Remembering Kalmi Baruh By Ivo Andric


By Ivo Andric

I have carried this memory with me for a long time, together with the need and something like a sense of duty to say something about this literary man, a unique connoisseur of the Spanish literature in our parts and one of the many victims of fascism in the last war. The book of Baruh's essays and articles about Spain, its history and its literature,1 soundly, beautifully, and engagingly written, was recently published in the Svjetlost edition. That book reminded me of my obligation towards my friend and of our collective duty towards that cultural creator.
It seems to me that Kalmi Baruh is one of those Bosnians whose work should be more comprehensibly presented to our public. We should show the inte-resting and unique circumstances of the Bosnian Jews, Sephardim, from which K. Baruh originated, then his body of work that is neither small nor insignificant, and finally the tragedy of his life and his horrific and meaningless death, having no chance for resistance and revenge. I surely cannot undertake such a grand task, but I would like at least to share one personal memory and to say a couple of words about him, short and simple, as his life was.

We knew each other since we were children in Višegrad where I went to school with his older
Kalmi Baruh, Eseji i članci iz španske književnosti (Essays and Articles on Spanish Literature), Svjetlost,
Sarajevo, 1952 brother. It happened by a happy, and to me always dear, coincidence that we found ourselves in Madrid in the winter between 1928 and 1929, and that we spent several months there, being always in touch with each other and having endless, honest, and interesting conversations. The object of our conversations was all that could interest, drive, rejoice, or trouble our people. On the other hand, an excellent connoisseur of Spanish history, and especially of the Spanish language and literature, K. Baruh was in many respects my guide in those parts. We made a couple of excursions together to the ancient Spanish towns such as Toledo, Segovia, etc. I especially remember well our visit to Segovia, and K. Baruh also wrote about it in Sarajevo's Jevrejski glas [Jewish Voice].
For me, and especially for my friend, that was a great experience. We spent almost all day in Segovia. It was Sunday. We dined at a good popular restaurant, went sightseeing, and took a long walk down those ancient streets. For K. Baruh, Segovia as such was not only an historic and aesthetic sensation, but also something that is deeply connected with his child-hood, with the everyday life of the community to which he belonged. He remembered romances he listened to in his childhood. In those romances, ancient Spain in some ghostly and yet real way came alive, young girls cried, and Aragon knights passed through towns (De que lloras, blanca Mina? Caballeros van y vienen por las ciudades d'Aragon). For hundreds of years the women of our Sephardim sang these romances, in a somewhat corrupted form, in their shaded Bosnian courtyards, while doing their embroidery work. The word Segovia often appeared in these romances corrupted to Segolia.
In his text in which a muted feeling flickers somewhere deep inside, K. Baruh explains this with scientific accuracy. He says:

"The word got somewhat impaired on the path of so many centuries, and the good women patched up the word so that their verse is not spoiled. No wonder, if that word was a stone its surface would have become polished a long time ago".

That afternoon walk down the streets of the real and living Segovia brought us to some dark and obscure streets. One of them was named Calle de la juderia nueva (New Jewish Street). We knew that there was not and there could not be a trace of Jews here; even that word "new" represented the time of several dark centuries ago.

While we were standing on the corner of that deserted street, a boy appeared out of nowhere, obviously from a very poor family, judging by his clothes and his appearance. We asked him for directions, he responded briefly and grudgingly. But K. Baruh, who spoke Spanish so perfectly that nobody could have suspected that he was a foreigner, managed to spark a short conversation with the boy. In the aforementioned text, K. Baruh produced that conversation with the boy, and his account matches completely my old, still living memory, and I present it here as it is in his text. Baruh asked the boy,

"Hombre, are there any Jews in Segovia?"

"No, sir, you know…in the old times…they used to take walks here, because…"

"Why here?"

The boy was silent. But I did not leave him alone. The boy shook his head.

Que mal los gustaba Segovia. (Segovia did not like them.)

And K. Baruh adds to this short dialogue this much: "He talks about Jews as of some cursed tribe from an ancient story. We parted as friends."

And that was all. And I still remember that moment even today. The boy was walking away, flipping in his hand a silver peso that we gave him and that he accepted without a "thank you" and with pride and mistrust, as if he did not want to offend us by rejecting it. In his great ignorance, he honestly did not know what he was saying, and he could not have even guessed to whom he was talking.

The two of us stood there for some time, on that spot. Somewhere, from an invisible church, a bell rang monotonously and tirelessly like a hammer of a dull and merciless time. I did not know what to say. But I sensed - and this is not a romantic figure that I am using - as if the winds of history hovered above our heads and the centuries were miraculously approaching and facing each other. I felt like a witness and a mute face in that socio-historical drama that began in that country three-and-a-half centuries ago, and which, as it seems, does not have an ending and one of its tragicomic acts is being played out right now, on this stone pavement, under a white street sign with blue letters.

The experience was too exciting, the associations that came up were too complicated and hard for us to be able to analyze right away and express in words. We were laughing at the boy's simplicity and ignorance. Sancta simplicitas! And my friend indeed "parted as friends" with the boy and his town. To do that, he had enough nobility and human understanding and that hard shame and restraint, because of which a man often bottles up the toughest internal excitements, leaving them unsaid and buried.

This book of Baruh's essays and articles reminded me of that walk there, but not only of the walk in Segovia, but of the entire warm, intellectual, and honest character of K. Baruh. This book, in which historical and literary phenomena are presented not only thoroughly and scientifically but also progressively, to the extent the author was able to do in accord with his spiritual build and time in which he lived, is only one part of Baruh's scientific, abruptly cut off work.

For, as we know, the tragic, consistent, and inescapable flow of historical process, whose spirit, as it seemed to me I felt on the corner of the dark "Jewish street" in Segovia, caught up with K. Baruh in his best years, at the pinnacle of his growth and his work. Together with thousands and millions, he too fell victim to beastly racism, was ruined like so many others, by no fault of his own, and with no opportunity to defend himself. We have lost a true expert in Hispanic studies (I say this objectively, leaving aside the personal regret and loss of one truly wonderful man and friend of the people). We are indebted to him for his knowledge and his unselfish dedication to science in the past. And today, in changed and better conditions, I am certain that he would have fully developed his abilities and would be a very valuable author.

Numerous are the connotations and hard and variegated are the questions that face us in relation to losses such as this. Thousands of intellectuals and poets, politicians and social workers, and war veterans are looking for answers to those questions today. It would be hard and lengthy, and impossible for us to talk about it in this short remembrance of a friend, of a victim of fascism. But one thing I believe can be and must be said here. The answer to all those questions about hard injustices and crimes of international dimensions should above all be sought in the work toward a different and better social and world organization, in an organized and ruthless fight against the dark forces that fulfill their power and "ideology" on the graves of such people such as K. Baruh. Such work and such a fight would at the same time be the most beautiful memorial to our countryman and friend, K. Baruh.

From: Kalmi Baruh, Selected Works on Sephardic and Other Jewish Topics

Editors: Dr. Krinka Vidakovic-Petrov and Alexander Nikolic

Published by: Moshe David Gaon Center for Ladino Culture and Shefer Publishers

In 1961. Ivo Andric was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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