Bosnians say thanks on rescue anniversary

Janet Cohen (centre) with Inge and Mirko Ovadia at the reunion at Jewish Care’s Golders Green HQ (Photo: Blake Ezra Photography)

Janet Cohen (centre) with Inge and Mirko Ovadia at the reunion at Jewish Care’s Golders Green HQ (Photo: Blake Ezra Photography)

Former members of the Bosnian Jewish community brought to Britain from the war-ravaged country 20 years ago marked the anniversary with an emotional reunion at Jewish Care’s Wohl campus in Golders Green.

Along with World Jewish Relief and the American Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Care was instrumental in assisting the Bosnians to escape and helped them adjust to life in the UK.

The 140 guests at the event included Janet Cohen, former chair of WJR’s Jewish refugees committee, who observed: “It’s so wonderful to see that they’re a community here. They’ve managed to integrate and keep their own identity at the same time.

“Many came with a suitcase of summer clothing and didn’t speak the language. Some had survived the Second World War and faced very difficult and emotional problems because they were refugees twice over.”

Branko Danon (Photo: Blake Ezra Photography)

Branko Danon (Photo: Blake Ezra Photography)

Help provided by Jewish organisations included housing, welfare benefits and language lessons at the Hampstead School of English.

The rendition of a traditional Bosnian song, Adio Querida (Goodbye My Love) brought back memories for Branko Danon, 74, who acted as a community worker for the group and is now assistant director of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors Centre (HSC).

“Many of us grew up with this song and it is also a beautiful tune,” he said. “It is a very emotionally charged feeling.”

Mr Danon added that the refugees had “gradually stopped looking backwards [and] started dealing with day-to-day issues”. Finally came “citizenship, security and the birth of little British subjects”. Group members had gone into a variety of professions and many had married Britons.

Jewish Care chair Steven Lewis said the charity had recognised “the vital importance of traumatised people being together, strengthening each other and having a sense of belonging and identity.

“We realised that those members of the Bosnian community who were also Holocaust survivors could have become members of the HSC. But the language problems excluded them from easily participating in the social programmes. Also the fact that the Bosnian refugees were from a Sephardi background and Ladino-speaking meant that they would feel less at home in the predominantly Ashkenazi/Yiddish-speaking environment.”

He told the former refugees: “I have the greatest admiration for what you as individuals and as a group have achieved.

“Despite all the odds against you, you have made lives for yourselves.”

Read Dragan Ungar and Ela Smiljanic-Hurley's story on the links below.

Last updated: 3:00pm, December 3 2012