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07 Feb 13

Bosnia Rejects New York Plea to Host Haggadah

A heritage commission has declined to loan the famous Sarajevo Haggadah to the New York Metropolitan Museum, although it currently lies locked up and unseen in a closed museum.

Elvira M. Jukic
BIRN Sarajevo

Bosnia's Commission on National Monuments on February 6 said that it had turned down a request from the Metropolitan Museum in New York to host the Haggadah for three years.

Commission member Ljiljana Sevo said the reason for the rejection was the current unresolved status of the Bosnian National Museum, which holds the 14th-century manuscript and which closed for financial reasons last October.

“Before any kind of international cooperation and exchange, we need normalize things in the Museum,” Sevo said. “We are urging the question of the museum to be solved as soon as possible.”

In solving the Museum's problems, further risks to treasures such as the Haggadah would be prevented, she added.

Sevo said that the Metropolitan had offered optimum conditions to exhibit the book, with very high security measures.

“If the transfer to New York were approved, this manuscript of priceless value would be seen by numerous experts and people from the whole world,” she noted.

But she maintained that while the National Museum remained closed, it was not possible to agree to it.

Sevo dismissed claims that the rejection reflected fears that the manuscript might never return to Bosnia.

Jakob Finci, head of Jewish Community in Bosnia, said it was a pity the Haggadah lay locked up, where no one could see it, when “it could have been seen by a million visitors”.

The Haggadah was formerly exhibited only for a few days each year in the National Museum, which closed last year following years of financial struggle.

The Metropolitan Museum had sought to host the book until the Bosnian Museum re-opened.

The book is one of the most valuable items of Bosnian heritage, brought to Sarajevo by Jews fleeing persecution in Spain. The Bosnian National Museum has owned it since 1894.

The Haggadah dates from the mid-14th century. The identity of the artist who illuminated it is unknown.

It is assumed that the manuscript came to Bosnia as part of a dowry, or as a bribe, or simply as the property of Jewish refugees seeking sanctuary in the Ottoman Empire, of which Bosnia was then part.

According to the Bosnian Jewish Community, one of the first objects that Nazi German forces sought after entering Sarajevo in 1941 was the Sarajevo Haggadah.

But thanks to the museum staff, the book was kept away from the Germans and allegedly hidden in a mosque in Mt Bjelasnica, near Sarajevo.

After the end of the World War II, the book returned to the National Museum and remained there until the onset of the 1992-95 war.

Enver Imamovic, director of the Museum, along with several policemen, rescued it and transferred it to the vault of the National Bank.

In 2002, with the help of several donors, the National Museum opened a special room for the manuscript, where the book still lies - now unseen, however.

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