Ambassador Jakob Finci was born in 1943 to Sephardi Jewish parents in the Rab concentration camp, one of the facilities established by the Italians during WWII to eliminate Slovenes and Croatians from Italian-occupied territory. In contrast to Slovene and Croatian prisoners who were sheltered in overcrowded tents, Jews at Rab were housed in wooden and brick barracks where they were provided with sanitation and services. After the war, Finci returned with his family to Sarajevo and ultimately began a career as a lawyer specializing in international law.
In the 1990s, when ethnic war broke out in Sarajevo, Finci helped found La Benevolencija, a humanitarian organization that provided critical relief at the height of the Bosnian-Serbian conflict. La Benevolencija housed itself in Sarajevo’s Jewish community center and provided medicine, food, and community to Sarajevans trapped in the city. La Benevolencija’s pharmacy and soup kitchen served all comers, regardless of their religious belief or ethnic background.
Under sniper fire, the agency organized evacuations for children and the elderly and later the general population. Led by Holocaust survivors and their children, La Benevolencija eventually managed to secure safe passage for 3,000 people by organizing convoys of Serbs, Bosnian Muslims, Jews, and Croats. Finci used the organization’s Jewish neutrality as an asset to clear all checkpoints.
The story of Sarajevo and La Benevolencija illustrates how Jewish, Islamic and Christian neighbors set aside their differences and united for survival.
Finci, a former Ambassador, continues to stand up for human rights as President of the Jewish cultural and humanitarian society, La Benevolencija. He is also the current President of the Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Finci’s ethics and La Benevolencija’s ability to combat prejudice and indifference are why we honor Ambassador Finci at our 2016 Upstander Speaker Series.
The Upstander Speaker Series event will take place on Thursday, May 19 at 6:30 p.m at Temple Shalom, 6930 Alpha Rd. in Dallas. For more information and tickets, visit DallasHolocaustMuseum.org or call 214-741-7500.
Generously sponsored by The Temple Shalom Brotherhood in Honor of Jack Repp, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and The Dallas Morning News