Sarajevo Hagaddah, Geraldine Brooks’ book

I plan to read Geraldine Brooks' book after last night presentation about the Sarajevo Hagaddah.

Dunreith, Ava and I went to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center last night for a conversation about the Sarajevo Hagaddah moderated by the supremely gifted Aleksandar Hemon.

I had never heard about the Hagaddah before the presentation, which included opening comments from Dr. Amila Buturovic and Ambassador Jakob Finci before Hemon moderated a conversation between the three of them.

Created in the mid-1300s in Spain, the Haggadah-which means story-tells the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt.  This particular Haggadah included additions from its subsequent movement to Italy, Austria, and, eventually, to its current home in Bosnia.

It has endured many close calls, including one during the Second World War, when librarian Dervis Korkut smuggled the Hagaddah out of Sarajevo, hiding it in his coat and bypassing a German soldier who asked if he had the Hagaddah with him.

A coat also hid the Hagaddah during the war in the former Yugoslavia when Serbian ultra-nationalists did not recognize it or its value, and Fahrudin Cebo saved it.

Buturovic spoke during her remarks about the convivencia, or peaceful coexistence, that characterized pre-expulsion Spain and Ottoman-era Austria.  She also talked about the variety of languages, as well as cultures and religions, that flourished there.

Buturovic also made the point that while the Hagaddah survived the war in the 90s, tens of thousands of books did not.  She did not mention, but Hemon did, that her sister died at one of the country’s most important libraries trying to save the books and texts written in many different medieval languages.

Finci was the evening’s star. 

The portly Ambassador to Switzerland had flown in from that country and mixed humor, personal and communal pride and a lot of historical information about the Hagaddah and the Bosnian community into his remarks.

He and Hemon spent part of their time talking about Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, which tells the story of the Hagaddah.  I have not yet read the book, but certainly look forward to doing so after learning about this text’s remarkable story of survival, resilience, courage and additional meaning being layered onto it.


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