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A Bosnian Muslim family that saved a Jewish family during the Holocaust was later saved by the same Jewish family during the genocide in Bosnia

Goran Blazeski

The Germans invaded Yugoslavia in 1941. They seized Sarajevo and the Gestapo opened an office there. The office they opened was across the street from the home of the Hardaga family. Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga were Muslims living in Sarajevo at the time when the Nazis seized the city.

The Nazis looted the old synagogue, and 400-year-old Torah scrolls were burned. Since the Gestapo office was just across the street from the home of the Hardaga family, they were able to hear the screams of prisoners being tortured in Gestapo jail cells at night.

Yugoslav infantry surrendering.

Yugoslav infantry surrendering.

Amid the brutality, Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga decided to take in their Jewish friend and business partner, Yosef Kabiljo, and his wife and daughter. Their home had been destroyed during a Nazi bombing raid. When the Gestapo officers came in Hardaga’s home to check documents Yosef and his family were hiding in the back of a walk-in closet. The Germans were only ten meters away from them but they didn’t find them.

The Kabiljo family stayed in Mustafa’s home until they were able to move to Mostar, a Bosnian city that was under Italian rule.

Unfortunately, Yosef had to stay behind and liquidate his business and he was eventually caught and imprisoned and forced into slave labor. When Zejneba Hardaga discovered where he was working she went there and brought him food. Yosef eventually managed to escape and he returned to his hiding place in the Hardaga home.

Sarajevo Sephardic Old Synagogue built in 1587

Sarajevo Sephardic Old Synagogue built in 1587

The Nazis eventually found out that the Hardaga family was helping Jews. They executed Ahmed Sadik, a member of the family who helped to forge documents with Christian names for Jewish families like the Kabiljos. The Kabiljo family was rescued and made their way to Jerusalem.

In 1992, the war in Yugoslavia started and Bosnia was at the center of it. Serbian troops were surrounding Sarajevo. People were dying in the streets, houses were burned, and snipers targeted people leaving their houses.

The Hardaga family were hiding in their basement. They lost all hope that they would survive before receiving a message from an Israeli journalist covering the war.

A combo picture shows different stories from the siege of Sarajevo in May, 1992, including General Ratko Mladić (top right), UN peacekeepers at the airport in Sarajevo and the Executive Council Building (Zgrada Izvršnog Vijeća) in the centre of the city after it was hit by a Serb tank shell. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev. Photo credit

A combo picture shows different stories from the siege of Sarajevo in May 1992, including General Ratko Mladić (top right), UN peacekeepers at the airport in Sarajevo and the Executive Council Building (Zgrada Izvršnog Vijeća) in the center of the city after it was hit by a Serb tank shell. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev. Photo credit

The Kabiljo family in Jerusalem didn’t know if their friends and saviors were alive in Sarajevo. They contacted an Israeli journalist who was covering the war. The journalist passed a message to a local community that the Kabiljo family was searching for Zejneba Hardaga. Another message was sent to Jerusalem that Zejneba, then 76, and her youngest daughter Sara, were still in Sarajevo.

After the Kabiljos learned that Zejneba was alive, they contacted the officials to organize a rescue. The Kabiljos managed to get the case all the way to Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. Zejneba and her daughter were rescued from the violence, and invited to seek refuge in Jerusalem.