He was a scientist, businessman, and a diplomat skilled at negotiation.
She was a Muslim who saved a Jewish friend during the Second World War and received a Righteous Gentile Award.
But when war came to Sarajevo in 1992,
the hero needed to be rescued.
Milton Wolf, who served as America’s ambassador to Austria
during the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, became President of JDC
(the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) in the 1990s,
just as a very hot war in Yugoslavia was taking place.
JDC was sending food and medicine into the besieged city of Sarajevo, and bringing people out – as long as they could secure visas.
Not many people were lining up to take Zeyneba
Hardaga, an elderly Muslim woman in failing health, her daughter, granddaughter, and terminally ill son-in-law.
But Milton Wolf was determined to help. To get
them out of the war zone, Wolf negotiated with the Bosnian Serbs, the Bosnian Croats, and the Bosnian government. There were meetings and phone calls, followed by more meetings and phone calls. The Israelis agreed to take Zeyneba – but not her family. It all looked hopeless, and in February, 1994, the last JDC rescue convoy was only days from pulling out of Sarajevo.
While everyone else had given up, Milton Wolf refused to quit. In The Washington Post he wrote, “the woman who wouldn’t abandon the Jews is not going to abandon her own family.”
Then, with only days to spare, all the permissions came through and Zeyneba packed a tiny suitcase and made room for the one thing that mattered to her most (besides her family): the Righteous Gentile Award she received from Israel.
When the mud-splattered bus convoy arrived at the Croatian border on February 5, 1994, a silver haired man in a business suit was the first one on the bus. “Now where is my friend Zeyneba?” Milton Wolf called out.
The Washington Post article that helped Zeyneba Hardaga get out of Sarajevo
In Bosnia, a hero abandoned. Op-ed, Washington Post, January 12, 1994
SARAJEVO- Zeyneba Hardaga is a 77-year-old Muslim woman living in Sarajevo. She has a letter from the Foreign Ministry of Israel asking all those who come in contact to aid her in any way possible.