The Angel of Mostar reunited with Bosnian girl she rescued

The heroine of Mostar is reunited with a child she rescued


By David Cohen, November 12, 2009
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Brighton Jewish artist Sally Becker is finally reunited with Selma Handzaar, whom she rescued in 1992

Brighton Jewish artist Sally Becker is finally reunited with Selma Handzaar, whom she rescued in 1992

In 1992, Sally Becker, who became known as the Angel of Mostar for her rescue work in the Bosnian war, took Selma Handzaar and her brother Mirza out of Mostar to Croatia.

Selma was 10 years old, Mirza, seven. They were Muslims. Both were blown across the back garden of their house by bombs fired by troops loyal to Radovan Karadic, now on trial at The Hague.

The shelling destroyed part of the house. A wall fell on Selma. Mirza found that he could not walk when he tried to crawl towards his sister.

Sally, an artist from Brighton who had begun aid convoys with help from the Jewish community in Bosnia and from CBF (World Jewish Relief), did not know Selma. Simply, she knew there were children who had to be got out of the hellhole that was Mostar.

She got Selma and Mirza into her ambulance and drove them out of Bosnia and to the relative safety of Croatia.

When the children got to hospital, it was clear both would need amputations. But in the middle of a war there was only enough anaesthetic for one operation.

Selma insisted that her brother get it. She had her arm amputated at the shoulder with only a teddy bear to bite on for comfort and pain relief.

Both children needed many more operations. But a month after they had been injured, they landed in San Francisco, with the promise of a new life where they would not have to worry about being bombed by the Serbs.

Sally wrote a best-seller, Angel of Mostar, about her experiences. But she had no way of knowing what had happened to the children she saved.

Selma went to school and began to thrive. Her great ambition was to go to New York. Eventually she made it — and went to work for Warner Music in its human relations division.

Sally, meanwhile, became a mother.This year, her daughter Billie is 10, the age Selma was when Sally saved her.

Selma was keen to know more about the woman who had saved her, but she thought her name was Sally Baker. She Googled the name but nothing made any sense.

Meanwhile, Sally was also trying to check what had happened to the children she had rescued. And then finally she got a contact because one of them had started a website.

Then Selma fell in love with Lennie Mercedes and eventually they decided to get married. Sally and her daughter were invited. It would be the first time the two women had met since Sally hurtle-drove them out of Bosnia.

Last weekend Sally and Selma finally met and hugged and talked again.

The Hollywood version would have been to stage-manage it so that they met just 10 minutes before the marriage.

Instead, the night before the wedding, Sally was driven to Queens, New York. Selma waited at the top of the stairs — and they embraced.

“I wouldn’t be here without you,” Selma said. “I never expected to see you again; it’s just so wonderful,” said Sally .

Selma explained that she had decided to wear a wedding dress which did not hide that she has only one arm. “I only wear long sleeves to hide the fact and I haven’t worn an artificial arm for years, since I felt I had an object bolted on, that was not me.”

“She looks like a Greek statue,” Sally said. “Quite a lot of them were missing an arm, it didn’t make them less lovely.”

David Cohen’s film about Sally Becker and the children she rescued, ‘The Reunion’, will be out on DVD next spring

Last updated: 5:29pm, November 12 2009