Saved by Language

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Members of ucLADINO are involved in numerous projects throughout the year, which complement the goals of our organization.

One such project, entitled, “Saved by Language,” documents the life of a Sephardic Jew from Sarajevo (1930- present), and the story he recounts that made survival during the Holocaust possible. This story is unique in that, Judeo-Spanish, the maternal language of many a Sephardim, serves as an example how language was used as a resource during the Holocaust. In this case, the use of this Sephardic boy's native tongue led to his survival, all while running away from the train taking Bosnian Jews to Nazi death camps.

A prominent member of the Sarajevo Sephardic community, who has remained in Sarajevo since childhood until today (pre- and post- Holocaust), shares his personal story of survival. His narrative makes clear the link between the Judeo-Spanish language of his ancestors, a language that has been carried throughout time and space, and survival during a time of massive persecution. Speaking in Judeo-Spanish to an Italian soldier made his escape to a Partizan mountain refuge possible. Later on, he spoke in Judeo-Spanish to a Hispanic US pilot with whom he collaborated at a Partizan airport base. The use of Judeo-Spanish may directly be related to his story of survival.

Few Holocaust survivors remain in Sarajevo, Bosnia- Herzegovina, a city that pre World War II was represented by a 13% Jewish population who had an impressive role in both the government and the workforce. However, over 80% of the 12,000 members of the Jewish community of Sarajevo in 1941 were murdered during the Holocaust by 1945. Today, due to the Bosnian war at the start of 1992, few Jews remain. Our informant, a prominent member of this community, serves as the historian of city’s synagogue, La Benevolencija, which not only has an important role in Sarajevo, but in the greater Sephardic history as well.

The work produced from this research will exhibit how 450 years after the expulsion of the Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula the Judeo-Spanish language saved a young Bosnian boy from his possible death in the Nazi concentration camps.

A documentary will be created featuring in depth interviews with this informant in his hometown of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Join us as we recount the series of events that made his survival possible. Filming took place from late July- mid August during the summer of 2012.

We are currently finalizing the DEMO for this documentary and will be looking for funds to turn “Saved by Language,” into a full length documentary. Our long-term vision is to turn this documentary into a greater series of collected research and exposure of the Sephardic experience during the Holocaust, particularly accounting for the role Judeo-Spanish played during this period of time. 

Preserving the haunting beauty of the Judeo-Spanish language and music is a reminder that culture can survive every form of oppression except neglect…and it is up to us to keep it alive

For more information about this documentary, or to learn how you can contribute to the efforts of this project, please contact Bryan KirschenSusanna Zaraysky at .

Saved by Language DEMO