Sarajevo Haggadah: Saved by Librarians

Survives Alhambra Decree, Nazis and Serbian shelling

The Haggadah  is the service book used in Jewish households on Passover Eve to celebrate the Israelites' deliverance from Egyptian enslavement as described in the Book of Exodus.

One of the earliest manuscript versions (around 1350) was lavishly illuminated with precious pigments made from lapis lazuli, azurite, and malachite with copper. silver and gold leaf probably created in a convivencia in Spain.1 In 1492 the Alhambra Degree, by Catholic Kings, proclaimed the expulsion of all Jews who were were given four months to evacuate or convert. The Jewish population, which had been between 150,000 and 250,000 in 1474 scattered in different directions.2

It is likely that this beautiful manuscript was taken to Venice and Rome and resurfaced in 1894 when it was sold by a Jewish family named Kohen to the National Museum in Sarajevo. At this point it became known as the Sarajevo Haggadah.3

When the Germans invaded Sarajevo during World War II they looted museums. The museum's chief librarian, Islamic scholar Dervis Korkut, took the Sarajevo Haggadah to a remote village where it was hidden among Korans and other Islamic texts for the duration of the war. After the war it was returned to the museum.

In 1992, when the museum was shelled by Serbian forces during the Bosnian War another librarian, Enver Imamovic, retrieved the manuscript and took it secretly to a bank vault. After the war an international campaign raised funds to restore it.4

It is on display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A novel that fictionalizes the history of the manuscript, The People of the Book, was published in 2007.5

In 2017 the Sarajevo Haggadah was inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.6

“Sarajevo Haggadah Is The Ultimate Survivor.” (5 min youtube):

1

Convivencia refers to the ‘coexistence’ of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities in medieval Spain and by extension the cultural interaction and exchange fostered by such proximity. Riedlmayer, Andras (2001). “Convivencia under Fire: Genocide and Book Burning in Bosnia,” 266-291 (ch.XIV) in Rose, Jonathan. The Holocaust and the Book : Destruction and Preservation. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

2

Gorsky, Jeffrey (2015). Exiles in Sepharad. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

3

Brooks, Geraldine (2007). “The Book of Exodus.” New Yorker 83 (38): 74–83. Sarajevo Haggadah, Spain, 14th c. as described at The Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art, The Center for Jewish Art.

4

G. Gienger, Viola (14 December 2002). "'Small Miracles' Save Jewish Text." The Washington Post.

5

Brooks, Geraldine (2008). People of the Book : a Novel . New York, N.Y: Viking.