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Heroes You Should Know: The Hardagas and the Kabiljos

hardaga

You know how the truth can sometimes be stranger than fiction?

When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 and the Lufftwaffe bombed their home, the Jewish Kabiljo family was forced to flee into the local mountains to hide.  But this proved untenable and they made the desperate decision to try and get to the factory building where their business was housed.  Once there, they encountered Mustafa Hardaga, the Muslim man who owned the building.  Not only did he choose to not turn the family in to the Nazis, he made the extraordinary decision to invite them to his home, to live with him, his wife, Zejneba, and his brother and sister-in-law.

Islamic rules about modesty dictated that women cover their faces in the presence of men who were not family, but the Hardagas decided to declare the Kabiljos part of their own family so their women did not have to veil their faces.

Of course anyone caught harboring Jews would have been executed, and to make matters even more tense, the Hardaga home happened to be located ten yards from the Gestapo headquarters.  The Hardagas were unfazed but eventually the Kabiljos decided they could no longer put their friends in danger.

Mrs. Kabiljo and their children escaped to a Bosnian city that lay outside the Nazi-zone.  Josef stayed behind to close down their business but was captured.  Because of the heavy snows, he could not be transported to the infamous Jasenovac camp near Zagreb where he almost surely would have been killed.  So he stayed in Sarajevo, and worked on a chain gang clearing snow from the roads.  When the Hardagas found out where Josef was located they began bringing him and the other prisoners food to keep them from starving  Eventually Josef was able to escape, return to live with the Hardagas for a short time, and then rejoin his family.

After the war the Kabiljo family relocated to Jerusalem.  And there, in 1984, they finally convinced Yad Vashem to grant the Hardaga family the title ‘Righteous Among the Nations’— making them the first Muslims to receive this honor.  But the story doesn’t end there.

In 1994, when the Serbs attacked Sarajevo, Zejneba Hardaga and her family were forced into a basement for shelter and survive on soup made from grass they’d picked in a local park.  The Kabiljo family, who had stayed in touch with the Hardagas, contacted Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and explained the situation and the background story.  Israel, in turn, contacted the Bosnian government and negotiated for the Hardaga family to be transported anywhere they chose.  The Hardagas chose Israel.  And when the Hardagas landed in the Holy Land, they were met at the airport by one of the Kabiljo daughters!

Muslims save Jews, and Jews save Muslims.  And hope springs eternal.

The Hardagas and the Kabilijos are heroes you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

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