Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Our Very Own Sarajevo Haggadah

Because last week was not exciting enough, what with the opening of the exhibition Filming the Camps, and the reception hosted by French Consul General Philippe Lalliot, David Marwell welcomed an important guest on Friday morning: Reis-Ul-Ullama Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of the Islamic Community of Bosnia. What made this day different from all other days? Because the Grand Mufti brought with him a reproduction of the Sarajevo Haggadah to present to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, just in time for Passover.


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.

1 comment:

Srebrenica Genocide said...

I wish you put caption in you photos...

I did not read Geraldine Brooks' book "People of the Book", but in its review, the Jewish Chronicle (JC) gave it a negative review http://goo.gl/N7FXc because it somehow distorts the true story of the Sarajevo Haggadah.

According to JC,

"The true history of the Haggadah:

1350: The haggadah is created, probably in Barcelona.

1510: It is sold, apparently in Italy.

1609: Papal censor Giovanni Domenico Vistorini passes the haggadah as inoffensive to the Catholic Church.

1894: Josef Kohen, a Sephardi Sarajevo Jew, sells it to the National Museum of Bosnia. It is not known how the Kohens acquired it. It is then sent to Vienna for study and goes missing.

1911: The museum asks the Viennese authorities for the haggadah’s return. Rumours are circulating that it has been sold in London.

1913: The haggadah is found, having lain forgotten in a cupboard at the Viennese Finance Ministry, and returned.

1941: Muslim scholar and museum head librarian Dervis Korkut rescues the manuscript, fearing the invading Nazis would loot it. He is helped by then museum director Jozo Petrovic, a Catholic. According to Korkut’s wife, he took the book to an imam for safekeeping.

1943: The haggadah is moved to the Sarajevo National Bank. It is returned to the museum at the end of the war.

1992: During the Bosnian war, Enver Imamovic, Muslim archaeologist and university professor, leads a rescue of the manuscript, placing it once more in the bank vaults.

1995: After concern outside Bosnia about the manuscript’s fate, it is taken by a Ministry of Culture official in an armoured car from the vaults to allow people to see it at Pesach. It is returned immediately after the Seder. After the war ends, it is returned in 2002 to the museum where it displayed only three times a year."