When Balkan Muslims were rescued by Jews

Posted by Ashley Perry (Perez)

The recent turmoil in the Balkans and the hosting of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Israel last week make it an auspicious time to remember a little-known event in Jewish history.

During wars and fractious national events, Jews are usually caught in the middle to a devastating extent. The Jewish community as the ultimate ‘other’ is rarely trusted by any side in conflict and tries to keep as low a profile as possible. The opposite was the case during the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996.

The Jewish community of Sarajevo can trace its existence back to a safe haven for those Iberian exiles that fled the Inquisition and ultimately the expulsions. Even today the majority of the Jewish community is Sephardi and although many were wiped out during the Holocaust, Ladino is still spoken by many.

In 1992, with the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs, backed up by Belgrade surrounded the new Bosnian Capital Sarajevo for what became the longest siege on a city in modern warfare.

During the initial stages of the siege some Jews, along with others, tried to leave the city and many thought all the Jews would leave. To demonstrate the importance of the Jewish community, Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovi? requested that Jews should not depart, saying it was a bad omen for the country if they did. The Jews in the predominantly Muslim Sarajevo were respected and had a fine reputation amongst its neighbors. The Jewish community did not disappoint their fellow Sarajevans and immediately initiated an unprecedented humanitarian project to assist all that needed it in the battered city.