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Yellow cardboard badge with Croatian Z for Jew worn by a Sephardic Jewish man

Object | Accession Number: 1988.27.2

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    Yellow cardboard badge with Croatian Z for Jew worn by a Sephardic Jewish man

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    Brief Narrative
    Jewish paper identification badge with a Z for Zidov, Jew in Croatian, worn by Leon Kabiljo beginning in May 1941 after Yugoslavia was invaded and partitioned by the German led Axis Alliance in April. Leon and his wife Shary, Sephardic Jews, married the day of the invasion. They lived in Travnik, which had become part of the Independent State of Croatia under the Fascist Ustasa who viciously persecuted Jews, Serbs, and Muslims. Three times, Leon escaped being taken for forced labor. In December 1941, he acquired false papers and fled to Italian occupied Yugoslavia, where Shary joined him. In September 1943, Italy surrendered and German troops arrived to take over the territory. Leon and Shary were in Split and went briefly into hiding with the partisans. They then went to the Adriatic Coast and managed to get to a displaced persons camp in liberated Bari, Italy. In summer 1944, they were among 1000 Jewish refugees escorted by Ruth Gruber to Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York. Nearly all the members of Leon and Shary's large extended families perished.
    use:  after 1941 April-1943
    use: Croatia
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Leon Kabiljo
    front, center, black ink : Ž (Zidov, Jew)
    Subject: Leon Kabiljo
    Leon Kabiljo was born on March 8, 1907, in Zepce, Austria-Hungary (Bosnia and Herzegovina), to Jacob and Simcha (1876-1942) Kabiljo. The couple married in 1890. Leon had 8 older siblings, brothers Elisha, Sevi, Josef, Avram, and Yitzhak, and sisters, Safira, Sochka, and Sevinka, who died of cancer at 19. Jacob travelled selling dry goods and various small items. They were very observant Sephardic Jews, one of 15 Jewish families in the town. The community had a small synagogue and a rabbi who provided religious instruction to children daily in their homes. The family spoke Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish at home, as well as Serbo-Croatian. Many of their neighbors were Muslim, but the Croatians were dominant politically. In 1914, Leon’s father Jacob died of cancer. Leon’s brothers continued the family business and Leon attended school. With the collapse of the Habsburg Empire at the end of World War I (1914-1918) the region where Leon lived became the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, known as Yugoslavia. Leon attended business college and became an accountant for the government’s Internal Revenue Service. He settled in Sarajevo. Since he was the only sibling still single, his mother came to live with him. In early 1941, while working in Tuzla, Leon decided that he wanted to marry. With an introduction from his brother, Leon went to Travnik to meet Sarinka (Shary) Montiljo. She was born on July 11, 1918, in Travnik to Bukice and Moric Montiljo, a Sephardic family, and was Leon’s second cousin. The couple became engaged and decided to marry on April 6.

    On April 6, 1941, the Axis powers, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria, invaded and partitioned Yugoslavia. Leon and Shary heard bombs dropping as the invasion began at 7 am, but proceeded to marry at 10, with both a civil and religious ceremony. They moved in with Shary’s family. They now lived in the Independent State of Croatia, under the antisemitic, Fascist Ustasa regime. Not long after, Leon was informed that he had lost his government job because he was Jewish. Leon and Shary had to register with the authorities and wear yellow badges identifying them as Jews. Leon did forced labor, cleaning streets and public toilets.The authorities seized Jewish businesses, including Leon’s brothers’ stores, and property, including their wedding gifts. Leon went to visit his mother, who had returned to Zepce. The authorities were preparing to remove all Jews from town and a transport train was to arrive soon. Leon got a passport so he could return to Travnik, and his mother remained in Zepce.

    After his return to Travnik, there were round-ups of Jewish men. Leon was able to hide from the police three times when they came and searched the house. After that, he stayed hidden during the day. A Muslim man renting a room from the family helped Leon and three other Jewish men secure false papers. Leon’s papers identified him as a non-Jewish man named Josef. Leon did not look Jewish and spoke Serbo-Croatian without an accent. On December 14, the man drove them to the train station in Sarajevo, where they boarded a train to Mostar, a town in the Italian controlled region of southern Yugoslavia. Leon suggested they sit separately. Just before Mostar, the train was stopped and boarded by authorities checking papers. The other three were removed. An official stared closely at Leon, then examined his papers and left.

    In January 1942, Leon wrote Shary with news of his activities, telling her in Spanish to run away. She arranged to travel by train with a Turkish man. She dressed as a Muslim girl and pretended to be his daughter and used the false name Zulka Ibrakhimovich. She also hid a large amount of money beneath her clothes. Leon and Shary went to Split on the Dalmatian coast, which was also under Italian control. Leon’s uncle Levi had lived there most of his life and he gave Leon a job in his leather store. That spring and summer, Leon received a few postcards from his mother, who had been imprisoned by December 1941 by the Ustasa in Lobor-Grad concentration camp in northern Croatia. The fanatically nationalistic Ustasa was determined to rid Croatia of all Jews and other non-Croatian ethnicities. In September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies. Fearing the arrival of German troops, Leon and Shary left for a neighboring town. Tito’s partisans temporarily took over the area, but German forces soon attacked. Leon and Shary fled into the mountains on foot. They found a Serbian partisan camp and joined other Jews hiding there. After three weeks, the partisans told them to move on, so they walked to the Adriatic coast. Later, they met some British people who helped them board a small boat to a liberated region of Italy now administered by the Americans. They went to a displaced persons camp in Carbonara di Bari. Leon was reunited with his sister Safira and her family, who had survived by hiding in Italian occupied Yugoslavia. Leon’s sister Safira and her family eventually immigrated to Israel. Nearly all of Leon’s and all of Shari’s family were killed. Most of Shary's family was killed in Auschwitz. Leon’s mother was murdered in Auschwitz in fall 1942. His brother Yitzhak (Isaac) had escaped a concentration camp and fought with the partisans. He returned to Sarajevo after the war.

    In summer 1944, with the assistance of Ruth Gruber, Leon and Shary sailed on a troop ship carrying wounded soldiers back to the US. They and the roughly 1000 Jewish refugees on board were taken to Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter in Oswego, New York. The camp was fenced and the refugees were rarely allowed to leave. Leon worked as a cleaning person in the barracks and learned some English. He and Shary had a daughter. The war ended on May 7, 1945, when Germany surrendered. After they were allowed to leave Fort Ontario camp, aided by HIAS, Leon and Shary moved to Baltimore, Maryland. Leon wanted to work as an accountant, but the local Jewish committee explained that his English was not good enough. He worked as a shoemaker and at several odd jobs until a friend got him a position as a bookkeeper at the Baltimore Lumber Company. He and Shary had a second daughter. His sister Safira died in 1990 and Isaac in 1992. In 1995, Leon and Shary were parties in the first attempt to charge someone for war crimes in a US court. Their civil suit accused Andrija Artukovic, former minister of Croatia, with complicity in the murder of over 700,000 Jews, Serbs, Roma, and Orthodox Christians during World War II. It was dismissed for being filed too long after the alleged crimes occurred. Leon, 94, passed away on December 28, 2001, in Baltimore. Shary, 92, passed away in 2010.

    Physical Details

    Identifying Artifacts
    Physical Description
    Unevenly cut, worn cardboard circle printed with a large uppercase Z on a yellow background. A small hole has been poked through the top to thread a string for use as a badge.
    overall: Height: 1.875 inches (4.763 cm) | Width: 2.000 inches (5.08 cm)
    overall : cardboard, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The badge was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988 by Leon Kabiljo.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-18 13:31:48
    This page:

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