When Hana Montiljo was born in Sarajevo in 1940, Jews had been living in Bosnia for 400 years, but one year after Hana came into the world, more than 85% of Sarajevo’s Jews were murdered. Hana Montiljo-Gasic shares with us her pictures and her stories of a world that no longer exists.
Yugoslavia 1878 - 1941
In 1878, centuries-long Ottoman Turkish rule ended in Bosnia-Herzegovina when the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed the land and occupied it. From 1912 onwards, the region was the site of various wars as Serbia began to challenge Austro-Hungarian rule in the Balkans. This conflict eventually led to the assassination of heir to the Austrian throne, the archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo. Today this act is known as the spark that ignited WWI. Read more about WWI here.
Yugoslavia during WWII
During the war, Yugoslavia was occupied by German, Italian, Hungarian, and Bulgarian groups. The Axis powers were able to exploit the tensions between the many different ethnic groups in the region. Yet, large-scale genocide campaigns were conducted against Serbian, Jewish and Roma citizens. The head of the Croatian state, Ante Pavelic, declared: “the Jews will be liquidated in a very short time”. Indeed, the vast majority of Yugoslavia’s Jews were murdered during the war.
The Breakup of Yugoslavia
The delicate balance between the different ethnic groups in Yugoslavia was disrupted during the 1990s. The collapse of communism led to a series of conflicts and political upheavals. A combination of foreign debt, inflation, unemployment, strong nationalist feelings and political problems created a troublesome atmosphere. This eventually led to a crisis and the country fell apart into several independent countries. Slovenia and then Croatia were the first to break away, but could only do so at the cost of sparking conflict with Serbia.
The Sarajevo Haggadah
The Haggadah is a book read by Jews at the Seder on the first night of Passover, which tells of their freeing from slavery in Egypt, an event also known as the Exodus. As well as the story, the Haggadah also contains songs and points of discussion. The Exodus story is read out in accordance with the Biblical command to tell your son of what happened in Egypt, which is why “haggadah” literally means, “telling”.