Growing up in as a child in Sarajevo, Sara Pecanac led a happy life. Enjoying the freeing innocence of her childhood, the only real concerns she had was keeping out of trouble with her parents.
Her mother Zejneba Hardaga would remind her to always try and be a good person, and lead others to goodness by example.
“When I was growing up, my mother Zejneba always said, ‘You can’t control how rich you will be, or how smart or successful you will be,’” Pecanac shared with thestar.com. “But she said you can control how good you will be.”
And then World War II happened.
Pecanac’s father, Mustafa Hardaga, worked as a furniture salesman in the city. When the Nazis came to Sarajevo, they used an office across from Mustafa’s store as a command center.
As Muslims, Pecanac and her family were spared the horrors of the holocaust, but the Jews in the town weren’t so lucky. Many homes were bombed, and prisoners were brutally tortured.
However, Pecanac’s parents were righteous people. Always ones to try and do the right thing, they decided to take in and shelter the Kabiljo family. The Kabiljos were Jews, but Yosef Kabiljo was a friend and business partner of Mustafa, who decided to help in their time of need.
“We were only 10 meters away from the Germans and hiding the Kabiljos right under their noses,” Salih Hardaga, Pecanac’s brother, said.
Through incredible fortune and good luck, both families escaped the war unscathed. The Kabiljos eventually fled to a different Bosnian city that was under Italian control, and from there to Israel.
Fifty years later, Pecanac was still in Sarajevo living with her mother. Her brother had since moved to Mexico.
And then the Bosnian War broke out.
Back in Jerusalem, the Kabiljos had created a successful new life. Upon hearing news of the Bosnian war, they were shocked to learn that Pecanac and her mother were still living in the war-torn country. They decided to do everything they could to help.
For Pecanac, who had since begun a family of her own, things were becoming dire.
“We watched people dying in the street outside our home, shot to death, and watched houses burn,” Pecanac said. “You just wondered if it would be you or your home the next night.”
Food was extremely scarce.
“My daughter was 9 years old at the time,” Pecanac said. “You can’t know what it’s like to not know when you might be able to give your child food or water next.”
The Kabiljos got in contact with Pecanac through a journalist who visited the country. Pecanac was overcome with joy when she found out that the Kabiljos wanted to help.
Back in Israel, the Kabiljos worked with the holocaust memorial organization, Yad Vashem, to stage a rescue. Thanks to their immense efforts, Pecanac and her family were safely transported to Israel. Later in life, Pecanac would convert to Judaism, and currently works for Yad Vashem.
The incredible fact that it was because of her parents’ actions that saved her life all these years later was something not lost on Pecanac.
“Imagine that you are in such a state and need help and you get it from the same family your family saved 50 years earlier,” Pecanac said. “It is an amazing story.”