Jewish People of Sarajevo: BiH is the safest Place in Europe for us

The gates of the old Askenaska synagogue in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are always unlocked. There are no security cameras or metal detectors, nor police cars in front of it. Nobody even takes your name when you enter.

“We believe that we are safe here with our doors opened. This country is one of the very few where there is no anti-Semitism,” said Jakob Finci, the President of the Jewish Community of BiH that has around 1,000 members.

Often called “European Jerusalem” or “Jerusalem of the Balkans”, the city of Sarajevo represents a cosmopolitan meeting point of the east and west, which was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for a long time and then by the Austro-Hungary.

Never forced to live in ghettos, the Jewish people of modern BiH, who are mostly descendants of Sephardi Jews (Jewish people expelled from the Pyrenees back in 1492), had a much better life during the Ottoman rule than any other Jewish people in most of Europe at that time, stated Finci.

There were 12,000 Jews in Sarajevo and 2,000 more all over BiH by the 1930’s, but their number was drastically decreased during the Holocaust. Almost 10,000 of them were killed by the Ustasha, Croatian fascists who worked with the Nazi regime.

Even then, Muslims tried to save their Jewish neighbors, and their bravery was recorded at the Jewish Museum of Sarajevo, which is located in the former Sephardic synagogue.

“The fact that only one person in the last 15 years decided to live in Israel is a good sign,” added Finci, and noted that 20 young Jews from BiH returned from Israel to live in their homeland.

“Majority of our neighbors are Muslims, we are traditionally drinking coffee together during the month of Ramadan and eating baklava and sweets. This is maybe a country with a majority of Muslims, but it is also a European country where Jews never had any problems,” said young Andrea, who was born in BiH and says that she celebrates the mixture of culture and tolerance of this country.

(Source: Al Jazeera Balkans)


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