Where am I?

Students, instructors reflect on Bosnian course

By Austin Skinner

From the beginning, Jack Luzkow, chairman of the History, Philosphy and Religion Department, knew that the course on the Bosnian immigration that he was developing with his colleague, Associate Professor of English Ben Moore, would provide “a transformative experience for all involved.”

“[Fontbonne] was to become a University without walls,” said Luzkow.

 “The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity,” this semester’s special topics course, has allowed students to work in close contact with the local Bosnian community, interviewing survivors of the war and genocide that took place in the former Yugoslavia from 1992-95.

The students and instructors also heard from guest speakers like Patrick McCarthy, who helped carry out humanitarian aid to Bosnia during the war and has authored a book about the crisis, and Amir Karadzic, who heads the Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor here in St. Louis.

Moore called Karadzic a “key person in developing [the class’] relationship with the St. Louis Bosnian Community.”

Students reflecting on the course unanimously expressed its indelible affect on their lives.

“Interviewing the survivors was unlike anything in my life,” says junior Brian Eschen. “Listening to their stories, and watching the emotion on their faces as they remember some of the worst events in recent world history was a truly life-changing experience… it makes  you reexamine your own problems and issues and changes your meaning of hardship.”

 Rachel Weissler, senior, also voiced her appreciation for the course’s unique approach. “This is the best course I have ever taken at the University, and the interviews have been the most powerful part of the course,” she says. “Preserving these stories is an awesome task which I am so glad to be a part of.”

Weissler recalls one particular interview with an elderly man who had been imprisoned in a concentration camp during the war and had lost his son to Serbian paramilitary forces. “I could see the sadness behind his eyes, and I realized that I could never truly know and understand the pain that he had been through,” Weissler said.

“Listening to the gentleman speak brought tears to my eyes and I had an overwhelming urge to go and hug this man who reminded me so much of my grandfather. I just wanted to ease the pain that speaking about his horrific experience was bringing him. After the interview, he came over and gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek and thanked me. I had no good words to say to him, nothing seemed powerful enough or worthy,” Weissler added.

The irony of a course that stimulates desire for discourse but renders students speechless was echoed by senior Rachel Politte. “There are no words to describe the interviews because I was incredibly awestruck by each one … the entire experience leaves me somewhat speechless,” Politte says.

And though it “opened her eyes to the intense injustices of the world,” Politte says she was given a glimpse of hope “from the Bosnian refugees who lost everything” but somehow found the ability to “love, hope and live with the greatest determination.”

For both Moore and Luzkow, teaching the class involved a considerable amount of learning on their part, as well. Moore, who considered himself “a student throughout the course,” believes the students “will have what they learned in this class with them for the rest of their lives,” he says.

This fall, the interviews and collective research of the students and professors of the course who have attempted to document the genocide in the former Yugoslavia with the testimony of local Bosnians will be on display in the exhibit, “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide” at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.