Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Today we met with people from Sarajevo’s Jewish community. There are only a few hundred Jews remaining here. Most were annihilated during the Holocaust, largely at the hands of Ustase, a Croatian Nazi/fascist organization.
Yet there is a story of great heroism and bravery here as well. Eli Tauber, head of the Jewish Community organization, gave us a copy of a book he wrote called Bosnia and Herzegovina: Righteous Among the Nations. This book is the story of 47 Bosnians – Muslims, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats – who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. These 47 people have been designated “Righteous Among the Nations,” the highest recognition given by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.
Bosnians saved Jews during the Holocaust – and Jews saved Bosnians during the genocide. Jews in Sarajevo provided medicines and meals to hundreds of people daily for several years. And Jews organized convoys to rescue Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats and to take them safely out of the country.
This small Jewish community continues to provide support wherever they can, delivering meals to elderly shut-ins, Jews and non-Jews alike, and hosting events to bring people together.
We visited the Jewish cemetery, a site high on the Sarajevo hills. Tragically, this cemetery was used during Sarajevo’s four-year-long siege as a place for launching attacks on the Bosnians in the bowl-like area below the hills. The cemetery was almost totally destroyed, including being filled with landmines that were finally removed in 1998.
The beautiful Jewish synagogue, in the Moorish tradition of this largely Sephardic community, has regular services, led by a lay person most of the year but by a Bosnian rabbi who comes from Jerusalem for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. And for the past two years, that rabbi has conducted extraordinary services. In 2008 and 2009, the first bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies since the Holocaust were held in Sarajevo!
Jewish education and traditional celebrations have been revitalized since the fall of Communism. Spiritual and communal life is flourishing.