Did you know the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina houses the most celebrated Passover Haggadah in the world? According to David Stern, a professor of Jewish and Hebrew literature at Harvard University, it is “probably the most famous medieval illustrated Hebrew manuscript, period.”
According to The Museum, it was determined the book was made in medieval Spain, in the former kingdom of Aragon, around 1350. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, which expelled all Jews from Spain. It is likely the book left Spain at that time. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the book was in the north of Italy. How the book ended up in Bosnia is not known.
As if surviving the Spanish Inquisition wasn’t enough, the Sarajevo Haggadah was sought after during World War II. During the occupation of Sarajevo, Nazi General Johann Hans Fortner came to the museum and demanded that the book be handed over to be displayed in the “Museum of an Extinct Race” the Nazis planned to build in Prague. At the time, The National Museum’s curator was an Islamic scholar named Derviš Korkut. Korkut smuggled the book out of the museum and hid it in a mosque in one of the Muslim villages on Mount Bjelašnica. The Book stayed there until the end of the war, cared for by the Imam, who later returned it to the museum. For his heroic and selfless act, Dervis Korkut and his wife were recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among Nations.
The book was once again on the front lines at the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, when the National Museum took heavy shelling. The Museum’s staff kept the book safe while dealing with raids that found a number of other artifacts stolen. The Sarajevo Haggadah is proudly displayed at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina today.
The story of the Sarajevo Haggadah is one of perseverance. In a world where Jews and Muslims are often portrayed as enemies, we need more stories like this one to remind us of the bonds of brotherhood, compassion and love that bring us together. The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many hardships, and yet, 6 centuries later, it lives and still connects people. A beacon of hope, and in its own unique way, a symbol of the Exodus.