YUGOSLAV LITERATURE


The Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, Hungarians, and other ethnic groups that constitute the population of former Yugoslavia all have their own distinct cultural traditions, and it is therefore merely for the sake of convenience that they are associated under the heading Yugoslav Literature. The earliest literary activity in the "land of the southern Slavs" (dating back to the ninth century) was the result of the educational and missionary work of Cyril of Salonika and his brother Methodius, Cyril having devised the Slavic (Cyrillic) alphabet still used, within Yugoslavia, by the Serbs and Macedonians (see *Bulgarian Literature).

Biblical and Hebraic Influences

The Bible has been translated and referred to by the southern Slavs since the beginning of their cultural history. The first translation of the Old Testament, by Cyril and Methodius, was intended for the Slavs of Macedonia and according to tradition was based on the original Hebrew. The earliest complete translation, however, was that of Primož Trubar, a Slovenian Protestant, in the late 16th century. Two versions of the Reformation period were a Croatian Lutheran Bible (1562–63) and Juri Dalmatin's Protestant Bible and Psalter (1584), which marked the beginnings of Slovenian literature. Among the translations of the 19th century, a period of national and cultural revival, were those of Matija Petar Katanić in Croatia (1813) and Djura Daničžć in Serbia (1865), both Orthodox. Two 20th-century versions are the (Orthodox) Bible of 1932–33 and Petar Vlasić's Serbo-Croatian Bible (1923–25). In Serbia, biblical tales (such as the "Book of Adam") and religious plays were written during the Middle Ages and until the period of the Turkish invasion in the mid-15th century. Biblical themes were also current in 15th-century Croatian literature. The Hebraic and Greek biblical traditions persisted in Old Slavonic literature and flourished under Byzantine influence among the southern Slavs. Biblical subjects were later popular during the Serbian literary revival in the 19th century. At the beginning of the 18th century, Gavril Stefanović Venclović of Srem translated some 20,000 pages of this old literature into vernacular Serbian.

However, original works on Old Testament themes have been traced to the Renaissance era, when the Croatian poet and humanist Marko Marulić wrote the allegorical Neo-Latin epic Davidiadis libri XIV and the first Croatian epic on a religious subject, Judita (1501), which was intended to arouse national feelings against the Turkish overlord. Another writer of the 16th century, the Montenegrin poet Mavro-Nikolo Vetranović of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), wrote an outstanding verse play about Abraham, Posvetilište Abraamovo, and the apocryphal drama, Suzana ćista. After a lapse of almost three centuries, the epic tradition was revived by the Serbian writer Milovan Vidaković, who published his Istorija o prekrasnom Josifje (1805) and the apocryphal Mladi Tovija (1825). Vidaković, who also wrote the epic Putešestvije u Jerusalim (1834), was followed by several other writers: Laza Kostić, a Serbian poet; Petar Petrović Njegoš, vladika (prince-bishop) of Montenegro, the greatest Montenegrin poet; and Silvije Strahimir Kranjčerić, a Croatian poet of Sarajevo. Biblical elements are prominent in the works of all three, Njegoš having composed the epic Luča mikrokozma (1845; The Rays of the Microcosm, 1953), which betrays the influence of Dante, Milton, and Byron, and Kranjčerić having written Mojsije, a poem about the Lawgiver. This interest in biblical subjects was maintained in the 20th century. Miroslav Krleža, the outstanding contemporary writer in Croatia, published dramas on Adam and Eve and Salome, while his colleague and fellow radical, August Cesarec, wrote "Israel's Exodus and Other Legends" on the eve of World War II. Old Testament themes have also inspired two studies of Moses (1932, 1938) by Aron Alkalaj; "King David," a drama by the Belgrade writer, artist, and stage director Raša Plaović; and Vreme čuda ("Time of Wonders," 1965), by the Serbian Borislav Pekić which was inspired by biblical legends.

There have been no Yugoslav translations of talmudic and later Jewish religious literature and these have therefore exerted no influence on the local culture. In the 16th century, however, Croatian humanism produced an outstanding scholar in Matthias Flacius Illyricus (Vlachich), a Protestant theologian and philologist who became professor of Hebrew at the University of Wittenberg in 1544. A violent controversialist and fanatical anti-Catholic, he published many scholarly works including a linguistic dictionary of the Bible, Clavis Scripturae Sacrae seu de sermone sacrarum literarum (Antwerp, 1567; Basle, 1623). The *Wandering Jew theme also appeared in Yugoslavia with the epic Ahasver (1946) by the left-wing Croatian poet and politician Vladimir Nazor. As to classics of modern Jewish literature, works by writers such as Shalom Aleichem and Sholem Asch have been translated from the Yiddish, as have other works by Jewish writers in other languages, notably Isaac Babel, Saul Bellow, Heinrich Heine, and André Schwarz-Bart, all popular among Yugoslav readers and critics.

[Ana Shomlo-Ninic]

The Image of the Jew

In the areas constituting former Yugoslavia, Jews have not, in general, provided writers with a major literary theme. There were two basic reasons for this: the Jewish population was always limited, inconspicuous, and largely cut off from gentile society; and, in the ethnic, religious, and cultural mosaic formed by this Balkan region, a crossroads and battlefield of many nations, native writers in search of the exotic or colorful had no need to seek out the Jew. Until the Holocaust Jews were central characters only in works by Jewish authors. Subsequently they also became an accepted subject for non-Jews.

In the rich folk literature which survived well into the 19th century, the Jews who appear have no individuality and, under the influence of Christian polemical writings, they are often presented as "cursed" and cruel, objects of hatred and derision. Exceptionally, one folk song contains cautious praise for the young Jewess who wishes to marry the exalted hero, Kraljević Marko. During the Renaissance period, Dalmatian poets (e.g., Marulić) adapted biblical and apocryphal subjects and New Testament material, but did not associate the Hebrews of the past with the Jews of their time. Instead, they tended to regard the people of Israel as a symbol of their own nation in its fight against the Turks and as exemplifying the general struggle of humanity. Jewish figures appeared in very few comedies, one being the anonymous Jerko Škripalo presented in Dubrovnik during the 18th century, and then from a positive point of view. Serbian and Croatian authors of the 19th-century Romantic school scarcely mentioned contemporary Jews, but when they did, they used them to describe their own situation, as in August Šenoa's Vječni Žid ("The Eternal Jew"), or else to express general ideas (as in S. Kranjčević's Mojsije, and Vladimir Vidrić's Dva levita). Before the First Zionist Congress the Slovenian ex-priest Anton Aškerc published a mordant poem ("Natanova prikazen") about an old rabbi who bewails the homelessness of his people; in answer, the patriarch Abraham assures him that, since the whole world owes money to the Jews, the world is their homeland. In Slovenia, France Pršéren wrote a poem ("Judovsko dekle") about a young Jewess who falls in love with a Christian, but abandons him because of the religious barrier.

With the advent of the realistic novel at the end of the 19th century, the Jew began to figure in the role of the shopkeeper or publican who precipitates the collapse of rural society, as in Josip Kosor's Rasap ("Disintegration," 1906), or as a moneylender; always a secondary figure, bereft of individuality, the Jew was invariably presented in an unfavorable light, often with pronounced antisemitic overtones. The Croatian Miroslav Krleža, a militant leftist author and playwright, scattered antisemitic remarks throughout his works, although he placed such comments in the mouths of degenerate, negative types. Otherwise Krleža merely produced the image of a revolutionary, cosmopolitan Jew, oblivious to patriotism or any sense of national identity. Between the world wars the figure of the Jew was mainly the concern of Jewish writers, some of whom restricted themselves to a Jewish readership (e.g., Hinko *Gottlieb). The humorist Zak *Konfino introduced the little Sephardi communities of the Serbian countryside, and Isak *Samokovlija wrote about the ordinary Sephardi Jew of Bosnia. Both writers familiarized the general public with Jewish types whom they presented in an attractive literary style. During and after World War II, dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish authors became preoccupied with the fate of Yugoslav Jewry in verse, drama, and fiction. Since in most cases these works were inspired by actual events, the characters appearing in them acquired a seal of authenticity. The Jew now appeared not only as the innocent victim of Nazi-Fascist bestiality, but also as a courageous fighter who lays down his life to avenge his people or to free his country. This tide, which is still in full spate, carried with it many Jewish and non-Jewish authors of the older generation impelled to supply testimony about the Jewish tragedy, as well as innumerable younger writers for whom the subject served as a powerful literary incentive.

The image of the Jew acquires a classic dimension in the works of the Serbian Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić, especially in the two novels which he wrote in German-occupied Belgrade. Within the general racial and cultural panorama of Travnička hronika ("The Chronicle of Travnik," 1945) he described the *Athias family's way of life and tribulations, typical of the Sephardi refugees in Western Bosnia at the beginning of the 19th century. These exiles from the West are thrown into the Orient, which corrupts and degenerates them without destroying their self-respect. In Na Drini ćuprija ("The Bridge over the Drina," 1945) Andrić affectionately described a beautiful and energetic Ashkenazi Jewess of Tarnow who runs a tavern in an East Bosnian townlet at the close of the 19th century. There the clash of the old and the new provides an anvil for her own achievements and failures. In his short stories, Pripovetke (3 vols., 1924–36; The Pasha's Concubine and Other Tales, 1969), Andrić described other Jewish figures in a realistic but sympathetic manner. Always deeply involved in their surroundings, they nevertheless keep their distance, either of their own free will or from compulsion.

[Cvi Rotem]

The Jewish Contribution

Although there have been Jewish communities in Macedonia and Dalmatia for 2,000 years or more, the earliest record of Jewish literary activity in the territory of former Yugoslavia dates only from the mid-16th century. The Neo-Latin poet Didacus *Pyrrhus, a Portuguese refugee known also as Flavius Eborensis, Pyrrhus Lusitanus, and Diego Pires (originally Isaiah Cohen), settled in Dubrovnik (Ragusa), where he continued to write verse. After 1492 many Spanish exiles fled to Bosnia (then part of the Ottoman Empire) and settled in Sarajevo, where they were made welcome. However, their new cultural milieu, by contrast with Western Europe, was so low that they virtually ceased to foster scientific and scholarly pursuits. The first Bosnian Sephardi of literary note was the 17th–18th-century Sarajevo kabbalist Nehemiah Hiyya *Ḥayon. With the appointment of David Samuel b. Jacob *Pardo as rabbi of Sara-jevo (1765), Jewish studies were revived, flourishing under his son, Isaac Pardo, and under Meir Danon, Eliezar Jichac Papo, and Eliezer Shem-Tov Papo (all 19th century), of whom the last two published works in Ladino as well as Hebrew.

In 1526 Jews were banned from Croatia for more than two centuries; their resettlement dates from the 18th century. Among the newcomers were many intellectuals, notably Siegfried (Vítezslav) *Kapper, an eminent Czech poet who at one time lived in Karlovac and promoted international interest in Croatian and Serbian poetry. From the beginning of the 20th century, Jewish newspapers and magazines such as Ž idovska smotra, Gideon (later titled Ha-Noar), Ha-Aviv (for youngsters), and Ommanut began regular publication. There were two important publishers: Lavoslav Hartman (1813–1881), who issued the first Croatian translations and editions of world classics, and Geca Kon (1873–1941) of Belgrade, who headed the largest Yugoslav publishing house in the period between the world wars. In Belgrade, as in Sarajevo, the first Jewish writers were rabbinic scholars, and secular literature, reflecting the prevalent Sephardi culture, was mainly written in Ladino until World War I. In the late 1830s, during the reign of Prince Miloš, who was sympathetic to the Jews, Hebrew printing began to develop in Serbia; Hajim Davićo was the pioneer Jewish writer in the Serbian language in the late 19th century. During the 1880s many new Jewish literary associations, newspapers, and periodicals in Ladino, Yiddish, German, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian were established, including Jevrejski Glasnik, Zajednica, El amigo del pueblo, Pasatiempo (Belgrade), and Alborada (Sarajevo). Jovan Mandil (1873–1915), a lawyer and journalist of Šabac, Serbia, was the correspondent of the Belgrade dailies Pravda and Beogradske novine, as well as the founder and chief editor of Bitoljske novine. The founder of Sarajevo's first Ladino newspaper, La Alborada (1900–01), a scientific and literary weekly, was Abraham Kapon (1853–1930), an author and editor whose works included two dramas, El Augustiador (1914) and Shivat Sion (1921), a volume of Poesias (1922), and translations. Many of his unpublished manuscripts were lost during World War II.

Later Trends

Early in the 20th century numerous Jewish writers and translators introduced Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian readers to the classics of world literature. Prominent among them were Benko Davičo (brother of Hajim Davičo), who translated Heine; Lav Grin (Ilko Gorenčevi), the art critic; Paulina Loebl Albala; David Pijade, who published original fiction and a translation of Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Grey; Bukić Pijade; and Haim Alkalaj.

An entire tradition of *Ladino romances, proverbs, and folklore had been transmitted orally from the late 15th century onward, and, during the 1930s, some Sephardi writers in Yugoslavia tried to revive this culture and to set it down in writing. In this regard the work of Laura Papo Bohoreta, a poet, playwright, and novelist, was especially significant. She published Ojes mios, La pasiensia vale muche, Tiempos pasados, and Avia de ser, and also wrote a study of the Sephardi woman which was translated into Spanish (1931). Bohoreta died in the Holocaust. Active in the same field was the Hispanicist Kalmi Baruh (1896–1945), born in Sarajevo, whose research in Spain during the late 1920s was later recalled by his friend and compatriot, Ivo Andrić (in: Jevrejski almanah (1959/60), 213–5). Baruh devoted much of his time and energy to the study of the Ladino language and the Ladino "romances" of Bosnia (Jevrejsko-španski idiomi); and his many essays and studies relating to Ladino culture and Spanish writers were partly republished in Eseji i članci o španskoj književnosti ("Essays and Articles on Spanish Literature," 1952). Baruh died shortly after his liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Jewish Themes

In Serbo-Croatian literature proper, Jews achieved prominence only after World War I. So far as specifically Jewish themes and interests are concerned, the two most important Yugoslav authors were Isak Samokovlija, who wrote only of Sephardi life in Bosnia, and the Zionist poet and author Hinko Gottlieb, who wrote fiction on World War II themes and died in Israel. Other Jewish writers active in the period between the world wars included the poet and editor Samuel *Romano, who translated modern Hebrew verse and prose works, and Stanislav Vinaver. Among the promising young authors who died in the Holocaust were two cousins from Novi Sad: Vitomir Jovanović (pen name of Viktor Rozencvajg), who issued a verse collection, Naš život ("Our Life"); and Nenad Mirov (pen name of Alfred Rozencvajg), whose collected poems appeared in Dve duše ("Two Souls"), Kroz jadilovce klance ("Through the Gorges of Pain"), and Tri prema jedan za poeziju ("Three to One for Poetry").

Apart from the versatile author and humorist Žak Konfino, some of whose works deal with Sephardi life in Serbia, most contemporary Jewish writers in Yugoslavia (among whom several have achieved considerable importance) are remote from Jewish tradition and show little interest in either Sephardi or Ashkenazi themes. Outstanding among these was the Communist poet and novelist Oscar *Davičo, whose anti-Zionist and anti-Israel bias was shared by the eminent art historian and essayist Oto Bihalji *Merin. The latter's brother, Pavle Bihalji, a leading publisher, fell victim to the Nazis in 1941. Two authors whose literary career began well before World War II were the poet and playwright Miroslav Feldman and the novelist and literary scholar Ervin *Šinko. The older generation of modern writers was also represented by the Zagreb poet and translator Ina *Jun-Broda, who settled in Vienna and published Serbo-Croatian works in German translation; Julija Najman, who translated from the French and wrote fiction on Jewish themes; and Jožef *Debrecenji, a native of Budapest, who wrote in Hungarian as well as Serbo-Croatian. One of the most translated Yugoslav writers was Erih Koš (1913– ), who published novels and short stories, and satires such as čudnovata povest o kitu velikom takođe zvanom veliki Mak (1960; The Strange Story of the Great Whale, also known as Big Mac, 1962). Other works by Koš include the novel Il tifo (1958), an allegory on the tragic aspects of war. Among the leftist social writers who were first active between the world wars were Šinko, Bihalji Merin, and the psychiatrist Hugo Klajn (1894–1981), who taught at the Belgrade Academy of Dramatic Arts and wrote Šekspir i čovječanstvo ("Shakespeare and Mankind," 1964).

In the course of the German occupation of Yugoslavia during World War II, the vast majority of the Jews perished and the traumatic effect of this disaster had profound literary repercussions. Personal experiences as a survivor of Auschwitz dominate the works of Djordje *Lebović, who dealt with the concentration camp theme in dramas such as Nebeski odred ("Commando Heaven," 1959), Do viđenja druže Gale ("Goodbye, Comrade Gal," 1961), and Haleluja (1965). Other authors who tackled the same subject included Frida Filipović (1913– ), who published fiction and translations from the French; the poet, novelist, and children's writer Ivan Ivanji; the novelist Danilo Nahmijas; Julija Najman; and Jožef Debrecenji, whose novel Hideg krematórium: Auschwitz regénye ("The Cold Crematorium," 1950) first appeared in Hungarian (in Yugoslavia) and was later translated into other languages. Two other works about the Holocaust period by postwar writers were the novels Testament by Stevan Kvazimodo, and Pod žutom trakom ("Under the Yellow Badge") by Andrija Deak. Two authors of the younger generation who displayed a nostalgic interest in the Jewish tradition were Filip David and Danilo Kiš (1935–1989), whose novels include Psalm 44 and Bašta, pepeo ("Garden, Ashes," 1965).

After 1945 and throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jewish writers continued to play an important part in Yugoslavia's cultural life as editors and contributors of leading newspapers and periodicals, theater managers, and writers for radio, television, and the motion picture industry. Many of them gained the highest literary awards. Jevrejski almanah, the annual publication of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, promotes the work of aspiring young writers and also contains essays and other contributions by eminent Jewish and non-Jewish authors.

[Ana Shomlo-Ninic]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

N. Strunjaš, in: Gesher, 15:1 (1969), 74–84 (= Jevrejski almanah, 1965–67). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: P. Palavestra, Jevrejski pisci u srpskoj knjizevnosti (1988); D. Katan Ben-Zion, Presence and DisappearanceJews and Judaism in Former Yugoslavia in the Mirror of Literatures (Heb., 2002).


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