Photos & Stories by Children Who Survived the War in Bosnia: 1992-1995
Introduction by Geoffry D. White, PhD
I became absorbed with Bosnia in 1992 as I watched news coverage of that country's destruction. I could not stop seeing my son, Eric's, face superimposed on those of Bosnian children shot in cold blood, lying in blood stained snow. I experienced unbidden images of my soon-to-be teenage daughter, Lauren, standing among a group of rape camp survivors. I began to think to the future and wanted to have something to say to my kids when they would ask, "Dad, what did you do to help?"
In Bosnia, I learned that genocide involves more than killing people. Ethnic cleansing was undertaken to eliminate the Muslim presence in Bosnia, their history as well as the living population. The plan was to kill a culture as well as a people. This is why religious structures, monuments, shrines cemeteries and historic architecture of all kinds were targeted for destruction. One of the saddest examples was the National Library in Sarajevo. This once beautiful structure-like the Mostar Bridge--was destroyed during the early days of the fighting. The National Library goes back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. Its tortured remains are preserved in several of the children's photographs in Sarajevo Diary.
As a psychologist I'm often faced with trying to help people recover from the psychological impact of trauma. This usually means attempting to revive a sense of control over one's life and re- establishing personal connections to other people. The possibilities of using some recent innovations in trauma treatment to help survivors of the slaughter in Bosnia gave me a sense of power and hope.
The possibility of being of help allowed me to face their suffering. I picked up the phone and began making what would turn out to be hundreds of calls. Eventually, we organized and carried out several trauma training programs for mental health professionals in Bosnia and Croatia. This experience transformed my life and my view of what it means to be parent: showing my kids its possible for one person to make a difference in the world.
Finally, the basis for this book lies in my belief that if given the artistic tools, children speak best for themselves. So, I armed 16 Sarajevan children with cameras and writing materials. I asked them to create images and stories which would help the outside world understand who they are, what they experienced and what they want for the future. I suggested they take photos of the landmarks by which they know their city, the people who are important to them, and anything else which carries personal meaning.
The future of Bosnia will depend on its children believing in a life better than war. I hope Sarajevo Diary is a step in that direction.
My country Bosnia is the prettiest in the whole world but there is a war. I would like for war to stop so we can go out and play. My house is ruined same way as my whole country but I'm alive and when I grow up I will defend my Bosnia.
Adnan Husic (6 year old)
My Saddest Experience
I witnessed the beginning of this bloody war in Sarajevo, with my family. I did not believe it would happen at all. I was frightened, but with your family fear is more easy to bear.
After the first big shelling of the city and the first casualties, my parents decided to send me and my sister out of town. Even though I was afraid of the shells and war, it was difficult for me to accept leaving, knowing that my parents would be left in this hellish city and that I might not ever see them again.
The day came. The busses moved in convoys toward the city limits. My parents took me and my sister to the place from which the busses would leave for the trip to uncertainty.
We looked at each other, thinking of how we might not ever see each other again. They hid their tears from us, and we hid ours from them. I wanted to turn back and stay with them, but my mother urged me on, she wanted me to leave and stay alive. The bus started moving. One more hug, one more kiss. Now we are off.
Suddenly there was something horribly heavy and horribly hard pressing on my chest. I felt like I was suffocating. And then I started to cry. The faster the bus moved, the harder and louder I cried. I was calling out to my parents and my sister was trying to comfort me. I was only 11 years old.
As a refugee without parents, I survived two hard years. That feeling of pressure and suffocation was constant, and it never went away. I was always afraid.
Though I was afraid to watch television, I always looked because I thought I might see my parents dead or wounded.
But I survived it all. After two years I returned. My parents are alive and I am happy.
Steps of Spring Silence Destroyed by War
Sunset that kisses the waves, sparkles of desire in our eyes, long long walks through dreams and webs of imagination ... Do you remember.
Everything is the same: The city that reminds me of you, the park that draws me to it though it's innocent pride and by smells of spring, even the breeze is warm like your closeness ... Is it true that I still love you, that I am waiting for you all these pale and long months, and that I can't even admit to myself that we have only one month left ... month?! And then? Then you will leave from this city blown away by the storm of the war to some new phony stars and you will never think of me. ... Isn't it?
Do you feel the smell of some June past and the storm of desire which tears the silence apart? No, you feel nothing ... But I feel and hear the steps of spring's silence and I see the idyll evening, while quietly roaming through the silence which drizzles from the sky's eyes. And while I give the phony smile to others, giving them phony hope, like you some time ago. And why?
Believe me, I don't know why did I become so cruel and wild! And why I am escaping into the distance of memories of silence and uncertainty, through some hazy fields intoxicated by you and spring.
Let's go now, tireless aviator under the sky, let's go toward your dark, cold city: as you are dark and cold, like a marble grave. Leave my verses and my walks in the moonlight, leave me here so weary, that I will be left to hear my own steps ripping through the spring's silence ... Leave me to be dying in the eyes of the rosy horizon, you don't know how hard it is to be left in one's own phony world.
Let me live in steps of a distant spring silence ... Alone and always intoxicated by your long ago lies.
Some Fragments From the Diary of One Wounded Youth
He was a wonderful friend, son, and brother. His life was just beginning to sprout the seeds planted in the plowed soil. Those unworthy souls destroyed his youth, will, and dreams.
Sasa Fazlagic, a young man whose smile opened the flowers, the dawn, sky and sea. In his eyes swam all the hope and strength of this city. He was a symbol of masculinity and the essence of sensibility.
Death certificates were lining up on the entry door of the building. It seemed as if death was opening his arms to the youth and by his destructive motions, casting expressions of grief onto the faces of mothers. The gray reality was turning darker and darker.
Rusmir Kubat was the first. He was a young man of 24 years old. Somewhat of a loner, but more animated in the company of his young wife and three year old daughter.
Then Fakret, somewhat younger than Rusmir. And his eyes too, have sunk forever into the blessed dreams of eternity. The hearts of his dearest will forever bleed, and oblivion will continue to carry away many tears. His mother, Mrs. Sevala, is a wonderful woman. Always smiling and quick to joke. And now ... she lives off medications that are destroying even more of her gentle being.
Unfortunately, Sasa also disappeared into a whirlpool of negative charge and negative energy, which brought one more sad symphony into our daily reality. I loved him like a brother, but frequently asked myself if it wasn't potentially more than that. He was divine, he was like a saint, a person who could only be loved like a brother. But I lost that too, it seemed that it was a sin to love. I can only say: "..thank you God, because regardless of all, he was..".
8/22/93 Sarajevo (Sunday)
... the war became a way of life; without considering it, nothing
could be planned, not even dreaming ...
While I was waiting for the news from Dayton I thought: was it necessary for all the horrible killings and massacres of the innocent children and adults to happen.
I tried to imagine: What does the killer from the hills look like and if he has children of his own?
How does he look in the moment when he launches the shell or when he fires at innocent children and people.
I couldn't imagine him because I have never had a chance to see such an aggressive madman who would express hatred that way.
When they announced that the peace agreement was signed, the three of us started crying. The tears were a mixture of sadness and happiness. In that moment I so wanted my father to be there too, so I could be endlessly kissing him and sharing my happiness with him, but all that is left is a sad memory.
These days I am trying to suppress my sadness and be happy like the all of the kids of Bosnia
Vedran Vujovic (12)
My Trip to the Sea During the War
After three years of the war, my mother finally succeeded in getting permission to leave Sarajevo. Now I will get to go to the sea after all. I just couldn't believe it, nor could I sleep. The long awaited day dawns; the day of our trip. We got into the truck and drove toward Mt. Igman. As we drove up the hill, I saw the airport and one big plane on the runway.
After six hours of traveling, I saw a big highway going toward the sea. We passed through a town full of ruins, all that was left was skeletons of the buildings. I was told that this was Mostar.
It was getting dark, I fell asleep. By the time I woke up we were at the seashore. Early that morning, I ran right out to see the beach. I nagged my mom into looking for seashells for my friends at school.
My mom had told me that before the war we used to go to the sea every year in the summer and in the winter. I don't remember this now because I was too little then.
We had such a good time at the sea. I swam all the time without stopping until my mom's voice would call me back to the house. And then I would continue in the bath where we always had warm and cold water. Such good water pressure! I would fill up the tub with water and soak myself until I started to shiver from the cold.
I met a few boys who were from Sarajevo too. When I asked them what they were doing here, they told me they escaped from the war.
At the market I saw some melons and mom knew what to do. She bought what looked to me like the biggest one. We sat on the beach and ate it.
The time went by quickly. The time for us to return to Sarajevo came.
I keep remembering the beautiful times at the sea. When someone asks me what I most want, I know the answer. I really want peace, so that I can go to the sea every year.
Hello! December 14, 1995
My name is Alisa Ceric. I am 12 years old and I am in 6th grade. My father's name is Esad, by profession he is a physician, a neuropsychiatrist. My mother's name is Ziba, by profession she is a psychotherapist. We were a happy family until the war began.
The war began April 6, 1992. The shooting started and we began to hide in basements. The basements were dark and cold. They remain in my darkest memory. On the morning of May 18,1992, my mom held my hand and led me out of the basement. She brought the luggage and we got into the car. A friend gave us a ride to Pioneer Square where we barely managed to climb
onto the bus that would take us to Croatia.
After 24 hours of traveling, we made a stop in Travnik. I have an uncle, aunt, and two cousins in Travnik. We stayed with them for 3 days and then continued the trip to Croatia on a different route, since the usual way to Croatia from Ilidza was blocked.
We arrived at Split at 3 AM. A man took us to his apartment where we rested from the trip. On the next morning we continued to the island of Korcula by ferry. We docked at Vela Luka. Our friends waited for us. I stayed on Korcula island for about a year. We moved from hotel to hotel. It was nice in Vela Luka. I was baptized and given communion.
On August 8, 1993 the order was given that all refugees be moved to the Camp Veli Joze on the Istra Peninsula. At first we were sad, but soon we adjusted to the small houses. I attended school, swam in the sea, and played. I felt wonderful.
We stayed in camp for a year. Then a new order came that everyone had to leave. My mom and I went to Pula. We stayed there for only one week, because we heard that a bus was soon going to Sarajevo. We signed up.
That night I had a fever of 104 degrees, but we still left on the next morning. The trip was hard, but it was worth it. On July 20, 1994 we returned to Sarajevo. After two years and two months, I came back home.
That summer was pretty quiet. When the rainy autumn days came, the shells came too. The shooting started. Father told me that two of our neighbors were killed. One shell landed above my window. Soon I adjusted to the shelling. I often sat in the kitchen and just listened.
Life went on anyway, with all of its happiness and difficulties. I now go to the Catholic School Center in Sarajevo, where I am in the 6th grade. I have lots of friends. It is peaceful now. We are alive and healthy. All of my dreams of peace came true. I feel good now, I am glad that I came back.
Alisa Ceric, 6a
3/18/92 me, mom and my brother came to Sarajevo. The war hadn't started yet but there were barricades. We came to uncle Izet's. Their food supply was getting low, there wasn't much food. The shooting started. Shells were landing around us. Every night we ran to the shelter. Mom carried my brother, and I carried the bag with food, water, and my brother's clothes.
We were at Uncle Izet's for 7 months. There was no food or water. For water we went to the water pipe. After 7 months mom's cousins arrived and they took us to a new city. It was even worse there.
What a steep hill, takes forever to cross it. No water. We drag water from Stup. Very little food. There was no firewood, so Uncle dragged firewood from Zuc. We stayed with mom's cousins for a year.
In the old city there was no shooting, but in Buljakovu the chetniks were much closer.
My aunt's family was in the basement. When the shooting was worse, we would go down to the basement. In spring 1993 our aunt gave us a room. There wasn't even a little bit of food. We lived from humanitarian help. My aunt's house was near our cousins, we moved to her room.
There was no food, water or firewood even there, so mom had to go to Zuc, close to the front-line to bring us firewood and water, and I would look after my little brother.
Shells are landing and mom has to go to look for flour and I am crying and I am afraid to stay alone with my little brother.
Finally after 10 months we heard from dad from Gorazde. We are happy that he is alive.
I started first grade, I finished with perfect grades. I completed second and third and the shells never stopped killing my friends. Now I am going to fourth grade and I am still a good student.
The peace is signed and I am still not sure if this is the end of the war. I hope it is, and then my dad will come from Gorazde, so we can again be together, and my brother will get to see and know our dad.
Four Years of War
We welcomed the year of 1992 with great happiness, not knowing all of what would happen to us that year.
Some people were predicting war and were buying supplies, just in case. Most people like me thought of war as a short conflict with a few casualties, lasting one, maybe two months, or in the worst case three months.
However, as the situation developed, that optimism started to slowly vanish. I remember barricades in March, the interruption of classes and the first shots I ever heard in my life from guns, rifles, and machine guns.
School started and lasted until April. The April 6 demonstrations broke out and the shooting began again. Then the first shells landed around my house. Everything quieted down again until May.
On the first or second of May, I don't remember the exact date, my family and I went to visit our good friends. We went to their house in the morning, planning to spend the whole day with them. Around noon, a few explosions could be heard around the city. As time passed the explosions became more frequent. For that reason, we started back toward home. On our way home we did not run into a single person on the street. The city
After we got home,, we turned on the television. They were showing the center of the city. We could see the explosions and the direct hits on certain buildings. There was lots of broken glass. After we had been in the house about fifteen minutes, airplanes flew overhead. We rushed to the basement, together with the neighbors. The airplanes did not drop bombs.
On the fifteenth of May there was the worst shelling of my neighborhood of the whole war. Shells were landing around my building and one hit the sixth floor. For the first time I felt indescribable fear. The shelling was so bad that we couldn't get down to the basement because we could be hit by shrapnel bouncing off the entrance wall.
The summer of ninety-two passed with frequent shelling and nonstop shooting. The massacre happened in Vase Miskina Street. That street overflowed with the blood of citizens of Sarajevo.
Toward the end of summer and the beginning of fall, around September, we no longer had electricity, and there were problems with water. The winter was approaching but we had no supply of firewood. We made a stove shaped like a box out of tin. The end of November and the beginning of December I remember from the cold and the shortage of food.
People were cutting the trees everywhere; in the parks, around homes and anyplace where it was possible. I would spend all day outside collecting wood. Evenings were spent in darkness, and there was by then no electricity for several months.
Nineteen ninety-three was the worst year of the war for me. In January we got gas for our apartment and then it wasn't cold there anymore. In March the worst that can happen to a person happened to me. I think I can best say it all by saying that I lost someone in my family. Life continued to go on.
We started summer without water or electricity. We had already adjusted to the shortage of electricity. We had to drag the water from wells that were very far from my home, about three kilometers. We did it with the help of a cart and bicycle. The whole year of nineteen ninety-three passed with constant shelling. At times ten thousand shells were fired on the city in a single day. In that year school started again. Classes were held
in basement rooms and other such places.
Nineteen ninety-four was welcomed in with hopes for a better life. In February of ninety-four the horrible massacre happened at the Markale Market. Around sixty-seven people lost their lives and a huge number of people were wounded. Some became invalids after that.
NATO intervened and from then on and until the end of the year there was much, much less shooting than in the previous three years. During the summer we had electricity and water. In the fall and winter of ninety-four there was less and less electricity until it was completely shut off. Luckily, there was water.
We welcomed in nineteen ninety-five. Toward the end of January the electricity situation improved. There was water and gas with which there had been a lot of problems and misfortunes. That lasted until April when the electricity and gas were turned off again. There was no gas at all and we had electricity every third day. Soon the water disappeared and again we had to drag it from the distant wells.
In May shooting and shelling started again. In August there was another massacre in front of the city market, not far from Markale. A few days later NATO intervened above the attack positions of the Serbs. I could see the airplanes bombing. After that there were no more big conflicts or shootings. Early in the fall the peace talks began in Dayton with good results.
The peace agreement is finally signed in Paris and I hope that it is the end of this war in which hundreds of thousands of people were killed and many objects, cultural monuments and other things were destroyed.
I live with some hope for a better tomorrow. I think and I hope that there will be no more war. I want to live a normal life again like every other person in the world.
Catholic School Center
I am sitting, squatting near the window and warm stove, looking at my town, lit up by the moonlight. The candle near me is slowly burning down, leaving me in the dark, staring out at the snow flakes that cover the wounds of my Sarajevo.
In my thoughts, I return to the days when we all lived in peace and felt joy with the coming of each new day. We did not even dream of war and the horrors that it brings.
We were growing up playing. We were cheerful about starting school, traveling to the sea, getting new shoes, and we cried about getting our first bad grade.
And then the awful day dawned. The sound of bullets, the explosions of shells, and the wail of sirens filled everything around us. The eyes of my people were filled with fear and worry.
"What happened?" The fear never left for even a moment during these last thirty tragic months.
Shells were launched at the schools, hospitals, nurseries and were taking the lives of innocent adults and children. At the intersections, sniper bullets searched for their victims. No one knew if they would survive the night and be alive on the next day. It was necessary to go out for bread or water and every movement was a game of death.
I shook it off and returned to the present. I felt tears in my eyes and again I ask questions for which no one can give me an answer: "Why? Why are the children's eyes filled with tears every day? Why are my parents so serious and worried? Why are those in the hills shooting at us and at the city that they had lived in? Why?"
Snow is still falling and covering my town in a clean white dress. It will welcome the New Year in that dress. I want the New Year to bring peace and freedom to all of us, and that the ugly things will vanish with the old year.
In a bitter echo of the night, in the darkness wet by dreams and confusions, trembling, empty from sobbing, I am sitting.
I am swallowing the last bites of the eternity, while somewhere there in the empty darkness, empty form sobbing, the night is shrinking cursedly, night is preparing the attacks on my feelings,
I am hiding behind rosy petals of my illusions, behind mottled nights of existence, I am hiding behind myself, behind life.
I am collecting pieces of the deceptive existence from chips of seductive poisoned arrows. I am finding them and arranging them.
I am emerging from some splendor, from the magnificence of hell, in a search for myself, I am, being captured in a trap for the naive, I am choking in the chasm of my illusions.
I am vanishing and rotting deeper and deeper toward the center of unfeeling, empty nothingness... The waves of the grayness lifeless darkness, is folding wings over me.. I am choking in the nothingness,
The ocean of empty torrents, fake poisonous passions I am ejecting to the deserted island, of the ocean of death.
Crushed by the hammer of intoxication, I am awakening from the smoldering, drowsy beauty of slow dying ... The thoughts are coming together and connecting ... wounded by the numbing excellence of opium ...
The depth of my life is beautiful, me alone. "And why? What why?" I ask myself still sleepy and drowsy, again I am trying to awaken and sail out of a flood of emotions ...
Why? Why all that? Am I alive, am I existing-!-Like them, like you? Am I a being? Human? What is human? Is he just a thought of pity? Where am I?
I am lost somewhere, do I have a ticket to magnificent warmth and happiness of being?
Am I me or somebody else? Am I just an evaporated phase of nothing? I am nothing ...
Pleasant soothing sun, is going over the tip of my fingers over my body
firmness of stone... sliding over me, smothering me and choking.
I need to relax, so I can be taken by the storm of death ... just to relax and disappear.
But something strange is possessing my body, slowly, it is composing the chips of my conscience and will, it is lifting me somewhere forward, into the reality of life.
Unbelievable power is pouring into every cell of my life like supernatural water from wells of fiction worlds, it is twisting around me, it is joining together the thin threads of my almost snapped, failed existence, it is binding them and piling.
THINKING, I AM STARTING TO THINK ... every part of my body, is resisting, fighting, fighting for the life ... And here is what I want ... I WANT TO LIVE! I HAVE TO! Because I am the drop in the ocean which has the obligation to be salty, wet, to exist ...
I am standing and looking, I see ... the glowing forehead of the sun emerging slowly from unending waves ... somewhere there in the distance ... while still the gray haze dive through the beautiful morning of my beginning.
People in haste slide through streets, they hurry and try to chat with each other. I am still standing and watching ... the happy call of birds draw my attention. OH, ARE YOU SO BEAUTIFUL WORLD? I am returning ... after the shipwreck, I am stranded by the ordinary obligation of living. HERE I AM WORLD!!! I want to merge with united river of ordinary people, who exist through suffering life. Let wind and somberly storms of life whip me. I want to taste the power of existence, the magnificent responsibility of living. I don't want anymore to search hopelessly for myself. Hey, world, offer me the hand of hope!!! I was captured in a trap for naive, in a galosh of unfeeling ...
And now here I am. Lets forget the search for once self! Let's become a human!!! And because all you NAIVE people,
Mediha Adrovic, K.S.C. Nursing School 10a
What is Peace?
My name is Rijad. When the war started I was four years old. I didn't know what war was about, but I was afraid of shells and snipers. We went
down to the basement many times and hid from the shelling. Six shells landed on our root
One night when my mom was on night shift, two 120 mm shells landed on our root I slept, I heard nothing. Smoke came into our house, my grandmother laid on top of me to protect me with her body.
For one whole year I never went out into the street, My saddest day was when my friend Sredo died. He was only five years old. I asked Mom if the Chetniks were people just like us.
In the war I learned my first words. In the war I started school. Five students in my class don't have parents. They all were killed in the war.
When the peace in Dayton was signed, I asked what is peace and what does it look like? I don't remember how it was before the war, but now I would like to be able to go to the zoo, travel, ride in an airplane, go to the sea, I will never be a soldier because I don't want to kill people.
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