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The Hardaga Family was a Muslim family from Yugoslavia who helped shelter the Jewish Kavilio/Kabiljo family when the German Nazis invaded Bosnia during World War II. The Hardaga’s protected the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family for an entire year. Fifty years later, the Kavilio/Kabiljo family repaid the Hardaga family by rescuing Sara Pecanac, the daughter of Mustafa and Zenjneba Hardaga’s daughter during the Bosnian War.

The Hardaga Family and The Kavilio/Kabiljo Family

The Muslim Hardaga Family consists of Mustafa Hardaga and his wife, Zenjneba. They married and lived with Mustafa’s brother, Izet, and Bachriya, his brother’s wife in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.[1] The produced a son, Salih, only a year before the Nazi Germany invasion of Yugoslavia.[2]

Their daughter, Sara, was born in 1957 after World War II and the heroic actions they took to hide their friends, The Kavilio (or Kabiljo) Family.[3] Sara later married Branimir Pechanec and they bore one daughter named Sacha.

The Jewish Kavilio/Kabiljo Family consists of Yosef (Josef) Kavilio/Kabiljo and his wife and children.[4]

The Nazi Invasion of Yugoslavia

Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941. They bombed Sarajevo and destroyed the home of the Kavilio/Kabiljo.[5] Yosef Kavilio/Kabiljo was the business partner and friend of Mustafa Hardaga who worked as a furniture salesman.[6] When the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family lost their home, the Hardagas welcomed the Jews into their home to hide from the Gestapo.[7]

The Gestapo opened up headquarters across the street, less than 10 meters away from The Hardaga Family home. They were so close, they could hear the cries of prisoners being tortured at night. The Nazis stole precious artifacts and valuables from the Sarajevo synagogue before burning 400-year-old scrolls containing the Torah.[8]

Living in Hiding and Escape

The Hardaga Family practiced a conservative form of Islam that required the women of the family to wear full-faced veils in the company of any non-family members or strangers. They never accepted anyone into their home prior to the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family. Josef Kavilio/Kabiljo later recalled that Mustafa Hardaga welcomed the Jewish family by saying, “Josef, you are our brother, and your children are like our children. Feel at home and whatever we own is yours.” The women of the Hardaga Family never wore veils in front of their new family members again.

The Hardaga Family bravely sheltered the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family from the Gestapo whose headquarters were located less than 10 meters away from the Hardaga Family home.

The Kavilio/Kabiljo Family lived with the Hardagas between 1941 and 1942.[9] Eventually, Josef arranged for his family to escape to a safer, Italian-controlled section of Mostar, Bosnia. He remained behind to liquidate his part of the business. The Croatian Ustasa discovered his presence then arrested and jailed him for being Jewish.

This occurred in winter and heavy snows fell on Sarajevo preventing the transfer of the prisoners to the infamous Jasenovac death camp outside Zagreb. The Croatian Ustasa used Jasenovac as a base to kill Jews, Roma, and Serbians. The prisoners, including Josef Kavilio/Kabiljo, were made to clear snow from the roads instead. Zejneba Hardaga saw Josef clearing the roads in chains and started to bring food to the prisoners when possible.

Josef Kavilio/Kabiljo escaped his imprisonment and returned to the Hardaga Family home. They happily received him and cared for him until his health improved. Josef did want to endanger his friends any longer. The Gestapo were searching for Jews and Serbs, threatening to kill anyone who sheltered one of the wanted groups, and they still headquartered across the street from the Hardaga’s. He left and rejoined his family in Mostar as soon as he could, removing the immediate threat to the Hardaga’s.[10]

==Honoring The Hardaga Family==
 The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority of Yad Vashem honored Zejneba and Mustafa Hardaga, along with Bachriya and Izet Hardaga and the father of the Hardaga brothers, Ahmed Sadik, as Righteous Among the Nations for heroically sheltering the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family during World War II.

The Hardaga Family learned after the war that Mustafa and Bachriya’s father hid a Jewish man named Papo in his home. His father was arrested and taken to Jasenovac to be killed.[11] Ahmed Sadik also helped to forge personal documents featuring Christian names in place of Jewish names to help the Jewish families escape. [12]

Fifty Years Later, The Bosnian War

In 1992, 50 years after the Hardaga Family saved the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family in Yugoslavia, the Bosnia War set Sarajevo aflame. The daughter of Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga, Sara Pecanac, lived in Sarajevo, now a part of Bosnia, with her mother, her husband, Branimir, and daughter, Sacha. Her father died in the 1960s. They had hardly anything to eat as the Serbian troops surrounded Sarajevo and the family was forced to eat soup made from grass for weeks.

The Hardaga Family saved the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family during World War II and the latter repaid the favor during the Bosnian War after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1992.

The Pecanac’s watched as their friends and neighbors died in the street or burned alive in their homes. Yugoslavia just broke up and the new Bosnia combined Roman Catholics from Croatia with Orthodox Serbians and Muslim Bosniaks. Tensions boiled over when Slobodan Milosevic’s nationalist rhetoric calling for a “greater Serbia” resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 persons and the displacement of three million more.

The Muslim Pecanac/Hardaga Family hid in their basement, totally isolated from the outside world and without proper access to water or food. The Kavilio/Kabiljo Family watched the devastation on a television in Jerusalem, where the resettled after the Hardaga’s helped them escape. They contacted a journalist from Israel who reported on the Bosnian War to search for the Hardaga/Pecanac Family.

The Kavilio/Kabiljo Family learned that Zejneba Hardaga and her daughter, Sara, were still alive and requested assistance in the search from Yad Vashem. Yad Vashem did not successfully receive approval for their release at first. The determined Kavilio/Kabiljo Family took their case to the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and finally secured a rescue for the Hardaga/Pecanac Family.

In the spring of 1994, Sara joined her mother, her husband, and her daughter along with 300 other refugees from Sarajevo on a bus to escape the war zone and the Serbian threat. It took 34 checkpoints with guards asking for bribes for the Hardaga/Pecanac Family to make it out, but they succeeded.[13] Sara Pecanac and her family decided to resettle near the Kavilio/Kabiljo Family in Jerusalem, Israel, and converted to Judaism.[14]



The Independent Online (2010, April 15). Divided by faith, united by war. The Independent - News.[1]

Westhead, R. (2013, November 25). Families save each other from genocide — 50 years apart | Toronto star. World.[2]

Yad Vashem. (2017). Mustafa and Zejneba Hardaga, Izet and Bachriya Hardaga, Ahmed Sadik. Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority.[3]


  1. Yad Vashem, 2017
  2. Westhead, 2013
  3. The Independent Online, 2010
  4. Westhead, 2013
  5. Yad Vashem, 2017
  6. Westhead, 2013
  7. Yad Vashem, 2017
  8. Westhead, 2013
  9. The Independent Online, 2010
  10. Yad Vashem, 2017
  11. Yad Vashem, 2017
  12. Westhead, 2013
  13. Westhead, 2013
  14. Yad Vashem, 2017

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