Bosnia and Herzegowina
Muslim woman honored for protecting Jews during the Holocaust
During the German invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, Zejneba Hardaga was living in Sarajevo with her husband, Mustafa, and their children. The Hardaga family owned and lived adjacent to the grounds of a pipe factory run by the Kavilios, a Jewish family. During the invasion, the Kavilios’ house was destroyed in a German bombing raid. Left homeless, they were welcomed by the Hardagas into their family home. Though their observance of Islam mandated that the women of the family be veiled in the presence of men who were not family members, Mustafa and Zejneba welcomed the Kavilio family as members of their own family and, as a sign of the intimacy of the connection, Zejneba did not veil in front of Josef Kavilio. When it was determined that the Kavilios could move to the city of Mostar, which was under Italian control and therefore relatively safer, they left the Hardagas’ household, though Josef returned to liquidate his business. In the process, he was captured by Nazi-aligned Croatian fascists. Heavy snowfall prevented his being transferred to the Jasenovac concentration camp but he and the other prisoners were forced in chains to begin clearing the roads of snow. Zejneba saw the prisoners and recognized Josef and, risking her life, brought them food. While imprisoned, Josef fell ill, but soon managed to escape and returned to the Hardagas’ home until he regained his health and was able to flee to Mostar to join his family. After the war, the Kavilios returned to live with the Hardagas until they were able to get back on their feet. Ultimately, they migrated to Israel where they requested that Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, honor the Hardagas as “Righteous Among the Nations,” a designation given to those who helped Jews survive the horrors of World War II. In the 1980s, Zejneba traveled to Israel to plant a tree of remembrance in honor of her efforts and those of her family. Josef Kavilios testified that the Hardagas had been in extreme danger—he had seen notices posted by the Gestapo that harboring Jews was punishable by death. Zejneba, her daughter, and her granddaughter appear in the documentary film, The Woman from Sarajevo.