Rescued woman returns the favor Fifty-one years after being saved, Jewish woman rescues Muslim family

July 09, 1992|By Cox News Service

JERUSALEM -- This is a story of courage and love, of individuals who transcended the hatreds of war and the frequent conflict among religions to show that sometimes history repeats itself in its most sublime form.

Fifty-one years ago, when Germany invaded Yugoslavia during World War II, a Muslim family rescued and nourished a 3-year-old Jewish girl and her family in Sarajevo.

Today that little Jewish girl, now 54, returned the favor. She bought the plane tickets that rescued three young members -- two more generations -- of that same Muslim family from Sarajevo and flew them to her home in Israel to escape Yugoslavia's internal wars.

Friends from before the German invasion, the family relationship was cemented by the risks taken and the rescues made during World War II. The two families remained close after the war and even when the Kabilios moved to Israel in 1950.

Letters were frequently exchanged and three years ago Tova Kabilio-Greenberg's 25-year-old daughter visited Amra Hajro Berjan's family in Sarajevo, staying two weeks with Ms. Berjan's mother, Zarifa, 55, who was the playmate of Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg in the early 1940s.

During one of her frequent telephone calls to her friend Zarifa in Sarajevo, Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg learned that Ms. Berjan, her husband and their two young children had fled to Belgrade, but couldn't escape the country.

First Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg obtained an Israeli visa for Berjan and her children. But what was then the last plane out of Belgrade was filled.

"It was terrible there. Everyone was trying to get out," said Ms. Berjan, as her 2 1/2-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son played in their temporary home in Jerusalem.

Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg said she withdrew money from the bank for airline tickets, persuaded El Al, Israel's national airline, to actually purchase three tickets on JAT, Yugoslavia's national airline, and with El Al's help sent numerous FAX messages to JAT offices in Belgrade in an attempt to guarantee seats for Ms. Berjan and her two children.

When Ms. Berjan arrived at the airport in Belgrade on May 31, she said, officials of JAT told her not to worry; they had received so many messages via FAX from Jerusalem they believed "I must be an important person" and told her she would be allowed to fly with her children.

The current rescue is far from complete. Due to political and military restrictions, Ms. Berjan's husband can't leave Yugoslavia.

Ms. Berjan's mother Zarifa is hiding out in a village near Sarajevo. It's been a month since anyone in Jerusalem has spoken to her.

Still alive and hiding in a basement of a Sarajevo house is Ms. Berjan's disabled grandmother, Zejneda Hardaga, now 73. It was Ms. Hardaga and her husband, Mustafa, who sheltered the Kabilio family in Yugoslavia during World War II.

Zejneda and Mustafa Hardaga lived across from a German police station in Sarajevo when they took in young Tova Kabilio, her mother Rifka and father Joseph and brother Benjamin after the Kabilio house was destroyed.

Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg remains astonished at the courage of her family's rescuers because a sign on the German police station warned that anyone caught hiding Jews would be executed.

When Ms. Kabilio-Greenberg's father was taken to an Italian-run work camp in Yugoslavia, the Hardaga family tracked him down and sent him food.

To Tova Kabilio-Greenberg and Amra Berjan, the religious question, so raw in the Middle East, doesn't figure into this tale of friendship. The question is, in fact, foreign to them.

When Tova said, "A person is a person, a human being is a human being," Amra said quietly, "Yes, yes."

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