The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that dates back to Spain 1492. Over centuries it traveled from Spain to Sarajevo (via Venice and Vienna) finally arriving in 1894 and was acquired by the National Museum of Sarajevo, which was established in 1888. In 1942, Nazi Commander General Johann Fortner came to the museum to claim the Haggadah, knowing its value to the Jewish people. The museum’s chief librarian Dervis Korkut, a Muslim, tricked Fortner into believing that the Haggadah had already been taken by the Nazis. When Fortner asked for the name of the person who took it, Korkut responded, “I did not think it was my place to ask.” Korkut then took the Haggadah to a mosque in a remote village and hid it among the Korans and other Islamic texts. It was returned to the museum following the war. The Haggadah was rescued by a Muslim once again during the Bosnian War, when, in 1992, the National Library was burned to the ground, and a librarian named Enver Imamovic retrieved the book and hid it in a bank vault. The President of Bosnia presented the sacred Haggadah to the Jewish community of Bosnia at a Passover seder in 1995.
If you read the amazing history of the Haggadah in the New Yorker by Geraldine Brooks or her wonderful novel, People of the Book, that imagines the Haggadah’s storied travels, you understand how momentous this event was. The staff attended the modest ceremony, which was brief, but I will always remember his reverence saying: “Please take care of the Koran in the U.S. as we took care of your Haggadah.” As we prepare for Passover, let us all reflect on the freedom that we share, and the freedom yet to be won for our brothers and sisters.
Photos of staff and presentation by Caroline Earp.