At the beginning of 2020, the Sarajevo-based publishing house El-Kalem, released a biography of Derviš M. Korkut, a Bosniak hero, to whom Yad Vashem posthumously awarded Righteous among the Nations on December 14, 1994.

Winston Churchill's words, with which the author begins the biography—that the Balkans produce more history than they can handle—best describe the difficult times in which Korkut lived. For Korkut and his fellow Bosnians, these difficult times lasted from the beginning of the 20th century to its very end.

The book is based on exhaustive archival research and reconstructs Korkut’s life very precisely, while the concise overview of the historical circumstances of the 20th century in the Balkans, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina, allows a better understanding of his actions.

His defense of his Jewish neighbors began early when the Minister of Interior of the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Milorad Drašković, initiated a procedure for the disenfranchisement of Yugoslav Jews. Korkut took part in the campaign against Drašković’s policies, publicly condemned such a policy, and gave a speech in the town of Derventa, in favor of the Jews

When, at the beginning of 1942, Nazi General Johann Hans Fortner came to the National Museum, demanding the handover of the Haggadah—a 15th-century Jewish manuscript brought to Bosnia and Herzegovina by Sephardic Jews who settled in Sarajevo, then part of the Ottoman Empire—Korkut managed to save the Haggadah, risking his own life in doing so (p. 40). Shortly after rescuing the Haggadah, a friend asked Korkut to help a Jewish girl, Donkica Papo (later Mira Baković), whose parents had already been sent to an Ustasha camp. After spending several months hiding in Korkut’s house, he managed to obtain forged documents for her and save her. In 1994, while Bosnia and Herzegovina was ravaged once again by the war, Mira Baković wrote to Yad Vashem, explaining how Derviš and his wife Servet Korkut had saved both her life and the Haggadah. Yad Vashem posthumously awarded him “Righteous Among the Nations” on December 14, 1994 at the Israeli Embassy in Paris (p. 63).

This poignant, well-written biography shows not only a life of a truly remarkable man, but also how difficult times throughout the 20th century, reflected on the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how they tried to respond to them by preserving the unique Bosnian multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, and multicultural community.

The story of Derviš M.Korkut’s life, marked by courage, perseverance, and resistance needs to be given the place in collective memory that it deserves, a task this book achieves. Written in English and thus available to a wider readership, it not only pays tribute to Derviš M. Korkut, but also sheds light on the Sarajevo he sought to preserve at the risk of his life.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License