In the conversation we had on May 4, 1997 our renowned
composer and Academician Enriko Josif explained how his
family and himself were saved from Germans, thanks to
help Italians provided to Jewish refugees. Delving deep
into the Old Testament, he explained just how and why he
concludes that Jews and Serbs are peoples close in destiny.
He then sent an emotional message to the leaders of American
Jews not to participate in "the American media Auschwitz
against the Serbs."
We also talked about his music compositions as well as
his work as an educator at the Music Academy in Belgrade.
Until his retirement, he was Professor of Composition at
Excerpts from the interview
I was born on May 1, 1924, in Belgrade. With exception
of the time during the war years, I have never left the
city. At that time, guided only by destiny, my mother,
brother and I left the city, unaware that by doing so
we avoided possible death. I came back to the city,
with my mother and brother right after the war.
What may explain my statements to the reader is my
relationship, my shared living with the Serbian people;
the people I regard as truly exceptional. I want to say
that just after Jews, the Serbs belong to the most
eschatological (1) people in this 20th century.
I will try to prove it using some arguments from the
Before that war, I spent my
childhood and my early
youth -- I can tell it for sure -- as if in a paradise.
In this country, in Serbia, I never felt what it means
to be a Jew in its bad meaning. Quite the contrary.
Literally, I felt as it is said in the Bible: "Love
the one who is with you -- a stranger -- as you love
thouself." I was shielded in that fashion, and I had
great relationships. Later on, I learned what a great
thing it was and that there was no other such place.
Nowhere was it so good. Deep down in my heart, I am
grateful to God that I was born in this extraordinary
country that was so benevolent toward the Jews. Of
course, there are always individual exceptions but
taken as a whole Serbia always looked at the Jews
in this special way. This must be because of our similar
destiny. This is especially true in this -- 20th -- century
when our common destiny was that we will be pointed to
as culprits. This was done to such a scale that,
during Hitler's time, the fingers would point to us,
and we would be called monsters -- guilty for everything!
Interviewer: Could you tell more about your family?
My father's name was Mosha Josif. He was a merchant
representative of the Italian company "Snia Viskosa."
That is how I got the name Enriko. He was also
representing the well known German car industry of BMW.
That horrible war came, but my father died before it.
He was one of the rare Jews, though, who used to say
"Let us all go to Australia. The arrival of Hitler means
the end of Europe. It is our end, too." Of course,
our people did not belive him.
Then, only days before the Germans' attack on Yugoslavia,
my mother's instinct was telling her that we should
leave Belgrade. I did not want to hear of it. She
then took her little pistol and said, "If you do not
decide to leave, I will kill myself right here." This
is how we left toward Dubrovnik and the Adriatic coast.
We spent some time there and then -- miracle: The
Italians (it was them who took over Dubrovnik first)
tell us, "Run out of Dubrovnik. Germans and Ustashas
[Croat Nazis] will take over the city in few days."
They even gave us some passes.So we left toward
Split, which is also on the Adriatic coast but under
their [Italians'] control.
To make this part of my testimony shorter -- we
were first transported to the [Adriatic] island
of Korchula and then to "free confinement" in Italy
itself. At the end of 1943 when the Italian government
capitulated and the Germans took over the entire Northern
Italy, we succeeded in crossing the border into Switzerland.
I was 19 years old then. In Switzerland we lived with
my grandfather. There, in Switzerland, I experienced
the turmoil in my soul. There, for the first time,
through Bible which I did not know of before, I grasped
the tragedy that befell my people: the Jews. It was a
tremendous inner change. Suddenly, somehow as if through
the genes or through denka as they call it today I
understood why our destiny is the way it is and why I am.
I read the entire Old and New Testament. I also wrote
poems in all three languages of Switzerland --
French, German and Italian -- and also in Serbian.
I have no prejudice about the difference between the
Old and New Testament. I see them as a magnificent,
indivisible bridge. Of course, later, theologists
split this bridge, substituting it with unbridgeable
horror that ended in the holocaust.
The message to American Jews
I have to tell you now why I agreed to participate
in this interview. Usually, I try to avoid public
appearances, but I accepted this conversation so I can
address my people -- the American Jews. I want to tell
them something from my long experiences. It is up
to them to understand it as they want.
At one place in Prophet Isaiah (2) in chapter 55,
paragraph 5 as well as paragraph 3 to 5, there is
a puzzling quote. In literal translation it says:
"As I did with David, I will make an alliance of
mercy with you, too. As I choose David to be the king
and the guidance to peoples, so there will be a people
you did not know but will call upon. The people that
did not know you will flock to you for the glory of God."
Depending on the way one translates the verb, it could
be said "will gather round you" instead.
I say this because this quote, with exception of
some modern Bibles, was not translated as it says
in the original, but I saw it in Buber's (3) version,
written in the Hebrew language.
Before I go on, I should mention that the renowned Jewish
philosopher and theologian Maimonides (4), who was known
for his so called "rational" teachings, said something
interesting when he discussed the destiny of the Jewish
people with his Arab contemporaries. Among other things
he said, "We will get a state and we will get back to
the Promised Land."
"Look Maimonides", said the Arabs "You are very
wise man, but how can you as such, as someone who is
so logical and who teaches rationality in religion,
say something like that? You know that you will
never come back and that you will never have a country
of your own." Then Maimonides said something irrational:
"I am claiming that because God said that to the Prophets."
You see, for Maimonides it was something unquestionable.
It was an axiom. No discussion needed. You see, Maimonides
said that 800 years before formation of the state of
Israel. Not only did the Jews come back, but they also
got a state of their own.
Why am I telling you that? I am telling you that because
in this world, at this very moment, all those prophecies
are becoming an astonishing truth. They are not part of
some mysticism but a call of reality stronger than any
What Prophet Zacharias said about the destiny of Jerusalem
is quite up to date -- exactly as now. He said, "All peoples
of the world stood against you -- because of Jerusalem".
And that is what is happening today. Literally. Out of
180 member nations of the United Nations, 160 criticize
Israel for building suburbs in Jerusalem. This is what
literally happens today but what was uttered more than
2,500 years ago! So, it is not something one can joke
about. This is not something one can only accept as mere
symbolism or something which is aside from history. This
symbolism, this historical statements above, were uttered
in an eschatological manner -- some 2,000 years ago, and
they are becoming historical reality.
In light of all of this, let us get back to Isaiah
and his prophesy which dates from even before 2,500
years ago. In his prophesies we find a very important
analogy. He said, "As I chose David to be the King and
leader of peoples -- so that people that you did not
know you will know and that people that did not know
you will flock to you".
Please -- the thing is terribly clear. We are soul-mates
of the Serbs as two eschatological (1) peoples and as
two peoples of terribly similar destinies. Something
eschatologically miraculous is happening with the
Serbian people as it was happening yesterday above
Israel. This is why it is a holy duty of every Jew to
understand that. Jasenovac for the Serbs is exactly
the same as Dachau was for us. It is even kept as
a secret from you -- but you have to get to know it.
If you did, then you, the American Jews, would get to
understand the events in our country [of Yugoslavia]
in quite a different, more truthful way.
I beg you then -- do not participate in persecution,
in verbal attack, on the Serbian people because the Serbs
are our brothers in soul, our eschatological brothers.
Second, to live in one Serbia and not to feel a burden
of being a Jew is something that happened in no other place
in pre-Hitler Europe. But it was so natural here. The
Serbs are simply unbelievable people. I call them hugging
people. These are the kind of people who would hug a
stranger more than their own. They have a feeling for
strangers and are extremely honest and brother-like
to them. This is the reason why Serbia is so divided,
butchered, today. The Serbs never though of themselves
as anything special. They always had full respect for
everyone who lived with them and, of course, wished Serbia
no harm. This is an exceptional people, and it is horrible
what was done to them. All of what was premeditated.
I will repeat: a true media genocide, a media Auschwitz,
was perpetrated on the Serbian people! The Serbs were
dehumanized and portrayed as monsters exactly as the Jews
were portrayed through centuries, and in particular
with Goebbels and his propaganda.
I watched this cartoonish show of horror. I saw the
Serbs labelled the same way Hitler labelled the Jews --
as cripples, devils and Satans. That is mind-boggling!
It is horrible. How can anyone fathom it? I understand
that someone could profit from it and that profit is
a strong incentive, but this is truly un-Godly profit.
This un-Godly benefit, and invented strategic reasons
are absurdities that can not stand in front of a living
God. I tremble thinking of the destiny of the perpetrators
of this horrifying genocide, the media crime perpetrated
against the Serbs. I am afraid to talk about it or to
guess what would happen to those who did it. This is
not my concern any more. God will decide. As the saying
goes -- God will exact revenge -- not us, the humans.
Please understand: The way you were informed was one-sided.
It is inexcusable, and please do not participate in
persecution of the Serbs by signing demands that they
should be bombed or like activities. You are unaware
that you are participating in murder of a brother. Brother
in soul. By signing it, you are simply endorsing Auschwitz,
and you are giving full justification to what was done only
yesterday by German National Socialists.
Please, I beg you. I wrote to the head Rabbi of France
to address the believers, at least the believers, not
to participate in this maddening lynch mob. What we have
here is true medieval exorcistic mob hunting the
Serbian people. The Serbs are exceptional people --
exceptional in their embrace and love of other peoples.
We are not talking here just about people who were your
allies in the First and Second World War but well before
the two wars. These are the people who were devoted to
the ideas of great America, the ideas of once democratic
but now failed Europe.
So, this is the only reason why I agreed to talk about
this. But let me tell you the exegete meaning of what Isaiah
said. He said, "A people you did not know but will call
upon." Is that not a clear proof? You know who the Serbs
are but are so horrifyingly against them in following
the current trends. When Isaiah says "that people will
flock to you" that simply marks our destiny of people
who were haunted, persecuted only yesterday. They came
to us. They now have our destiny. That is the exegete meaning
of it. That is the Truth, and it would be wonderful if
you get an ear for it, if you could relate to it. So, do
not listen to those who keep repeating that this poor
people are guilty for everything, that they are nothing
but a people of murderers. Of course the Serbs have murderers --
every nation has them, but Serbs are the people -- the soul
of the world. They are hugging, all embracing, wonderful,
rare to find on this otherwise horrible, crippled Earth.
Here. That was my all encompassing wish to tell -- to say it
without putting blame on anyone. But be aware that you
are not informed. Unfortunately, you are not.
If you do not want to trust me, you could trust Mr. [Abraham]
Rosenthal, renowned American journalist. He is well informed
and feels that something is wrong. He was here. I know him
personally. He is an exceptional human being, a brave man.
Here I see that in The New York Times he managed to publish
his views about the Serbian people.
I keep repeating: The Serbs are our soul brothers. Nowhere
else were you allowed to feel this much a Jew other than in this
wonderful Serbia. But here is where the prophecy becomes
true: People you did not know -- you will get to know. Today,
through some exceptional Jews we got to know this "people
that did not know you but will flock to you." This also
means "This people did not know your destiny but now got
to live your destiny". Let us embrace them. Let us not
participate when some of our people, in ignorance, raise
their voices against this wonderful people.
I returned from Switzerland as a believer. I felt a huge
change in my soul. There are many Jews for whom the Holocaust
made them leave God. They would say: "If that horror happened
and one whole people got massacred, then there is no God".
Even Moses told us what will happen. That's the thing.
He says, but actually God himself says: "Israel, I will
spill you across the globe. I will mix you with other
peoples. You will go insane from what will happen to you.
And because you abandoned me."
Our forefathers from Israel abandoned God and wanted to
be like other people, but the punishment was foretold.
This is what kept faith alive in me.
Already in the fifth book of Moses it is all foretold, and it
says: "Across burning furnace" -- and that is the Holocaust --
"I will return you to the Promised Land." That is exactly
how it happened. After burning furnaces, we illegally moved
back to the lands that was once Israel.
For the love of Truth, I have to stop here and stand in
amazement and admiration.
Then it says, "Only tenth out of tenth of you will remain,
but out of those a new people will form." In Isaiah it says,
"Where did you hear that in a single day I will declare you
a nation"? In a single day the United Nations declared us
a nation-state. That never happened before. There existed
nations that suffered under colonial empires and then their
rights would be recognized. But we had no holy site left
standing, and we had no land, but still we were declared a
nation in a day.
So, for me, these are crystal clear truths. If you love
Truth, then there is no metaphysical escape in saying that
this is only a symbolism or a random event. No escape.
Clearly no escape.
Interviewer, Mr. Almuli: "So while the Holocaust repelled
some people from God, you found His confirmation in it?"
Mr. Josif: Exactly. You said it so nicely. In the Bible,
according to what was said in it, I got to understand
why it happened. You see, our Rabbis kept saying, "Because
of our sins, we are abandoned." But our sin is nothing
in comparison with other peoples'. And our people wanted
to be just like all other peoples. Our people assimilated
all customs of the peoples we were with. For those peoples,
it was no sin. But if God truly said that other peoples
would accept Him through us, then our not being true to
ourselves was a grave sin. And you see that God was accepted
through Christianity, through Islam, and all of it has its
roots in Judaism. Those are important and undeniable
truths that had their source in the privileged people
to whom those deep secrets of the centuries were given
by God. If then those same people abandon God, then it is
a grave sin toward our benevolent Maker.
Then the Maker says, "Even when I spill you among other
nations I would still bless you there if you are with me".
It is actually about the Orthodox Jew who we frequently
ridicule but who are blessed by Him. They had great things
even without mentioning Spain. Spain was accepted by the
Jews as their new home land. How wonderful it was. Christians,
Muslims and Jews all lived in an unusual and rich union.
So that was the greatest glory of the Golden age of Spain.
Recently, with horror, I read something in a great book,
an excerpt from Zohar (6). An Orthodox Jew from the U.S.
writes in the introduction of the book that enlightened
Jews who were Aristotelians used to ridicule Rabbis for
their beliefs. I did not know that.
At that moment, I realized that even our forefathers from
Spain committed a terrible sin. They should not have
ridiculed despite being Aristotelian.
I am beginning to understand: If there had been no terrible
exodus from Spain, Judaism would not have been saved. Exactly
with that exodus, all those spiritual forces gathered.
For hundred years there was darkness that then gave birth
to Kabbala (7), the Kabbala of the elitist aristocrats,
only to became part of common Jewish plebs. Soon the famous
Hasidic movement (8) took roots and actually maintained,
saved Judaism. You can find that in the works of Martin Buber.
He had ingenious ways to convey that to Europe. The Europeans
suddenly got to look with different eyes at Jewish mysticism.
Interviewer, Mr. Almuli: "Before the war you were a member
of Zionist youth?"
Mr. Josif: Before the war I was in Hashomer Hatzair, a
leftist Zionist movement. I attended their meetings and
campings and then there was that great change in my soul --
the resurrection of my own self.
(1) Eschatology - From Greek "ta eschata" (the last things).
Millennial Studies, resurrection, End Times Theology and
Biblical studies of the books of Daniel and Revelation.
See also http://www.eschatology.org/
The term is tightly coupled with ethics as well as
immortality of a person or a people. It is tied to the
notion of Divine justice and of moral retribution.
(2) Isaiah - Jewish Prophet, 8th century BC, represented
in Bible (the prophecy in Isaiah)
(3) Buber - Jewish philosopher and theologian.
(4) Rabbi Moyses ben Maimon (1135-1204), commonly called
Maimonides, Jewish philosopher, born at Cordova, Spain.
To escape Catholic persecution of the Jews he fled to Egypt,
where he wrote his celebrated "Guide of the Perplexed" in
which he tried to explain to secular Jews that Judaism is
rational and could be understood properly through application
of teachings of Aristotle. His work was considered controversial
at the time and opponents among his contemporaries thought
that rational philosophy is heretic and causes one to
(5) Zacharias: Jewish Prophet 6th century BC. The prophecy
of Zacharias is one of the books admitted by both Jews and
Christians into their canon of Sacred Writings.
(6) Zohar means "light, splendour" in Hebrew. The word is
derived from the words of Genesis 1:3 ("Let there be light");
the second expository work of the Kabbala, is also called the
"Bible" of the Kabbalists, 13th century. Its core is a mystic
discussion about the Torah.
(7) Kabbala means "tradition" in Hebrew; esoteric theosophy
system that reached its peak of creativity in 13th century
Spain. It had great influence on Hasidic Jews in Northern
Africa and Yemen.
(8) Hasidic means "God-believing" in Hebrew; a movement
of coming back to the Jewish religious roots. It originated
in 18th century Poland but has its deeper roots in 13th