What a difficult couple of days. I first want to say that I am struck by the collaborative effort of the wonderful people we met who were either directly affected by the Bosnian War or who are passionate in their quest to help those affected by the war. From Hasan to Dragana to Nura to Ramiz, all of them dedicate a huge portion of their time and efforts to educate about the war and assist in the enormously difficult task of ensuring the horrific events and people affected by them are never forgotten.
I believe our class was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and learn from all of the above-mentioned people, as well as hear from Nedzad, Nura, and Saliha, who were survivors of the Srebrenica genocide. Their personal stories of unbelievable survival and grief due to the loss of loved ones in the genocide was terribly sad and heartbreaking. I mentally prepared myself for the certain sadness and hurt I would feel for the victims, but I found myself in a state of shocked disbelief while they recounted their experiences. The disbelief stemmed from the fact that I was sitting across from three amazingly brave individuals who found the courage and will to survive despite being subjected to atrociously inhumane acts that were perpetrated against them and their families. I was also flabbergasted by the honestly and willingness of Nedzad, Nura, and Saliha to tell their harrowing stories to complete strangers. They allowed us to enter into a catastrophically dark chapter of their lives, and I cannot imagine the personal pain associated with recalling the hideous crimes committed against them and their loved ones. I am in absolute awe of their resiliency, as well as their sincere appreciation of students like us who are just so honored to have the opportunity to personally hear the stories of survival of such inspirational people.
Our visit to the Srebrenica Memorial Museum is something I will never forget. We heard Hasan speak about his happy upbringing near Srebrenica and his and his family’s tremendously difficult experiences during the war. In addition, he spoke at a different time about the history of Yugoslavia and the actions and events that led to the 1992-1995 war. When we were able to explore the museum, I read a lot of information that explained parts of the genocide I was familiar with in greater detail. One of the displays was particularly powerful to me. The display, as well as another on the floor above, gave a mother’s firsthand account of the separation from her teenage son in the days leading up to the genocide. Her son was born the same year I was, and was executed at age 16. I remember feeling lightheaded and dizzy while listening to this mother’s description of the separation. In a taped interview she described that when soldiers separated her from her son, she begged them to let her go with her son, but the soldiers refused. Then she brought her son’s cheek to hers and just held him there for a short time. Her son said to her, “go mother, go”. I could not help but try to put myself in that teenager’s shoes, and think about the devastation my own mother would feel if she was forced to separate from me, not knowing if it would be the last time she would ever see me and the last time I would see her. I get chills thinking about it now.
I woke up this morning feeling foggy from all of the heavy stories and information we absorbed over the last couple of days. Hasan encouraged us to put our lives and the problems that we face in our lives in perspective. The truth is that the majority of the problems that most of us face in our lives are really not that bad. When the going gets tough I will think back on the experiences of the survivors we met, and if I can muster just a fraction of the strength that they have persevered with, I know that I will be ok.