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The Mystery of Sarajevo Haggadah

Jewish heritage is an integral part of Bosnian heritage as there is an indelible connection between the two. There are numerous examples that tell the story of this liaison. The most famous one is probably that of Sarajevo Haggadah. The Jews all over the world are cherishing the tradition of retelling the story of their exile from Egypt. During the holiday of Passover, they read this story from a book known as Haggadah (Heb. the telling).

National Museum
Sarajevo Haggadah is permanently displayed in National Museum

Various Haggadot exist all over the world and one of them came to be known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. Strangely enough, the book is not even made in Sarajevo but on numerous occasions. The inhabitants of the city have risked their lives to save the book. They accepted it as their own thus it became part of Sarajevo heritage.

Sarajevo Haggadah d1 FEAT
Pages of Sarajevo Haggadah

The origin of the book is probably 13th or 14th century Spain. A culturally rich and religiously diverse place and different cultures all left their mark on this unique manuscript. One of many tenets of Judaism is not to make images or idols. Because of the presence of catholic kingdoms in northern Spain, Christian medieval art found its way into this Jewish book. The illustrations of Moses and other prophets and people from the bible can be seen on the pages of this Haggadah.

A Jewish man has most probably written the text and by some accounts, a Muslim compiled it all together. All of this tells us that even the compiling of this unique work was a multi-religious venture. So it is very fitting that the book found its refuge in Sarajevo. A city known as small Jerusalem or as the Sephardim would say “Saray el chico Yerusalai”.

If you are interested in learning more about topics similar to Sarajevo Haggadah, feel free to read our The pilgrimage of Sarajevo blog, it may be interesting as well.
Illustrated pages of Sarajevo Haggadah

Jews of Spain

In the late 15th century, the Jews of Spain were expelled by queen Isabelle and the original Haggadah was carried along. The exact whereabouts of the book in the later years are not known. But it is confirmed that for a certain time it was in Italy. Where it received the stamp of approval by the Inquisition, meaning that it wasn’t damaging to the catholic faith. Some years later when the Sephardi Jews reached Sarajevo the book came along with them. In the 19th century, the Kohen family sold the book to the Bosnian National Museum.

Fast forward to the second world war and Sarajevo is occupied by the fascistic forces and Nazi officers. They are coming to the Museum to take this valuable Jewish manuscript.  What the custodian of the museum, Derviš Korkut, did next was nothing short of extraordinary as he risked his life by lying to the Nazi officers. He told them that the book was already taken by another officer. All the while hiding the book and then taking it out of the museum.

There are several theories as to what happened next. The most plausible one is that the book was given to an Imam who was hiding the book in a local mosque. In the nineties, another plight befell the people of Sarajevo when the city was besieged for 44 months. A distinguished Bosnian historian dr. Enver Imamovic was able to take the Haggadah out of the museum and together with other valuables. He kept it in the safe of the Central Bank of Bosnia. So Sarajevo Haggadah was saved by the people of Sarajevo once more.

Sarajevo Haggadah today is being held in a special room. With strictly defined temperature and humidity in the National Museum in Sarajevo. You can find out more about the Sarajevo Haggadah and the Jewish culture of Sarajevo if you join us for the Sarajevo Jewish Tour.

With our Sarajevo Haggadah story, hopefully, you have learned the new amazing story about Sarajevo and its cultural legacy. From our perspective, this is the most unique city in the world, and stories and tales you will read and hear in Sarajevo are unrepeatable and we’re sure you’ll not hear them anywhere else in the World. 

So, every time you come to Sarajevo, make sure to read our “Sarajevo Haggadah” because we’re constantly improving the quality of our texts which means there is always a possibility you’ll learn something more each and every time. That also can save you time spent on Google searching for great stories and information related to Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also, you can always book our free city tour following this link and we will happily speak to you about Sarajevo Haggadah.  

If you are a traveler who would like to add something to our Sarajevo Haggadah topic, make sure you contact us with the message subject “Sarajevo Hagaddah” and we will happily get in touch with you. Along with that, we can recommend you to follow us on our Facebook page Meet Bosnia Tours where we regularly post our activities. Looking forward to hearing from you!

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