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Where am I?

Students interview survivors of Bosnian genocide

By Austin Skinner


Alija Memtovic, a Muslim citizen of Prijedor in Bosnia, was forcefully captured during the siege of his city in the summer of 1992.

Taken to an internment camp established by Serbian forces, he and his Muslim neighbors were alternately beaten and interrogated for crimes they did not commit. Hundreds were immediately killed and thousands more were taken to the brink of death. Serbian forces preaching nationalism and spewing hatred were on a mission of “ethnic cleansing,” in which non-Serbian Bosnians (primarily Muslims and Croats) were to be systematically targeted and killed. Soon, violence engulfed Bosnia and led to mass rape, torture and ultimately, genocide. Under the steady guidance of Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian ideology grew into an accepted and protected mission. The “cleansing” was endured throughout Yugoslavia’s constituent republics (and especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina), until the US-led intervention.

Since then, refugees of the former nation have settled in pockets around the world. St. Louis, however, has become home to the largest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia. The abundance of first hand witnesses to the history of the Bosnian genocide has motivated the University Honors Program to offer a course entitled “The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identification.” This course, instructed by associate professors Ben Moore and Jack Luzkow, asks students to play an integral part in resurrecting the events that unfolded in the former Yugoslavia by interviewing survivors in the local area.

Fortunately, Memetovic was among the survivors and has come to bear witness to the events which tore the former Yugoslavia apart. With his scarred body as testament, Memetovic sat down for an interview with students in the course to recount the tragic events of his capture, internment, interrogation and abuse at the hands of his Serbian neighbors. Describing the process of humiliation and cruelty used by the Serbs, Memetovic at one point rolled up his sleeve to reveal an arm mutilated by beatings with a metal pipe.

Witnessing the testimony of a survivor, says Moore, renders it “impossible to separate the psychological injury from the physical injury” because oftentimes “the witness to brutality becomes brutality in and of itself.”

With the help of Amir Karadzic, Moore and Luzkow have contacted several other survivors who are ready to take part in ensuring the atrocities committed in Bosnia from 1992-1995 are exposed and accounted for.

With the interviews, documentation and artifacts collected by the students, a museum exhibit will be created to honor the victims and aid in the historical preservation and report of the genocide.

Upon completion, the exhibit will be displayed at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in November. Incidentally, this will mark the 15th anniversary of the discovery of the internment camp and mass graves in Bosnia.

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