REGINA – Sara Pechanac was born into a Muslim family, but she remembers that even as a child she wanted to be a Jew.
Through a remarkable series of events – including the Second World War, the Bosnian conflict and the support of her mother – she converted to Judaism in Jerusalem. The family lived in Sarajevo where Sara Pechanac was born 17 years after the Second World War.
Her story begins at the beginning of the war. "My family's friends were Jews and they knew the Jews were in trouble. My family believed in love your neighbour as yourself and they wanted to help the Jews," Pechanac said in an interview.
Her grandfather and her mother opened their home when the troubles began and their friends were in danger.
"My mother opened her home and my grandfather gave them money and arranged for papers with fake English names." The Jews they helped were then able to get to Italy from Sarajevo, and from there to Palestine.
Pechanac doesn't know how many Jews her family aided because her mother never talked about it. It must have been a fairly large number because her mother was the first Muslim woman ever recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Yad Veshem, located in Jerusalem, is Israel's official memorial to victims of the Holocaust. Pechanac's mother is also the only Muslim woman buried in a Jewish cemetery.
Serendipity entered the picture during what Pechanac described as the Bosnian conflict. Muslims were in danger, and this time it was descendants of the Jews helped by Sara Pechanac's mother and grandfather who came to the aid of her and her family.
The descendants of that family, Yosef and Riuka Kabiljo, lived in Israel, and when they saw what was happening in Sarajevo they contacted the World Jewish Federation and launched a search for the Pechanac family.
They were located and given the option of going to several countries, including Canada, Mexico and the United States.
"But my mother said no, only to Jerusalem, because she knew I wanted to be a Jew." And that's where she eventually realized her dream and converted to Judaism.
Pechanac emphasized she grew up in a loving family and her brother is Catholic in Mexico. She, now a Jew, lives in Israel; her sister remained a Muslim.