Where am I?

Class witness testimony to genocide

By Austin Skinner

February 28, 2007

On Feb. 28, 2007, the University Honors Program invited local Bosnian immigrant Amir Karadzic to speak at the semester’s special topics course, “The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity.”

Formerly a citizen of Prijedor (a city in Bosnia-Herzegovina), Amir gave the students and guests a first-hand account of the struggles and atrocities endured by Bosnian Muslims at the hands of Serbian nationalists during the Bosnian War, which lasted from 1992-95.

In the spring and summer of 1992, Prijedor became one of the first cities seized by Serbians. Amir recounted the preceeding months in which the newspapers and television stations, which were state-run, began circulating propaganda designed to create panic and fear about a Bosnian “uprising.”

Then, suddenly, it happened; troops laid siege to the city of Prijedor with the precision of a well-conceived plan. Serbs and Bosnians with Serbian heritage rose up against the Bosnian Muslims and Croatians in the city.

“How that happened overnight, I just do not know…I do not understand,” said Karadzic. He described the city as a place of peace, diversity and acceptance, even in the days leading up to the attacks.

“Different ethnicities had intermarried in Prijedor…we didn’t identify ourselves as ‘Muslim,’ ‘Christian,’ or anything…just Yugoslavs,” he said.

The fear inspired by Serbian propaganda had clearly found root in the minds of many citizens of Prijedor. Neighbors and friends of Bosnian Muslims turned against the Muslim community and became persecutors, spies and killers. The Muslims were gathered and sent to internment camps established within the city, or forced to hide in their homes—obeying a strict curfew.  In a situation all too reminiscent of Nazi Germany, the Muslims were forced to wear white armbands denoting their ethnicity.

Fortunately for Karadzic, his employers found him too valuable to be killed or interned by Serbs, who gave him a special band signifying that he was “not to be touched.” While this afforded him the opportunity to walk the streets during the daylight hours of conflict, Karadzic conceded that to go out after nightfall was foolish. “It did not matter what your arm band said,” he remarked.

Although he was safe from the internment camps, Karadzic was subject to the random checkpoints and searches of all Muslim citizens. He says that if Muslims were walking the streets, “there was a very short distance between checkpoints.”

Each time, he would have to remove everything from his pockets, bags and briefcase and submit to a degrading search by the Serb authorities. Such searches did not stop at the street. Authorities would regularly come to his house and check on Karadzic, his family and their possessions.

Then, one night in 1995, Karadzic received a phone call from someone threatening him and his family.

Karadzic said his son still remembers the night when they were forced to live under their beds for hours.

The next day, Karadzic contacted his connection in the Red Cross who had falsified documents allowing him to leave the city for a ‘medical emergency.’ The document stated that he would receive an operation in neighboring Croatia and then return to Prijedor. Once Karadzic had stepped onto free soil, however, he was not to return.

Now living in St. Louis with his family, Karadzic has spearheaded an organization called the Udruzenje Stanovnika Opstine Prijedor (Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor), which keeps the local immigrant community in close contact.

Professor Ben Moore, who, along with Professor Jack Luzkow, has organized the University’s study of the Bosnian genocide, said Karadzic has also proven to be a “key person in developing [the class’] relationship with the Bosnian community in St. Louis, and invaluable to their effort at comprehension.”

The acquaintance has since become a friendship as Karadzic, Moore and Luzkow work side by side to collect testimonies and preserve the history of the Bosnian genocide – the product of which can be seen in the stories and artifacts on display this fall at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

by Austin Skinner