Oskar Davičo and Danilo Kiš: Two Serbian-Jewish Writers and Their Approach to Jewish Themes in Modern Serbian Literature* Ružica Popovitch-Krekić After the Second World War, Serbian literature passed through many phases and changes: from socialist realism to realism, from realism to modernism, and from modernism to what was called “a different kind of realistic political literature.”1 This final phase namely involves a profusion of novels which deal with the year 1948, the Cominform, the Yugoslav Gulag on the Adriatic island of Goli Otok, and the nationalistic themes which are predominant in the writings about the civil war, and the killing of the civilian population of what was then Yugoslavia. Throughout its many changes and styles, one theme has remained constant: ethnicity. Some of the best-known Serbian writers are recognized by the role of ethnicity in their writings: Njegoš wrote about the Montenegrins and Montenegro; Jovan Sterija Popović wrote about the Serbs in Vojvodina, which was then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; and Ivo Andrić wrote about Bosnia’s towns and the people in them. In the years immediately after the Second World War, some Serbian writers abandoned ethnicity as too narrow an expression for their literary needs, only to return to it in their later writings. Some contemporary works of literature that have focused on ethnicity have provoked considerable public discussion. Mihajlo Lalić’s novel, Dokle gora zeleni (Until the Mountain Turns Green) published in 1982, was attacked for [End Page 85] its tribalism, wherein Montenegrin families are defined by their ethnic traits and geographic locations.2 The controversial role of ethnicity in contemporary literature includes the small but prominent community of Serbian Jews, who have indeed carved a place for themselves in the culture of Serbia. In this discussion of ethnicity, the role of Jews is also included. There are many Jewish characters in Serbian literature. Ivo Andrić’s “Ljubav u kasabi” (“Love in the Kasaba”) is the tale of Rifka, an unhappy Jewish girl in an unhappy love story. Ćir-Moša Abenšaam is a well-known character in a story by Stevan Sremac, but Sremac made grotesque characters out of his fellow Serbs as well.3 The modern satirist Žak Konfino did not laugh only at rabbis, or the Zionist leaders in pre-WWII Yugoslavia, or at supposedly backward Sephardim as opposed to supposedly sophisticated Aszhkenazim in Serbian society. Konfino wrote humorously about everyone, beginning with himself, and his own profession, medical doctors. His satire had no boundaries.4 Those who had read stories by Isak Samokovlija commiserated with the poor Jews in far-away Bosnian kasabas, who, in the worst of economic conditions, lived side by side with other Bosnians: the Catholics, the Muslims, the Orthodox, and others, all of whom were equally poor and proud, trying to make the best out of their miserable lives. However, the general depiction of Jews in Serbian literature—whether written by Jews or non-Jews—does not concern us here. Here we will focus on two Jewish writers: Davičo and Kis. A brief history of Serbia’s Jewish writers begins with the first modern Serbian Jewish writer, Haim Davičo, was a lawyer by profession and served as the financial attaché of the Serbian government in Munich, Thessalonika, and Geneva, where he died in 1916. Born in Belgrade in 1854 and educated in Šabac, Haim Davičo wrote in a pleasant style and with a great deal of realism about his fellow Jews in Jalija, Belgrade’s Dorćol district. At that time, Dorćol was not a ghetto in the strict sense of the word, as people of other ethnicities and religions lived there also. The stories by Haim Davičo include a rich Jewish boy who loves a poor girl, and a spoiled only daughter of a rich Jewish merchant who has her eyes set on a Christian boy from the other side of a Dorćol street. The stories are set in the 1880s, 1890s, and the early 1900s. Life was full of many happy endings according to Haim Davičo, whose short [End Page 86] stories were frequently published in a literary periodical called Otad...

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