The Book of Exodus

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A double rescue in wartime Sarajevo.

By Geraldine Brooks

When the Axis powers conquered and divided Yugoslavia, in the spring of 1941, Sarajevo did not fare well. The city cradled by mountains that Rebecca West once described as like “an opening flower” suddenly found itself absorbed into the Nazi puppet state of Croatia, its tolerant, cosmopolitan culture crushed by the invading German Army and the Croatian Fascist Ustashe. Hitler’s ally, Ante Pavelic, who had headed the Ustashe through the nineteen-thirties, proclaimed that his new state must be “cleansed” of Jews and Serbs: “Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to them.”

The terror began on April 16th, when the German Army entered Sarajevo and sacked the city’s eight synagogues. The Sarajevo pinkas, a complete record of the Jewish community from its earliest days, was sent to Prague and was never recovered. Deportations followed. Jews, Gypsies, and Serbian resisters turned frantically to sympathetic Muslim or Croat neighbors to hide them. Fear of denunciation spread through the city, penetrating every workplace, even the imposing neo-Renaissance halls of the Bosnian National Museum.

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