun by Danilo Nahmias, Under the Yellow Star by Andrea Deak, and later on Disattachments by Frida Filipovic, Skipping Over the Shadow by Ivan Ivanji, Hana Menehem by Nina Glisic Aseo, Faces, Pretendings by Julija Najman and many other of that kind, as well as (though in an utterly different manner) Erih Kos's allegoric novel Vrapci Van pea .
The problem of referring specifically to the disaster of the Jews should not be difficult to understand, since under Tito's regime in postwar Yugoslavia it was not deemed proper to openly discuss the murders that occurred in the country against its own population, so that at the beginning there was a general tendency of repressing that part of the past. The problematics of the Holocaust and its specific ever growing influence as well as its long-range impact, turned gradually to becoming a crucial theme in the works of writers who were occupied with questions concerning Jews and their destiny.
One can clearly discern the role and significance that the Holocaust and themes related to Jews, Jewish life and Judaism take in the works of writers of Jewish origin in contrast to its impact in works by gentile authors. Thus Ivo Andric, Miroslav Popovic, Milorad Pavic, Antonije Isakovic and others who wrote about Jews, introduced scenes either from the Holocaust or from the lives of their Jewish literary heroes as parts within the general context and mosaic of their works, whereas in the works of Danilo Kis, Aleksandar Tisma, Filip David, David Albahari and others, notwithstanding the fact that they wrote not only about Jews and what befell them, there is still a growing and intensified awareness of the specific weight of the Jewish disaster and its immediate as well as long range impact. To a certain extent it seems to have become a kind of touchstone, which has a major impact on the general viewpoint and outlook, as well as on the imagery, of each one of those writers. This is the general background to what one may refer to as 'Jewish literature' written in postwar Yugoslavia. It seems to reveal features that bear testimony to the deeply ingrained awareness of Jews and Judaism in terms of the crucial existential questions of the twentieth century that are raised by it. It also reflects the awareness of the transformation that has been taking place in Jewish identity, as grasped and expressed, rather intensively, in the spiritual scope of the writings, and in the imagery and linguistic idiosyncrasy of each one of the famous major writers in the former Yugoslavia who were preoccupied with those themes. Thus within the general frame of reference of literature abounding with Jewish themes, written in the former Yugoslavia by both Jews and non-Jews, "Jewish literature" might be delineated as apprehending Jewish life and destiny and relating to it in terms of a cardinal existential problem. It differs from the writings of non-Jewish authors who dealt with Jews and Judaism, which in most cases - as in the works of Andric, Popovic, Pavic and others reveal profound comprehension and empathy, and might be identified as the difference between understanding and being. It would be relevant to examine Jewish identity in literature, and in this respect "Jewish" literature, when Judaism and the relation to it are in the focus of the existential problem on a personal and intimate level, as a dominant factor in the general outlook or perception of life. Also, when it can be described as a way of looking upon things that emanates from the awareness of the author or his hero of his Jewish affiliation as a touchstone, or when this fact in the author's hero's life reflects a personal existential code, ingrained in it in a manner that moulds his destiny and effects his consciousness. Jewish literature is thus written from a depth of 'Jewish' consciousness, and is revealed both thematically and in terms of the literary form and poetics. From the particular aspect of literary style, literature written in the postwar Yugoslavia on matters related to Jews and Judaism has often created a framework of renewing the contact with contents of a tradition, the main forms of which had been abandoned, whether actually in everyday habitual practices, or in terms of linguistic usages . In a certain way, as far as the creative imagination has reached, this is one of the ways in which literature seems to have reacted to the anxiety of disappearance in life. Thus, following "life" in terms of that specific aspect, literature seems also to have created its own new patterns. Different literary styles, the outstanding ones created by Danilo Kis, Filip David, Aleksandar Tisma and David Albahari, appear to be not only a collage of literary languages, but rather a mosaic of modes of apprehension, each one of them 'Jewish' in an essential way which also realizes its own identity and stylistic quality in the sense art does. If one should attempt at all at finding any common denominator among writers so profoundly differing from each other as the above mentioned authors are, it is perhaps to be found in their highly developed awareness of the so called 'drama of concepts', as well as in types of meanings contradicting the notion of oneness 7 and in the fact that in the focus of their literary works one is confronted with the drama of dialectic meanings, which takes place in terms of themes, structure and style.
In the former Yugoslavia we are dealing with writers who are free from any religious practice, who refer to their Jewish origin in terms of endeavoring at interpreting it as an affinity to moral and cultural values, since they are conscious of the process of profound change that takes place in the very concept of "being a Jew", and no less than that, of the anxiety of disappearance, that hovers over their very existence as Jews and their world as a Jewish one. The problem of 'Jewish' existence, along with the awareness of its gradual disappearance, hovers over the world that each one of them has created in his own specific way. It appears that on the conceptual level each one of them has placed in the center of his fiction the question of Jewish survival and its problematics in the world that has risen from the ashes of the Holocaust. Moreover, partial affiliation and double identity are voiced openly and deliberately on all levels and in every way.
In this respect Danilo Kis has produced the extended and extensive autobiographical story (especially In Early Troubles, Garden, Ashes and The Hour-glass) in the center of which stands the figure of the wandering and lost Father of almost mythological dimensions, as a universal archetype of Ahasver, the Jew wandering in the kingdom of his disoriented spirit, within a tortured and distorted world . There is no substitute figure to the father that has disappeared, and his disappearance in the story becomes a paradigmatical realization of its actual disappearance in life, as a symbol of the fate that befell millions in the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the Jew in the works of Danilo Kis appears also as a rebel who changes the state of things, whether in the active manner (the Commissar) or by way of spiritual passive resistance (the Yogi). The literary work of Filip David, which absorbs from and draws upon the world of the Jewish mysticism and legend, presents an array of archetypal symbols and a world of conceptions that emanate from it and from its very bottom, including linguistic embodiment that corresponds to its conventions, thus creating a kind of personal interpretation, a Midrash of its own, in which the historical iniquity is grasped as a part of the cosmic evil, reminding of the way Gershom Scholem has formulated it: "Like God, so does Man also comprise the whole reality of the world, since all the powers of creation have materialized in him", including the notion of the spiritual body of Man, which endeavors to return to its origin. In this particular context, the Dictionary of the Khazars by Milorad Pavic represents a literary vision and apotheosis written from the point of view of each one of the three religions and their reciprocal as well as their separate existence. In Oskar Davico's novel The Master of Forgetfulness, the highly developed awareness of the geographical space and the historical time is expressed in the framework altogether anti-apologetic, extreme in its conception as well as in its articulation and style, resulting in a paradoxical, distorted, drastic and absurd literary embodiment.
In the novels written by Aleksandar Tisma (The Book on Blam, The Use of Man and Kapo) those very aspects are examined from the point of view of the spiritual destruction as the outcome of the Second World War, particularly the Holocaust and its fatal impact on the lives of its victims. Their lives are being lead within the psychological prison of their private memory, which remains fatally persecuted by the non-disappearing nightmarish presence of the recent past, with the projector illuminating the dark chamber within the soul of the small human creature that lives on the brink of the huge historical events by which the hero's life is tragically and irrevocably crushed. In the writings of others - Frida Filipovic, Julija Najman, Ana Somlo, Gordana Kuic, Judita Salgo, Neboysa Glisic, Zora Dirnbah (and others), with each and every one of them in a different way and style, there emerges a profound awareness of the periodicity of the Jewish cyclical existence in different historical times, and of a terminal accord that put an end to it. Those writers have also directly faced problems of stigma and discrimination, as well as some deeply rooted anti-Semitic conceptions, which are revealed in their work in an open and penetrating way. The writings of David Albahari, on the other hand, have created a meta-text of life fragments characterized by an organizing principle, at the core of which is a process of disintegrating and a new coming-into-being which takes place simultaneously. His literary work apparently touches upon this new, still unnamed compound, which absorbs into its Jewish memory components of the new twentieth century attributes, such as the Pop Art, elements of the Far Eastern trends of thought, and finally, the confrontation between the two Western worlds, the old and the new. All those elements are interwoven into a frame of reference of a Jewish world disintegrating as a family entity, with reference to the world of Jewish learning, wisdom and tradition. Finally, from Canada, where he currently resides, Albahari wrote in 1999 Mamac (The Bait), a short novel in which the eulogy for the Yugoslav Jewry is intertwined into a eulogy for his disintegrating country, followed by the short novel Gec i Majer, in which Albahary makes a profound and distressing introspection regarding a specific event in the destruction of the Serbian Jews.
The quest for identity - the innermost one versus its externalized public image - is common to all of the writers, though the work of Filip David dwells on the spiritual properties of the Jewish entity rather than on any social, cultural or other attributes. Another common trait is the personal, modern interpretation of age-old tenets of thought and tradition, and that holds true with regard to Erih Kos as well, in whose work Marxist thinking, as well as criticism of the regime, is apprehended and described in the frame of reference of an event from the life of the Jewish people, i.e. the phenomenon of false Messianism.
References to the Bible, the Talmud and the Kabbalah, within the framework of modern trends of thought and conceptions that draw upon the thinking of Spinoza and Mendelsohn are often made in the above writings. Judaism is perceived as a bond of "family ties", which means that the genetic origin is experienced and acknowledged valid as an affinity with a spiritual ethos, apprehended in many cases as endowed with ethical and cultural values, and as such worth abiding with, maintaining and cultivating.Though belonging to Judaism is primarily determined by a genetic factor and as such does not apparently involve freedom of choice, it still involves a belonging by choice to an ethos of thinking, the core of which is humanistic, despite of the variety of possible interpretations to which it may be liable. Literature refers to elements of the age-old heritage as a mode of thinking, and tackles with the question of their relevancy in the modern world of our times. In many writings Judaism is perceived as an ancient knowledge, based upon primary moral categories, obliging yet undogmatic, involving freedom of thought and of choice as well as the wisdom of doubt, and as such universally valuable. Finding bonds and bridges between the world of the Jewish religion and the secular reality of everyday living is evident in the wide range of connotations of the Bible and Talmud, of the Kabbalah and its symbolics with the European Humanism as a mode of thinking. All those components are psychologically valid in the innermost spiritual world of the contemporary literary hero, who had lost the living contact with religion and its practice. Thus in contrast, or perhaps parallel to the struggle for a land, a country and a state, in literature one finds a process of returning to the origins of Judaism as culture, in quest for a way of reinterpretation of its age-old tenets. Old Biblical or Talmudic verses are echoed time and again in many of the texts along with Hebrew word coinages set in a context of their own. In that sense one may perhaps recognize a process of 'returning' to the Hebrew origins, in which the first thematic messages are ingrained, in a world of a language that contains a part of the code of the original Jewish authenticity, as a starting point common to all descendents of the Jewish people. However, those are nonetheless just unique letters flying from the broken parts of the Tables of Testimony. In a secular reality of life, which is both historically and in terms of the availability of traditional patterns of learning and interpretation of the Scriptures (in an environment which does not abound with Jewish learning), the code and the ways of interpretation are no longer a matter of religious authority but are rather given to the personal understanding, which reflects the affinity of the author or his hero, or the general mood of a specific text, and is by no means necessarily related in any way to the authorized religious interpretation or understanding or, for that matter, to their original context in the Scriptures, such as specific idioms, sentences or an episode mentioned in the literary text included by the author. Danilo Kis, who had, from early childhood, been given to the influence of the ancient Hebrew myths, such as the story of the Deluge, or the selling of Joseph by his brothers, has created a language by which a process of identification with the national destiny takes place on the primary and the intimate personal level. Stories from the Creation come into life in his imagination (especially in Garden, Ashes) and through them the present calamity is experienced, perceived and represented. Thus in spite of the distance in time and circumstances, the Biblical story turns to be a paradigmatic event through which the child's soul experiences a symbolic embodiment of the national destiny that may throw light on the circumstances of the personal lot as well: "A righteous and a victim like myself […] all that was a mere scenic decoration to my heavenly mission, a reward for all my suffering, the very first scene of my Biblical drama." (Garden, Ashes).
In dealing with past remembrances, each one of the major writers has adopted a specific style and literary technique of his own. Such are the place transformations in the type of realistic-naturalistic fiction that keeps reconstructing the traumatic events of the Holocaust and the experience of being subjected to betrayal as inducing the intensified awareness of being a Jew as a profound issue of self identity. Time transformations, as in the fiction of Aleksandar Tisma, who reports in a blunt realism series of events anchored in modular time sequences, is another example, and so too the subtext enquiring into meanings and values that underline the blunt facts, as in the writings of Danilo Kis, Filip David and David Albahari, each of whom, in a different manner and by a variety of ways, introduces and intertwines elements from Jewish heritage with those of other religions as cultural heritages. In terms of literary style each one of them creates his own individual instrument of dealing with Judaism as a touchstone reflecting major existential problems of the twentieth century literary hero as an atheist living in a secular environment. Nonetheless, each one creates a literary cosmos of his own, which becomes, in a personal and as such a selective, mode of containing and preserving the original forms which had been abandoned.
Notwithstanding the extensive and far-reaching activity of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the former Yugoslavia (SJOJ), literature that deals with Jews and their culture seems to convey the anxiety of the lack of future. Moreover, the scope of the intensive organizational, cultural and educational activity in which the SJOJ engaged ever since the Second World War, and especially the wide scope of its documentation and research publications, along with the abundant and diverse literature dealing with Jewish identity, are perhaps as such an evidence to that same anxiety. The cultural autonomy of the SJOJ has established a most impressive record in terms of organizational activity, which could paradoxically be likened to an empire which has had very few citizens. However this is the prevailing feeling insofar as the long term future is concerned. A small 'empire' that, to use an image, is in charge of many properties, yet with almost no following generation. In spite of the intensive as well as extensive activity of SJOJ, the future of the Jewish existence in Yugoslavia appears to be given to a personal and selective interpretation of the religious testimony as a cultural heritage. An interpretation that would be valid in a reality of reduction, assimilation and disappearance. Jewish origins and the origins of Judaism as an essential criterion of self-identity on the one hand, yet with a general feeling of doubt with regard to the future on the other hand, create a rather paradoxical frame of reference. The issue of dual identity is to a considerable extent a part of that frame of reference.
The extensive and diverse literature dealing with Jews and Judaism, written in the former Yugoslavia after the Second World War, the main part of which has been mentioned and described in this essay, bears witness to this conclusion. It indicates that Jewish identity in a secular society, heterogeneous in its composition as well as in its cultural - including religious - heritage, is perceived mainly as a factor of cultural identity, with an emphasis on elements of individual as well as collective memory. None of the literary works that have been mentioned relate to the past or to the loss of the religious element with any nostalgia. Furthermore, there is no sanctification of the past as a contrast to its continuation. However, there is a considerable curiosity and open mindedness with regard to it and an attempt to reveal in the past patterns and modes of perceiving certain elements that might throw some light or a new meaning upon the present.
Moreover, the literature in question is free from self-hatred or from any apologetic note (perhaps with the exception of the grotesque anti-apologetic novel The Master of Forgetfulness by Oskar Davico). Furthermore, it does not suffer from any attempts at whitewashing (which, however, was sometimes unavoidable in life, since the SJOJ had to condemn anti-Semitic manifestations, such as, for example, the recurring publication of the famous Protocols, on the one hand, while on the other hand it had nonetheless to avoid overemphasizing them). In federal Yugoslavia, Jewish identity was perceived as a part and a component of the all-Yugoslav entity based on its ethnic and cultural pluralism and diversity. In terms of that understanding, literature dealing with Jews and Judaism appears nonetheless to be a Balkanic phenomenon - passionate, torn by conflicts, ambivalent, driving upon the legacy of many and various traditions and cultural heritages that developed on the borders of great civilizations. It should be noted, however, that most of those literary works had been published at a time when no one had, as yet, any doubts as to the existence of an all-Yugoslavia or to its future prospects. Any particularistic trends were understood and if necessary presented and defended as legitimate in terms of being instrumental to the very existence of a collective all-Yugoslav entity.
Avoiding pathos in dealing with Jewish suffering, as a trend that had already begun with the writings of Hinko Gottlieb, as well as the possibility of open discussion of the Jewish problem, reflect the recognition, that gradually grew and became intensified in the post Holocaust era, that the scope of the Jewish dilemma comprises more than the pain of being rejected and betrayed, and concerns essentially the quest for self identity in a changing world. It meant that literature learned to put less emphasis on condemning the animosity towards Jews, and engage more in the attempt to look into the essence of ideas, tenets, motives, messages and meanings that have been nourishing the Jewish spirit throughout many generations. The need to reflect on them reflects in itself age-old Jewish dilemmas in their specific twentieth century embodiment. In that process, elements of Judaism are gradually disengaged from the age-old hold of religion as their only and unique frame of reference. In the writings of the previously mentioned Yugoslav authors one finds a persistent attempt to detect subject matters as substances and relate to them in a way that might be relevant also in terms of an outlook that developed in a post-ideological, anthropocentric and atheistic world, that finds itself in quest of a raison-d'etre in terms of re-interpreting elements of the ancient religious and national heritage. In that sense one can talk about universalization of the Jewish experience as a particular tribal one; the story of returning to it differs in the case of each writer, the materials, the style and the emphasis are different.
Nonetheless, the tendency appears to be similar, by reflecting the prevailing question, whether an authentic Judaism still exists, or perhaps Jewish authenticity turns out to be a matter of personal interpretation. Following George Steiner's well known theory -rejected by Cynthia Ozick - regarding Judaism as identical with rootless universalism, in the former Yugoslavia the extensive literature dealing with Jews and Judaism as a whole is nevertheless an endeavor to denote those roots and establish a bond between them and the actual historic place and time. The writers, each of them in their own specific way, style and poetics, in other words each of them by means of the authenticity of the literary form, as a mode embodying substantial thematic and conceptual elements, endeavors toward expressing meanings that are no more available in the patterns provided by the religion and its long ago abandoned rituals, fragments of which continued hovering in the spiritual world of the Jews.
It is as if the Yugoslav Jewry, small as it is and reduced further on by the biological destiny on the one hand and the political and social circumstances on the other, has established a kind of a small spiritual universum of its own. It reflects its heterogeneous origins, as well as the great variety of possibilities of belonging to the Jewish people, and the enormous potential of such patterns of clinging to Judaism as a rich, manifold spiritual and cultural heritage. Literature serves in this sense as a way of integrating between ideas and symbols, contents and forms, developments and apprehensions, as well as it detects new possible interpretations of old conceptions and tenets. It all concerns an attempt at a new or different understanding of the fundamentals of Judaism along with the fusion of the Jewish heritage into the heritages of other religions and elements of their cultures. In that sense one can speak about a Jewish secular consciousness as a natural, perhaps indispensable and essential part of facing a reality in which the Jewish identity is partial, many-faceted, torn apart by forces of the origin, of the assimilation processes and of the circumstances of living in a heterogeneous society that embraces elements of the three monotheistic religions and their cultural heritages.


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