Like in every miner site, not all of the jewels would be found at first dig. The same thing we could say for Sarajevo Haggadah as well. One of his gems remained hidden for long enough to survive its long destined destruction. The gem that we are writing about is book widely known as Sarajevo Haggadah.

First things first, we are going to introduce our readers with what is Haggadah. Only when we would be able to confirm that every one of you knows what Haggadah is we would be able to continue about this particular one that is having a strong connection with Sarajevo.

Illuminated Jewish Codex or more known as Haggadah, is a collection of religious rules and traditions arranged into the order of the Seder. Because the holy book of Jews, the Torah contains only text, the depiction of a God were forbidden, Haggadah became the way of Jewish community interpreting their religion through images and illustrations. Haggadah, which means Hebrew for a story (from the core of its name, the letters HGD – to tell). Haggadah is read and observed during the Passover, biggest holiday in Judaism when they are celebrating the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt.

Readings of Haggadah on Passover
Readings of Haggadah on Passover

The tradition of reading from Haggadah on family gatherings during the Passover leads to its mass production. Some of the families were using the production of Haggadah to portray their prosperity and wealth. No other Haggadah could be a better example than this one from Sarajevo which is having its pages covered in gold.

Golden Haggadah
One of the illustrations from Haggadah

Golden (Sarajevo) Haggadah contains depicted scenery from the Book of Genesis, not only that but also from the Book of Exodus. Among the last pages, you would be able to find some of the finest and most famous Hebrew poems from the golden era of Hebrew literature which dates sometimes from 10th to the 13th century.

Each and every illustration is decorated in golden symbols. Book is written in Sephardic Hebrew script, which is read from right to left. This one is vastly known for it’s aesthetical and historical value, among all other versions of this book.

What differs this one from every other Haggadah is its way of survival through history and reaching her final destination in Sarajevo, Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Discovery of Haggadah in Sarajevo occurred in 1894 when the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina purchased it from the Cohen family for 150 crowns, it was a small price for a jewel of this kind. Soon after it was sent to Vienna for its authentication, a few years later was returned to its new home.

Haggadah in National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Haggadah in her new home in National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo

When was Sarajevo Haggadah created no one actually knows It’s estimated that it was created sometime around 1350 in the city of Barcelona. There is no much information about the original creator nor when it was created precisely. It was confirmed that the book left Spain in 1492 when Expulsion of the Jews began. After that book disappears from the public, no one knew Haggadah whereabouts.

Upon arrival to Italy book has been checked, signature at the last page from 1609 confirms that Haggadah was free of charges of hereticism. therefore it survived public burning of the Jewish books which were considered a threat to Catholicism.

When did the Haggadah cross the path from Italy to Sarajevo is still unknown information, but one thing is certain, that it was given to the Cohen family upon arrival to the capital of Bosnia.

Sarajevo 1941, Nazi forces occupied the city and started their expedition to search for Haggadah. With a detailed investigation, they were able to search most of the objects where the book could be kept, but still unable to find the trace. The close case was when the Nazi officers find out that book was kept within the National Museum, but thanks to the bravery and wittiness of museums director Jozo Petrovic. Petrovic was clever enough to be able to outsmart the officers that visited him in his office in the museum. While they were stubbornly asking for Haggadah. Petrovic was playing dumb enough to convince them that he already gave the book to the other Nazi officers that visited him earlier that day.

With that act which could brought him an Oscar, Petrovic was able to buy enough time for himself to be able to smuggle Haggadah from museum. Afterwards he gave instructions to Dervis Korkut, curator of the museum to transport the book to the foothold of mt Bjelasnica, where it was hidden by the imam of the local mosque.

Jozo Petrovic - Protector of Haggadah
Dervis Korkut as secret agent with a single mission - to smuggle Haggadah

Book reappeared in National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1945 where it remained until 1992 when her home like the rest of the city came under siege. During the horror in Bosnia which occurred from 1992 to 1996 Haggadah had to be transported to the vault of National Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unlike many other manuscripts and books which were burned or destroyed during the warzone in Bosnia, Haggadah was able to survive once again.

After wandering for almost 600 years Sarajevo Haggadah was able to settle in a place where no one would be seeking to destroy her, rather admire her longevity, aesthetics and historical value.

Sarajevo, place where many were able to find their refuge, became a permanent home of Sarajevo Haggadah.

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