Sabina Vajraca, a U.S.-based director and former refugee from the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, recently released a short film titled Sevap/Mitzvah (“A Good Deed”). It is based on the life of Zejneba Hardaga, a Muslim woman who helped hide a Jewish family, the Kabiljos, during World War II and later helped them escape Nazi-occupied Sarajevo for Israel. As Daria Sito-Sucic notes, the good deed was returned half-a-century later, when the Kabiljos helped Hardaga flee Bosnia’s embattled capital and find refuge in the Jewish state.
The Hardagas were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem, based on testimony provided by the Kabiljo family. The honorific is awarded to non-Jews who helped Jews escape persecution in the Holocaust.
“Zejneba Hardaga is the first Muslim woman in the world who was recognized as Righteous Among Nations,” said Eli Tauber, a member of the Sarajevo Jewish community. Tauber, who wrote a book about 54 Bosnians who were honored as Righteous for saving Jews during the World War II, said that Hardaga also helped his grandparents leave Sarajevo at that time.
“She gave my grandmother a veil and pantaloons to disguise herself as a Muslim woman, . . . and gave my grandfather the money to buy tickets and run away from Sarajevo,” he recalled.