Peace Activism Can Be Spontaneous Too
EUROPE, 28 November 2011
by Amir Telibečirović Lunjo in Sarajevo – TRANSCEND Media Service
“Ignorance is bliss” caused by media, mostly, which is connected to prejudices among different people. Here we offer one of many positive stories about instinctive kind of peace activism within various conflicts. Sarajevo Haggadah, a unique book in its significance, is one of the oldest Sephardic Jewish Haggadahs in the world. It originated approximately 700 years ago in Spain. Bosnian Muslim scholar, Derviš Korkut, risked his life to hide this precious Jewish manuscript from Nazis during World War II. Based on that, he was honored by Yad Vashem, as being officially ‘Righteous among the Nations.’ This information could be quite valid in today’s world, especially when we consider current religious, or even ethnic tensions, cause by some media of today. So, what makes Sarajevo Haggadah so special, and not just as a Jewish holy book?
It was used at many Passover holidays. This book traveled from Barcelona, where it was written and illustrated, possibly back in the 14th century, to Sarajevo in the 15th or 16th century. It contains 34 pages of key scenes in the Torah – from the story of creation to the death of Moses. Historians believe it was taken to Sarajevo by Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. Centuries later, the book was sold to the National Museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a Sarajevan Sephard, Joseph Kohen. During the World War II, Korkut worked with his Croat colleague to risk his life in order to smuggle the Haggadah out of Sarajevo. According to common tales, the book was hidden under a floorboard of a small mosque nestled in a nearby mountain until the end of the war 1945, when it was safe to be returned to museum. The Haggadah remained untouched in the museum until the recent Bosnian War.
From 1992 to 1995, Sarajevo was under artilery siege by the Serbian army, and the museum, which was near the front lines, was exposed to shelling and sniper fire. The room containing the Haggadah was destroyed, and although the book remained untouched because of the steel case, many Sarajevans believed it would not survive too many more rounds of shelling. So, a group of ordinary Sarajevans – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – went to the museum together at night. They risked their lives under sniper shots to take the Haggadah, along with other precious objects from museum, and move it to an underground vault in a downtown bank. The book stayed there until the end of the war, when it was once again returned to the museum. Also, unofficially, during the siege, few members of Mossad – Israel’s secret inteligence police, came to Sarajevo with the help of UN bosnian mission. They wanted to take Haggadah to Israel.
About the same time, probably around 1994, some newspapers spread the fake story that Bosnian resistance army sold the book on a black market, for a few million US dollars, in order to buy itself ammunition and weapons for the city defense, due to the lack of arms in comparasion to the well equipped Serbian army on the other side. According to some anonymous UN worker, Mossad agents believed it, and left the city without Haggadah.
Despite all of that this book became one of the local symbols for the removing prejudices. People of all creeds in Bosnia visit the Sarajevo museum today to see this interesting book and possibility learn to remain actively loyal to peace during a war.
Amir Telibečirović Lunjo is a Bosnian journalist with the Sarajevo-based weekly magazine Start BiH and a local city guide.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 3.0 United States License.