From the testimony of Josef Kavilio, June 1983
In April 1941 when Yugoslavia was attacked by Germany, enemy planes bombed my hometown – Sarajevo. We found shelter in the forests around the town, and when evening came we went back and found that our apartment on the third floor had been badly hit. We decided to spend the night in my factory. On the way to the factory we met Mustafa Hardaga, the owner of the building where the factory was located. After he heard that our home had been destroyed by a bomb, he begged us to stay with him.
The Hardaga family was a well-to-do and traditional Muslim family. The women of the family would hide their faces under a veil in the presence of strangers. Never before had a strange man stayed with them. They welcomed us with the words: ‘Josef, you are our brother; Rivka – our sister; and your children are like our children. Feel at home and whatever we own is yours’
When the Germans occupied Sarajevo, the Ustasa lead an antisemitic campaign. The big synagogue that was in the vicinity of the Hardaga house was looted by the wild masses – 400-year-old torah scrolls were set on fire. I watched this terrible sight, hidden behind the curtain in the home of our hosts, and consequently our hosts enhanced their kindness and comforted us. I knew that we were putting the Hardaga family in danger and tried to find ways to move my family to Mostar – in the area ruled by the Italians [where Jews were relatively protected]. My wife and children were taken to Mostar by a family friend disguised as his own family with the help of forged papers.
Meanwhile the authorities ordered to transfer my business to the hands of Eterle, my former bookkeeper, who was a collaborator. My factory produced pipes for water and sewer installations. It was unique in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina and most essential. One morning as I arrived at the factory I found that someone had sabotaged two machines. Mr. Eterle blamed me and I understood that he had decided to turn me in and that I had to find a hiding place outside the home of the Hardaga family that was near the factory. When it became dark I went to the military hospital where Captain Radovitz, an old friend, was in charge, and asked him to hide me. He decided that the best way would be to disguise me as a sick prisoner. Thus I spent two months in the military hospital. One night detectives showed up and I was imprisoned in the city jail. It was during the hard days of winter 1942; it was snowing heavily and they couldn’t transfer the 70 Jewish prisoners to Jasenovac camp as planned. Every morning they would take us out to clear the snow off the streets. We were tied with chains. One day I saw a woman with a veiled face standing on the side and crying. I understood that this was Zejneba, the wife of Mustafa, my protector. From that day on and all through the month I was imprisoned Zejneba or her sister-in-law would bring me meals that were enough to feed several other hungry people.
One night, together with another prisoner, we decided to flee, but we were caught and as punishment we were sentenced to death and transferred with another eight prisoners to Pale, some 30 km. from Sarajevo. This was an area where the partisans were active and they had destroyed the water and sewer pipes. We were ordered to fix the damage. Our guards – Ustasa – did not provide food for us, and we ate grass and snails. One of the guards happened to tell the Hardaga family where I was, and after two weeks, when we were already very weak from the hard work and lack of food, they managed to send us food parcels. The courage of the Hardagas touched us all and gave us the strength to keep going.
Two months after we had arrived in Pale Captain Reichman of the regular army came and told us he would leave the hut door open. We understood and decided to flee. We split up and ran into all directions. Since I knew the area well, I decided to return to Sarajevo through the woods. Early in the morning, before dawn, I knocked on the Hardaga door. After all the risks they had taken smuggling food to my place of exile, I knew I could trust them. They were very happy and there was a mixture of tears and laughter. They told me they were taking advantage of all possibilities to transfer money to my family. It was the first time in many months that I slept well.
The next morning I met Zejneba’s father who told me that two months earlier he had hidden the Papo family who were very close friends of mine and whom he had managed to move to the Italian zone.
In the first days at my hosts’ home I rested, ate and began to recuperate. At nights we could hear the screams of the Communist prisoners who were held in the Gestapo cellars in the neighborhood. I began to notice what was going on. The walls were covered with announcements warning people not to shelter Jews and Communists in their homes – the punishment was death. I was again afraid and knew that I had to act and get out of the town where no Jews had been left. My hosts did all they could to make me as comfortable as possible, but I felt that I could bring disaster on the family if I stayed. I turned to one of my acquaintances and he helped me flee and reunite with my family.
After the war we returned to Sarajevo and the Hardaga family welcomed us with joy. The jewelry we had left in their home was still in the same box we had packed them. Our joy was disturbed by the news that Zejneba’s father, Ahmed Sadik, had been shot by the Ustasa for having hidden the Pappo family in his house.