BULGARIAN LITERATURE


The early history of Bulgarian literature is closely linked with that of the Bulgarian language, and with both there are interesting Jewish associations. During the 9th century C.E., as part of his proselytizing campaign in the Balkans, the missionary monk Cyril of Salonika (also called Constantine the Philosopher) created Glagolitic, the basic Slav alphabet, later modified by Clement of Ohrid to form the Cyrillic alphabet. Since the Greek symbols on which this was based could not convey all the phonemes of the old Slav tongue, several consonantal symbols had to be drawn from other sources, including the Hebrew alphabet which yielded Б (ב), Ц (צ), Ч (ץ), Ш (ש), and Щ (ש) – the phonetic equivalents of b, ts, ch, sh, and shch. This new alphabet facilitated the translation of Greek liturgical works into the new literary language – Old Church Slavonic (or Bulgarian) – to which Cyril, his brother Methodius, and perhaps their pupils such as Clement added a version of the Bible, reputedly translated from the original Hebrew. According to some authorities, they had learned Hebrew from the Jews of Salonika and Kherson; Cyril and Methodius also translated part of a Hebrew grammar. The influence of a Hebrew textual source (as well as of Greek or Latin translations) has been detected in an Old Church Slavonic version of the Psalms – the 12th-century Psalterium Sinaiticum – now in the possession of St. Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula. Other medieval Bulgarian works translated or drawn from Jewish sources include Shestodnev ("The Six Days"), an account of the creation of the world in the biblical tradition, composed by loan (John) the Exarch (b. 860). During the 11th and 12th centuries the Bogomils – a heretical Christian sect, the Western counterparts of which were known as the Cathars or Albigensians – produced a literature rich in biblical themes.

The Figure of the Jew in Bulgarian Literature

From the beginning of the Bulgarian national revival in the early 19th century, most Bulgarian writers instinctively sympathized with their fellow Jewish victims of oppression. While protesting against antisemitism, some of these non-Jewish writers portrayed Jewish suffering as a tragic destiny, while others advocated a solution to the problem, either through total emancipation or Zionism. Authors in the first category were Peyo (Kracholov) Yavorov (1877–1914), a leading symbolist poet who wrote Yevrei ("Jews," 1901) on Jewish martyrdom; Petko Yordanov Todorov (1879–1916), whose "Kamuni" ("Stones") published in Idilii (1908) describes the Jewish tragedy; and the versatile Petko Rachev Slaveykov (1827–95), who portrayed Jewish suffering with an elegiac pathos reminiscent of the Psalms in his poem "Plachete za oniez" ("Weep for These," 1852). The poet and playwright Emanuil Pop Dimitrov (1885–1943) used his knowledge of Bulgarian Jewry in two biblical works, Deshcherite na Yeftaya ("Jephthah's Daughter") and Rut ("Ruth"), which appeared between the world wars. On the other hand, there were writers like Konstantin Konstantinov (1890–1970) who, after World War I, regarded the Jew as a comrade in the struggle for social justice. Jewish participation in the Bulgarian national movement is a prominent theme of the novel Robi ("Slaves," 1930) by the social writer Anton Strashimirov (1872–1937); Aleko Konstantinov (1863–97), outraged by the police brutality against Joseph Marcou *Baruch, the founder of the Bulgarian Zionist movement, wrote a pro-Jewish pamphlet entitled I sega biyat, brate moy ("We Fight On, My Brother," 1921). Other works in this genre were E.P. Dimitrov's Yevrei ("Jews"), and "Poslednata kal" ("The Last Mud," 1929), a story by Yordan Kovachev (1875–1934). Hostile treatment of the Jew is rare in Bulgarian literature, the one outstanding example being the classic drama Kem propast ("Toward the Abyss," 1910) by the prolific Ivan Vazov (1850–1921). In this play, which has a medieval setting, the central character, Queen Theodora, is shown to have been responsible for the defeat of her realm. The figure of Theodora is directly inspired by the converted Jewess, originally named Sarah, whom the Bulgarian czar Ivan Alexander married in 1335. Periodically from the late 19th century and especially during the decade of fascist rule (1934–44), some pamphleteers and journalists encouraged antisemitic tendencies, but their activities gained little popular support.

After World War II Bulgarian writers generally saw the Jew as an anti-fascist hero. In his novel Na zhivot ili smert ("Life or Death," 1953) Dimitur Anghelov (1904– ) portrays the Jewish democrat Sami Mevorakh executed by the fascists; Dimitur Dimov (1909–1966) brings several Jewish characters into his novel Tyutyun ("Tobacco," 1953), sympathetically describing the Communist Max Eshkenazi and the partisan Varvara, and including some dialogue in Judeo-Spanish (Ladino); while Dimitur Talev (1898–1966) introduces into his novel Glasovete vi chuyam ("I Hear Your Voices," 1954) several Jewish heroes, including a young Macedonian revolutionary. Similar figures also appear in the novel Krayat na delnite ("The End of the Brigands," 1955) by Emil Manov (1919–1982); in the play Borbata produlzhava ("The Fight Continues," 1945) by Krum Kulyavkov (1893–1955), and in a number of other works. In the tragedy Ivan Shishman (1962) by Kamen Zidarov (1902–1987), Queen Theodora (whom Ivan Vazov had earlier treated rather unsympathetically) is presented in a positive light.

The Jewish Contribution to Bulgarian Literature

At around the time of World War I Jews began to write literary works in Bulgarian as well as Ladino. The pioneer in this field was the gifted poetess Dora Gabe (1866–1983), who produced many of the classics of Bulgarian literature. Later she beccame president of the Bulgarian PEN Club and head of the Council of Bulgarian Writers. Haim Benadov (1907–1991) describes Jewish poverty in a Sofia suburb in his satiric short stories. In the first half of the 20th century there were three significant poets who devoted their works to the Zionist ideal: Oram ben Ner (pen name of Saul Mezan, 1893–1944), author of Pesni za Erusalim ("Songs of Jerusalem"); Simcho Isakov (1919–1949), author of Stihove ("Poems," 1953); and Leo Cohen, who wrote Moiat narod ("My People," 1930) and Poezia I jivot ("Poetry and Life," 1938). Bucha Behar wrote popular stories about Jewish country life. Mois Benaroya (1896–1967) worked as a critic, and Albert Mihael was a prolific contributor to the Jewish press as well as a playwright. A number of Jewish writers worked in the field of political journalism. The most important of them was Jossif Herbst (1875–1925), murdered by the Fascists because of his acerbic pen. Others were Benjamin and Eliezer Arditi, Jossif Israel, and Isak Naimovich. This important Jewish contribution to Bulgarian literary life undoubtedly inspired leading Bulgarian writers to submit a petition to the Bulgarian Parliament in 1940 protesting proposed anti-Jewish legislation.

After World War II many more Jews gained literary prominence. Armand Baruh (1908–1990) was a popular novelist, mainly known for Ralevi (1955). Victor Baruh (1921– ) wrote mainly about the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust years. His most famous work is the novel Otrecheni ot zakona ("Denied by the Law," 1960). Others are Svatbeni sveshti ("Wedding Candles," 1968), Iaponskata kukla ("The Japanese Doll," 1965), and Oklevetenata ("The Slandered," 2003). Valeri *Petrov was an outstanding poet, theater and cinema writer, and translator, under the pen name of Valeri Mevorah (1920– ). Poems like "V mekata esen" ("In the Soft Autumn," 1961) and "Krai sinioto more" ("Along the Blue Sea") made him one of the most important Bulgarian poets of all times, while his plays such as Kogato rozite tantzuvat ("When the Roses Dance"), Biala prikazka ("White Story"), and Kopche za san ("Button for a Dream"") are produced in many dramatic and puppet theaters around the world. Also highly acclaimed is his translation of Shakespeare into Bulgarian. David Ovadia (1923–1995) was a poet whose work dealt mainly with anti-Fascist resistance. Salis Tadjer (1924–1988), poet and belletrist, wrote Kopnej v pustiniata ("Longing in the Desert," 1960) and Bulgaria v mene ("Bulgaria Within Me," 1964). The outstanding Jewish playwright of the 1960s was Dragomir Asenov (pen name of Jak Melamed, 1926–1981), who wrote Rojden den ("Birthday," 1965) and Rozi za Doktor Shomov ("Roses for Doctor Shomov," 1967). The fate of one Jew is the subject of his trilogy Kafiavi horizonti ("Brown Horizons," 1961), Golemiat kamenen dom ("The Big Stone House," 1963), and Plodat na vetrovete ("The Fruit of the Winds," 1966).

The two most important Jewish literary critics were Iako Molhov (1915–2002), who wrote Problemi na savremennia balgarski roman ("Problems of the Contemporary Bulgarian Novel," 1956) and Maxim Naimovich (1921–1982). Also prominent during the postwar period was the prolific novelist and screenwriter Anjel *Vagenshtajn (1922– ), whose screenplays were internationally acclaimed. "In his later years he turned mainly to novels, with Jewish themes predominant in Petoknijie Isakovo ("Pentateuch of Isaac") and Sbogom, Shanhai ("Good-bye, Shanghai"). Leon Daniel (1926– ) is an outstanding essayist The poetry of Victor Samuilov (1946– ) and the prose of Chavdar Shinov (1941– ) are richly satiric. Eddy Schwartz (1937– ) works as a playwright and novelist.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

L. Kohen, in: Biblioteka Probuda, 2 no. 6 (1939); G. Konstantinov, et al., Bŭulgarski pisateli: biografii i bibliografii (1961); Ts. Minkov (ed.); Bŭlgarska literatura, 1 (1962); Evrei, zaginali v antifashistkata borba (1958).

[Salvator Marco Israel /

Emil Kalo (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.