The Sarajevo Haggadah is on public display for the first time, thanks to the United Nations Trust Fund, led here by the head of Bosnia's U.N. mission, Jacques Paul Klein. "The odyssey of the Sarajevo Haggadah has come to an end. It is home. It is safe," Klein said at a ceremony Monday night at Sarajevo's National Museum, where the Haggadah is in a climate controlled-room shared by manuscripts of Bosnia's other religions: Islam, Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholicism. "That's proof that here not only we can live together, but we used to live together for centuries and hope to continue to live together," said Jakob Finci, head of the country's Jewish community.
Handwritten on bleached calfskin, the manuscript dates to the once-thriving Jewish community in Spain and describes events ranging from the Creation to the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt to the death of Moses.
A Haggadah is a narrative of the Exodus read at the Seder service during Passover. The 109-page text known as the Sarajevo Haggadah was presented as a wedding gift in the 14th century to a young couple in Barcelona, Spain.
A small wine stain on one of the pages may have come from a glass raised at a Seder dinner. On another page, a small child tried out some handwriting. Those make the book a "living document," said Yechiel Bar-Chaim of the American Joint Distribution Committee, which paid for part of the manuscript's restoration. "The Sarajevo Haggadah is interesting because this particular edition has itself gone through an exodus and a history of wandering, danger and miraculous preservation," Bar-Chaim said.
In 1492, when Spain expelled the country's Jews, a refugee brought the book to Italy. A rabbi later brought the Haggadah from Italy to Bosnia and passed it down through his family until a descendant, Joseph Kohen, sold it to the National Museum in 1894. The museum kept the treasure hidden in a safe. During World War II, a Catholic museum director and his Muslim colleague saved the book from a Nazi officer who came to pick it up.
The two men spirited the book through Nazi checkpoints and carried it to a village in the mountains above Sarajevo, where a Muslim cleric kept it hidden beneath the floor of a mosque until the war ended. It was then returned to the museum safe.
When Bosnia's war erupted in 1992, the museum was on the front line. Braving Bosnian Serb sniper fire, a museum official crawled to the gallery, picked up the Haggadah, crawled back and hid the manuscript in a safe at the National Bank. The Haggadah remained there after the war ended in 1995 because the museum had been damaged. Experts started restoring it last year, finishing work in January.
Museum director Djenana Buturovic believes the storied manuscript is safe at last. "The Haggadah will finally find some rest," she said.