Sarajevans always took care of their Jewish Neighbours

Like every Sarajevan where ever he may be, I always like to point out the thing’s that make my hometown special. Whether it is the rich history, natural beauty or the specific mentality. There is a lot that makes this city great and it’s inhabitants special.  One of these things is certainly a friendly attitude towards different cultures. It is that spirit that is old for hundreds of years that welcomed Jewish people who were forced to move from Spain.

After the persecution from Spain and Portugal, Jewish people began to make a new life far from their homes, and many of them settled in the Ottoman Empire. That’s why Bosnia also became a destination for them. Usually, Jewish communities would be isolated, and put in a ghetto in other places where they would stay. That was not the case for Sarajevan Jews. Members of the Jewish community in Sarajevo were allowed to stay where they wanted and move freely in the city. Therefore life for a Jewish person in Sarajevo during Ottoman period was much more different than in other palces. After the Ottomans left Sarajevo maintained a friendly attitude towards the Jewish community. After 1878. and the arrival of Austro-Hungary for Sarajevan Jews nothing major changed, except that they became even more socially active. Under Austrian rule Jews began to form numerous cultural and sports organizations. In that sense Jews where continually equal members of the Sarajevan society without having to radically change from the inside of their communities.

The period of WWII was a horrific and unfortunate time for Sarajevo’s Jews but even in that time, Sarajevo people tried to help their fellow citizens who were helpless. It was not uncommon that a Sarajevan Muslim was severely punished for helping a Jewish fellow citizen. Often Sarajevans risked their own lives in order to save Jews or just make easy the suffering that the Nazi regime put them trough. Unfortunately, after the end of WWII not many Jews were left in Sarajevo. That’s why the only couple of hundred Jews were left when the siege of Sarajevo began in 1992. In besieged Sarajevo Jews where defying injustice clearly stating their patriotism for Bosnia and determination for justice. That’s why there is a continued protective feeling towards the small Jewish community and it prevailed even in the worst of times for Sarajevo. An example of that is the protection of the Sarajevo Haggadah on the initiative of prof. Enver Imamović. With this act Sarajevans once more gave an example to „liberal“ Europe and showed how for hundreds of years they treated a Jewish minority unlike the rest of Europe who was not so tolerant through history. That’s why we should never underestimate our contribution in preserving Jewish tradition in Sarajevo and it’s continuation to this day. After many hardships trough history, Sarajevo’s Jews always recognize the many good things that their fellow Sarajevans did for them. Sarajevo has passed the test of hospitality when it comes to a good-hearted guest. If hospitality would be graded with university grades then Sarajevo would get a pure 10.

Written by Admir Lisica

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