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The incredible story of two families, Jewish and Muslim, who rescued each other

JEWISH FAMILY
Walking on a street in Sarajevo is Zejneba Hardaga (far right, in veil) and Rifka Kabiljo, along with their two children, 1941.
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After a century of turmoil in Bosnia, two families demonstrate what loving thy neighbor truly means.

In the last century, the citizens of Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia, have witnessed warfare that has seen both Jews and Muslims persecuted. Yet, out of all this misery comes a story from The Vintage News that speaks to the very heart of all religion: love thy neighbor.

Firstly, in 1941, when the Nazis occupied the then-Yugoslavian city, they ransacked the old synagogue, destroying precious 400-year-old Torah scrolls in their wake. They also sent 10,000 out of the 14,000-strong Jewish population to their deaths. However, during the Nazi invasion, a Jewish family, the Kabiljos, were saved thanks to the bravery and sacrifice of their friends and business partners the Hardagas, a Muslim family.

With the gestapo setting up their headquarters opposite the Hardagas’ home, the family bore witness to the terrible sounds of Jews being tortured at night. They decided to help by hiding Yosef Kabiljos and his wife and daughter, who’d lost their own home during a bombing raid, until they could escape to Mostar, another Bosnian city but under Italian rule. However, before Yosef could flee, he had to stay behind to put his business affairs in order. The Nazis captured him and sent him to slave labor. His devoted neighbor, Zejneba Hardaga, bought her friend food after finding out where he was being held.

Eventually, Yosef managed to escape and returned to hide in the Hardagas’ walk-in closet. Unfortunately, the Nazis became aware that the Hardagas and their extended family were helping Jews. As a result, Ahmed Sadik, another family member who’d been heavily involved in the forging of identification papers that gave Jewish people Christian names, was killed in retribution. Thankfully, the Kabiljos were able to leave the country and escape to Jerusalem.

Later, during the Yugoslavia War in the 1990s, when different republics within the country fought for their independence, Muslims were targeted and during the Bosnian genocide, tens of thousands of civilians, including children, were killed. Yet again, Sarajevo was at the heart of all this suffering, and now it was the Hardagas family’s turn to hide.

The Kabiljos in Jerusalem hadn’t forgotten their saviors. Realizing their friends were in danger, they reached out to a war journalist to see if he could discover any news of the family. Through a community network, the journalist discovered that the then 76-year-old Zejneba Hardaga and Sara, her youngest daughter, were hiding in their basement. The Kabiljos managed to seek the help of the Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who enabled a rescue mission, eventually offering refuge for the family in Jerusalem.

This story of compassion and love proves that by just looking out for each other we may be rescued, or be able to rescue others, in times of need — hopefully in less dire circumstances, like a broken-down car, or looking after a neighbor’s kids when they have an emergency.

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