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The Luckiest Book In History Has Somehow Managed To Survive Three Genocides

Updated March 13, 2019 10 items

What do the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, and the Bosnian Serbs' siege of Sarajevo have in common? It's not just the disgusting attempt to cleanse a nation-state of an entire people; it's also the fact that a 14th-century book of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the Sarajevo Haggadah, survived each event, from the 1492 Alhambra decree to the Bosnian genocide.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript version of the Passover Haggadah that transcends its status as a religious artifact. Its centuries of survival came not only at the hands of Jewish believers but also at the hands of non-Jewish people who saw the value of the Sarajevo Haggadah beyond its being a 14th-century Passover Haggadah.

The survival of the Sarajevo Haggadah is an incredible true story that speaks more to the selflessness of some during times that epitomized humanity's deepest depravity than it speaks just to the interesting story of a historical text that lingers today.

  • A Latin Inscription Helped Save The Sarajevo Haggadah From Destruction During The Spanish Inquisition

    Before the Spanish Inquisition, Jewish people, Muslims, and Christians lived among each other without much turmoil. However, around 1478, Catholic monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile instigated an intense period of distrust among newly converted Christians and non-Christians in Spain.

    The goal of the Christian monarchy during the Spanish Inquisition was to weed out disingenuous Christians and remove heretics from Spain. As a result, a period of intense investigation ensued. Many books considered heretical to Christian sentiments got destroyed. Miraculously, the Sarajevo Haggadah survived the Spanish Inquisition when Jewish people escaped the tyranny and took it to Venice, Italy. There, Catholic authorities decided that it was not a heretical book, and it survived destruction. A Latin inscription on one of the last pages evidences the Catholic Church stamp of approval for the Sarajevo Haggadah, which aided in its survival.

  • It Made Its Way To Bosnia – Then Someone Came For It

    Its path is unclear, but over the three centuries following the Spanish Inquisition, the Sarajevo Haggadah found its way to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. In 1942, when Nazi Germany invaded Sarajevo, the Bosnian National Museum had the Sarajevo Haggadah.

    The museum's chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, an Islamic scholar, heard that a German commander named General Johann Fortner intended to visit the Bosnian National Museum to speak with its director, and he knew that couldn't be good.

  • Hitler Was Rumored To Want To Create An Attraction With Artifacts Like The Haggadah

    Photo: Sodabottle / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When Sarajevo was being invaded, rumors existed of an Adolf Hitler plan to ransack Jewish synagogues and collect Jewish memorabilia so that after he obliterated the existence of Jewish people, he could build a caricature museum that Germans could visit to learn about the extinct race.

    As a result, Mr. Korkut, an anti-Fascist, convinced the Bosnian National Museum director to help him hide the Sarajevo Haggadah from the visiting commander.

  • It Had To Be Rescued Again During The Bosnian Serbs' Siege Of Sarajevo

    Photo: Smooth_O / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    In 1992, Bosnian Serbs overtook Sarajevo, and their goal was to create an "ethnically pure" Greater Serbia, which meant targeting Muslims and ethnic Croatians, who didn't fit the vision of purity. Bosnian National Museum director Enver Imamovic, a Muslim, naturally feared for his life amid the siege and ethnic cleansing.

    Nonetheless, in June 1992, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked the area of the museum, Imamovic snuck inside the building to save the Sarajevo Haggadah. Imamovic had convinced the police chief of Sarajevo to escort him to the museum despite the hostilities in the area. So, he risked his life, went back in, and saved the book – again.