SAVING THE HAGGADAH // 06. 1992.
ENVER IMAMOVIC // HISTORIAN
ORAL HISTORY - INTERVIEW
ORAL HISTORY - TRANSCRIPT

June 1992

Enver Imamovic
Historian
SAVING THE HAGGADAH

‘While we were looking for the Haggadah, there was a battle going on around the State Museum. We searched the building and the garden while all around us battles were being fought. We never knew which armies were involved. We only knew that one army was defending the city while another was attacking. We know who the attacker was. But we didn't know where the Haggadah was hidden. During times of peace, it was always hidden in some secret place, because, you understand, it was a cultural monument with an officially estimated value of 1,250,000,000 US dollars. That is why it was always hidden in a different place; its keys were also hidden, and we couldn't find them. Finally, we found it in the basement, behind a fire doors. The room next to the one where we found the Haggadah was flooded with water that was over our knees. What happened? Shell fragments and explosions pierced the holes in some big pipes, which were part of the heating system, and water was leaking from it. The room where we found the Haggadah was still unflooded, because its door was an emergency exit and wasn't in use at all. But the doors that led to Miljacka River were broken down by the troops that went through, and one of these doors fell over the little safe where the Haggadah was hidden, and that saved it. Because if the soldiers had seen it, they would have thought that there was some loot inside, gold, money or something else of value. They would have tried to break into it, but since it was impossible to open that safe, they would have blown it up with some explosives, destroying both the safe and what was inside it - they would have destroyed the Haggadah. But it was really impossible to open that safe. We took the safe with us, and the men from the police called their locksmith because I said that we were going to need one. To tell you the truth, that man struggled with the safe from 10 in the morning till three in the afternoon, but he couldn't open it. The safe was only about 80 cm, but it was some Austro-Hungarian type and he couldn't open it no matter what tool he used. Finally, I suggested that we try to open it mechanically. We went and got some picks, and with our last effort we managed to break the safe. All the time we were anxious to see whether the Haggadah was inside, because we were not sure about it. But inside the safe there was another, smaller safe made of solid steel, something impervious. Eventually, we found the little box in which the Haggadah was locked. We went to the first floor, crawling on our bellies because bullets were still crashing through the windows. We opened that little box, and inside was the Haggadah.’

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JUNE 1992


• A home for the blind becomes a perch for armed Serb paramilitary troops.
• The JNA leaves the largest barracks, “Marsal Tito,” in the city center.
• Telephone connection cut: Sarajevo – the World.


• The citizens, shut in their apartment blocks and basements because of the unending shelling, begin organizing block events.
• The city faces severe food shortages. The local community creates a mini farm at Buljakov stream to survive.


• When the aggressor attacks Aerodromsko naselje citizens turn their radios up to the song, “Don’t give up, Bosnia!”


• The UN leads negotiations on reclaiming the airport, which is under the control of the JNA and Serb terrorists.
• Sarajevan psychiatrists give advice to citizens on how to mentally survive: establish as many contacts as possible, avoid isolation, show solidarity, share everything with others, and do as much as possible – invent tasks rather than sit with folded arms.
• Methadone runs out, a treatment for narcotics addicts.
• The electrical power system in BiH is divided up.
• The Presidency of BiH proclaims a state of war and general mobilization.
• Louis Mackenzie, UNPROFOR Commander, brokers a two day truce as a condition for opening the airport.
• The building of the "Oslobodjenje" newspaper burns, under heavy artillery attacks.
• JNA planes target the TV transmitter in Mostre near Visoko, in the vicinity of Sarajevo.
• Serb paramilitary troop expel Muslim and Croat citizens from the Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza.


• The President of the Presidency of BiH announces that he will leave for a conference in Strasbourg on April 25 if the airport is opened and if UNPROFOR secures the road to the airport.
• Before the conference in Strasbourg, special units of MUP petition against a cantonized and divided Bosnia.
• The Public Prosecutor’s Office of BiH in Sarajevo issues a ban on the SDS. The proceedings are initiated by the Center for Antiwar Activities and the Prosecutor’s office makes the ruling.
• SDS barricades halt BiH Olympians on their way to the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
• "Gras" tram conductors transport Sarajevans, and a fifth column inquires as to the departure times of trams which are then told to SDS terrorists so that they can fire upon them fro the hills.
• Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, feels helpless rage and falls into a deep depression over the inability of the international community to help Bosnia and Sarajevo.
• Strasbourg, June 25, 1992. A summit on BiH begins in Strasbourg. Presiding over the summit is Lord Carrington. Participants: Haris Silajdzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman.
• Waiting for a ceasefire before opening the airport, Louis Mackenzie: the BiH government has an effective military in the city, while the Serbs state they will not fire at civilian targets, meaning they can fire at military targets.
• Sarajevans, being heavy smokers, smoke a variety of types of cigarettes in the besieged city; the healthiest are the KOKTEL cigarettes.
• MUP issues guidelines for safe movement in the city amid shelling and sniper fire.
• In the Sarajevo neighborhood of Alipasino polje, B block, a chess competition is held.


• The peace conference in Strasbourg collapses.
• Abandoned house pets roam the city because their owners have fled.
• Sarajevo′s “Velepekara” (mass bakery) no longer produces bread, the staple food of Sarajevo, because it lacks yeast.
• Table tennis players from Sarajevo go to Crkvenica to prepare for a European tournament.
• French President François Mitterand, makes a completely unannounced landing at the closed Sarajevo airport, and later goes on a tour of the besieged city. He visits the State and Military Hospitals, and on this visit resolves the crisis over the delivery of humanitarian aid, just as he later blocks eventual air strikes against Bosnian Serb positions.
• The Presidency decides to implement work quotas for all civilians.
• The blue UN flag flaps over the runway of Sarajevo airport, three minutes before the UN Security Council convenes at the deadline of the ultimatum given the Bosnian Serbs. The first planes carrying humanitarian aid arrive in Sarajevo.
• All contact with the outside world is cut off.
• New York, June 30, 1992. The UN Security Council adopts Resolution 761 which authorizes the Secretary General to employ UNPROFOR to establish the security and functioning of Sarajevo airport. Article 2 of the Resolution urges all parties to maintain an absolute and unconditional ceasefire.

History

If you play with lines on the map of Europe, you will have to find Sarajevo. It is revealed where lines cross over the Balkans. First you draw a line from Paris, through Venice and then to Istanbul, the closest East that Europe knew for centuries. A second line starts in Northern Europe, goes between Berlin and Warsaw, through the Mediterranean, and then to Africa. These lines meet over Bosnia and Herzegovina. And, in fact, they cross over Sarajevo. Here wars were started and here they went on, while people loved and longed for love. Here merchants were selling goods from all over the world and life was close and distant to ways of the East and the West. It was Western for the East, and Oriental for the West. It was the life of Sarajevo.
Its poet, Muhamed Nerkesi (1592-1634), far from his beloved city, wrote: “Nothing comes close of my city. It is the pearl on the earth, saraj of springs and gardens unique in the world...High mountains around it, old and noble, snow-peaks covered with mist are kissing the sky...It is impossible, no doubt, to name all the beauties of this place...”

THE STATE MUSEUM

The State Museum, located across the street from the Holiday Inn, was on the front line, as the Miljacka river separated it from the occupied Grbavica territory. Its windows are still covered by UNHCR plastic sheets which has replaced the glass. The sheeting was the UN gift to the museum which is regarded as the oldest cultural and scientific institution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Established in 1888 the museum is situated in a monumental Neo-renaissance style edifice which includes the botanical gardens, the site of precious medieval tombstones (stecci). The museum houses the departments of archeology, ethnography and natural sciences. It was impossible to protect the large number of exhibits, but in spite of the shelling they were not directly hit. The most valuable exhibits, like the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, had been removed to safer places. A part of the museum burnt down and the building was hit by more than 420 shells, according to museum statistics. In front of the museum there stood a UN transporter which was supposed to protect the citizens riding in the trams. A lot of people were killed and injured in that spot. It was in this spot that the last victims in the city were killed after the signing of the Dayton agreement when a tram was hit by a shell.

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