Tuesday, November 27, 2007

about krpara


It is a most distant memory of my childhood in Sarajevo, a difficult word for other than Serbo-Croatian speakers to pronounce. (The use of the very word "Serbo-Croatian" forces me to stop and explain it. Seems that only Jews of the former Yugoslavia are still calling their mother tongue by its former Serbo-Croatian name).

So, before I had even started, I already find myself in an aside, explaining the tongue I grew up with: I expect to receive some murderous comments about it if any contemporary ex-Yugoslavs come across this blog. Because, the only politically correct names for my mother tongue are now split like Yugoslavia itself, into Croat, Bosnian, Serbian, Montenegrin, all in fact dialects of the same south slav language, but now replete with archived archaic words, new coinages, inventions to make the "etniciticies" distinct from each-other. To tell the biased truth, the Croats started the game way before the split - they didn't like being part and parcel of the group of their Slavic bretheren with less than millenium of civilisation behind them. Ask Miroslav Krleza, one of their own tribe, a Yugoslav literary giant.

For most of my current 86 years, I have been attempting to write about my life, givig up on the project a decade ago. As a reporter and columnist, I had a superior command of the rich Serbo-Croatian vocabulary. (No place for false modesty here). But I came to the conclusion that I will never make a decent novel out of my colorful life in turbulent and dangerous times. There was something lacking in the way of my recounting it. (I did better when speaking about it to whoever was interested. I certainly was very much so.

Among those encouraging me was Susan Schiff, who visited us yesterdaywith Bill, her husband, and this time suggested I start writing a blog. Now you know where this coming from. I shrugged it off.

Then, in the middle of night, another friend, Phyllis Spiegel, asked me by e-mail if I had read an aritcle about Sarajevo in the newest (Dec. 3, 2007) issue of The New Yorker. She had just finished it and found it fascinating. Must be about the times of my youth in Sarajevo. What did I think of it?

The Book of Exodus by Geraldine Brooks (an excerpt from her forthcoming "People of the Book"), relates the story of the rescue of the Sarajevo Haggadah from the German general who came to conficate it in the Sarajevo Museum in early 1942. The Haggadah, a beautifull illustrated work, was smuggled out of Spain, through Portugal and Venice, and eventually landed in Sarajevo, where own of many impoverished Jews sold it to the Museum.

Dervis Korkut, an Islamic scholar and the librarian of the Museum, smuggled the Haggadah out the Nazis' reach. He was an elegant man, in a three piece suit and a fez, which reminded me my own Sephardic grandfather, descendant of exiles of the Spanish Inquisition, who also dressed in the Turkish fashion of the Bosnian past.

There is a mention in the chronicle of Mira Papo, a member of the Jewish Socialist Zionist youth movement, Hashomer Hazair, preoaring to emigrate to Israel as pioneers. For a time, I also was a member, until, sorry to say, the management told me to sever my friendship with non-Jews. Among the other members was Dado Elazar, later the Chief of Staff ot the Israli Army during the Yom Kipur War.

According to the author, Mira ended up with the Tito's partisans, but was later left with other young Jews alone in a field above Sarajevo and told to return, as the group wasn't deemed tough enough for to endure the underground hardships. My recollection, as a then member of the Youth Communist League, is different.

First, in 1939, as a University of Belgrade student, I participated in the peaceful overthrow of the government which had signed a treaty, aligning Yugoslavia with Germany. The demonstrations and our slogans -- Better War then Treaty (Pact), and Army With The People -were precursors of similar overthrows of post-WWII governments all across Eastern Europe, and as unforgetable.

When in April 1941, in retaliation, Germany declared war on Yugoslavia, we dispersed to our home towns, where we besieged Army garrisons, asking to be recruited for the war. The corrupted army leadership didn't have arms nor amunitions and we were refused.

As soon as The Germans invaded Sarajevo, many of my schoolmates, now Ustashe and Moslem fashists, in tow, were bragging all over how they'll by coming soon to arrest the Jewish, Serbian and scum. At a meeting of the underground forces was called on the Poligon, an expanse of fields on mountain slopes above town . The meeting was momentuous, as it told us that there wasn't going to be any unprising aginst the Nazis, because the reactionery centers of the world were now in London and Paris, not in Berlin and Rome. The Stalin-Hitler (Molotov-Riebentrop) nom-aggression pact had just been concluded. We were left to field for ourselves, not because we were too young and not tough enough for battle, but because the battle was called off.

Mira Papo was probably one of us.

Anyway, krpara was how we called the tight little ball made of rags (krpe) we used to kick around the streets before we grew up old enough to be given our own real soccer ball.