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Notes from Limmud 2014: In the Bosnian War, Jews weren't victims; Jews saved Muslims and Christians - Lethargic Man (anag.)

Lethargic Man (anag.)
Date: 2016-05-30 19:04
Subject: Notes from Limmud 2014: In the Bosnian War, Jews weren't victims; Jews saved Muslims and Christians
Security: Public
Tags:cool, limmud, the jewish world

Notes from Limmud 2014

In the Bosnian War, Jews were not the victims; Jews were saving Muslims and Christians

Edward Serotta

[Standard disclaimer: All views not in square brackets are those of the speaker, not myself. Accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.]

Every synagogue in Europe today has police [or other security] protection. Except one. Welcome to Sarajevo. "We didn't have anyone for the last 450 years; why should we start today?"

The great riots against Jews started in Barcelona and other places in 1391, which led to the fleeing of the Jews of Spain to other countries. In 1492 the expulsion of the Jews of Spain followed: two or three hundred thousand. From Spain they went across Europe, but the majority went to lands newly conquered by the Ottoman Empire, including across the Balkan peninsula. Thessaloniki was the largest city of Jewish immigration; when David Ben-Gurion studied there in 1912 his landlandy wouldn't believe he was Jewish because he didn't speak Spanish.

The Ottomans treated the other religions equally: There were never ghettos there. Jews came to Sarajevo, which had been founded in the fifteenth century, in 1566. Not long after, the vizier built them a synagogue, which functioned until 1941 when the Nazis torched it. It's now been rebuilt as a Jewish museum.

Jews in all of the Balkans brought with them [lacuna]. The Ottomans were good at conquering but were not good at trade; wherever they conquered, they brought along Armenians, Jews, Greeks and other minorities for whatever trades they were good at; in the case of the Jews: medicine, pharmacy, textiles, bookbinding.

The cemetery is unique: giant stones smoothed over on the top and then cut in the front and then engraved. Maybe something to do with the bogomil-type tombs of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The Jews started drifting into Sarajevo, a vital part of the empire because it was in one of its northern reaches. After a long decline, in 1878 the Austrians marched into Bosnia and occupied it. Firstly, the Jews that came in built a large synagogue, Moorish-style to blend in with the city. They lined the river with stones, added streetlights, trams, etc.

In 1908 they annexed Bosnia. Serbia was the next country over, and they didn't like it, and we know what that led to.

Yugoslavia was an artificial creation of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The Slovenes, Croats and [etc] were all desperately afraid that the Hungarians would want their territory back. The only country in the region with a standing army was Serbia. The Macedonians had already been pulled in [to Yugoslavia] the year before, but they rapidly realised they had traded one enemy for another. Yugoslavia between the wars was pretty unworkable.

There were 80,000 Jews in Yugoslavia between the Wars; of which 80% were Sephardim and 20% Ashkenazim; the two did not mix much before the War. (Very few people there speak Ladino.)

In 1941 the Germans, Italians and [lacuna] all raced into Yugoslavia to rip it apart. The Jewish communities of the separate parts of it had different paths, but they all led to the same place: death.

The Sarajevo Holocaust memorial records almost entirely Jews. But the memorial was used as a gun emplacement by Bosnian Serbs, and drunken soldiers during the three years of occupation [in the 1990s] wiped off all the names; when the speaker went afterwards he found a single letter remaining.

Those who survived survived mostly by being hidden by neighbours and friends, or most of them (5000) by being hidden by the partisans, or joining them and fighting with them. [name] even had a barmitzvah with the partisans.

There was a forced labour factory in Djakovo. An ethnic German ran the Jewish cemetery. Every day he asked the women who formed the chevra kadisha who had died, and wrote the names and locations down, and after the War they made proper grave markers.

Nowadays there are only 6500 Jews in all Yugoslavia, and no distinction between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. They're too afraid, too traumatised. They go into the cemetery one day a year with bottles of slivotiz and cakes and sit there all afternoon to be with their relatives.

Those who wished to be observant left. Tito let all communities get together, but culturally. They didn't stop religious services; they let them, but.

There was a Jewish summer camp, youth club meetings. It was one of the smallest Jewish communities in all of what had been Yugoslavia but also the noisiest!

Yugoslavia was an unworkable economic model; when the Croats pushed hard in 1974 for independence, Tito devolved more and more power to the individual republics. Inflation skyrocketed. Tito died in 1980, and the clock ticked.

What they did not need was for someone to open the Pandora's box of nationalism which is what Slobodon Milošević did.

The city was besieged; there was no water or electricity. People had to bring plastic jerrycans to just flush their toilets for three years.

1600 shells were sent into the city every day. The Serbs came all the way to the edge of the Jewish cemetery at the edge of the city.

Karadžić would have press conferences; when a shell hit a bread line, he denied that was his mens'. But how would you know?

It was a privilege to watch how a civilisation adapts itself to a siege. People scrounged to get anything to sell money for trade. Wherever you saw people walking, you walked. Wherever you saw people running, you ran—and wherever you didn't see anyone, you didn't go.

The speaker was there for 45 days in three trips, as a freelance journalist (with a flak jacket and a helmet, which the UN insisted on).

(He was told the Serbs were going to invade Dubrovnik (again; the siege had been lifted) to destroy the synagogue. He was about to say "that's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," when they say "We'll pay you to go there to document the synagogue before they do so". Whilst he was there, he bumped into [lacuna] and was told: come back to Sarajevo; we need you to document us now. [The next bit was too fast for me to take down; I just have:] medical allergy
what?
bullets!
we have aspirin for that!)

The daily newspaper (which never missed a day) with a page of obituaries.

The Jewish community in Sarajevo didn't choose any sides in this war. They got the vast majority of their families out; those that stayed came to the Jewish humanitarian aid agency and opened the doors of their synagogue to the entire city. They served food every day to a few hundred people.

The cook had a stove for electricity, one for gas, and one for wood, because he never knew from one day to the next what he was going to be able to get.

an agency from the Netherlands sent money; food was bought in Split and sent in a lorry with a big menorah on the side, and no one ever stopped it.

[Audience member: the UN blocked the route from the coast to Sarajevo, and stopped sending food in. The speaker: you needed permissions from five different agencies to get past checkpoints: the UN, the Bosnian goverment, [lacuna].]

There was very little starvation, but people did not eat well.

There were 1200 Jews in Sarajevo in 1991, the year before the war started. The Jewish Agency and JDC helped get people out. About 600 left, which left 1000: people were coming to the community and identifying, who had never identified before. When one's neighbours were identifying as Serbs and Croats, people felt the need to identify as Jewish.

The Jewish community acted as postmen. They had a two-way radio system to Belgrade, Split and Zagreb, so people all over the city could set up rendezvous with with family members on the other side.

During the entire siege of the city, 11,541 people were killed; 50,000 wounded.

Unfortunately we don't give out Righteous Gentile awards any longer; the doctor for the Jewish community deserves one. He made house calls; he operated on people; gave injections every week to a ninety-year old woman who [lacuna]

The pharmacy was supplied by WJR and the JDC, which gave everything out for free.

"When the Jews are leaving, it is a bad sign for the city."

There were eleven convoys out of the city; the first three came out by air; JDC paid for those. While members of the JNA (Yugoslav National Army) were taking off their uniforms and putting on Bosnian Serb uniforms to go and fight, they also provided [planes for evacuation??].

JDC had an exfiltrator: someone whose job it is to go in and get people out. His name was Eli Ezri. If you go out to get your newspaper and he's on your street, you waited to too long to sell your house!

[photos of evacuation by bus across no-man's-land.]

[War recipe cookbook.]

Muslims and Jews.

During the second world war Zeina [name] and her husband hid a Jewish man two times. He struggled to get her recognised as a Righteous Gentile. Eventually he succeeded; in 1985 they were brought to Israel and recognised by Yad Vashem.

Then he died, and then the hero needed to be rescued! An op-ed in the Washington Post got permission for her family to come to Israel (as well as herself, who had permission already). She came to Israel and was welcomed by Yitzchak Rabin.

Denis [...] a Muslim kid, thirteen years old, came to synagogue to help out; his best friend was a Serb. He was wounded slightly in a mortar attack. They took him to the community, and the surgeon picked the glass out of his shoulders, then he got his passport and left, leaving his father behind. He got to the Croatian coast... and has been more-or-less adopted (i.e. he won't leave him!) by the speaker, and lives with him in Vienna.

During the Second World War, Ljerka Andrija, whose father was not Jewish but her mother was; he hid her and four other Jewish women. So they gave her an award.

See centropa.org

Postscript: The Balkan Jewish community today.

Why would anyone want to stay there?

The economies in all these countries are in the toilet, and they're not going to get better. So there are very few Jews there, but because they're so lively, the JCCs are all run by young Jews, and there are Limmuds in these communities.

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