Bosnian genocide exhibit to open at HMLC

BY MIKE SHERWIN, ASSISTANT EDITOR

The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center will examine the genocide in Bosnia through an exhibition combining historical narratives and first-person accounts of survivors in “Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide.”

At the opening of the exhibition on Sunday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m., British journalist Ed Vulliamy, author of Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War, will speak about his experiences as one of the first reporters to uncover the network of concentration camps in the Prijedor area in 1992.

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Jean Cavender, director of the Holocaust Museum, said the exhibit has been a collaboration between the museum, the local Bosnian community, and Fontbonne University.

“Housing the exhibition here is just a perfect extension of the kind of work that we do and really in some ways is an extension of the adage ‘Never Again,'” she said. “You can see by this exhibition that we haven’t done a great job globally enforcing that. Many young people are aware of, and are active against genocide in Sudan, but between the Holocaust and Sudan, there have been other genocides. I think its important to highlight those events, particularly for the young people who come to visit our space to learn about what happened during the Holocaust,” Cavender said.

Planning for the exhibition began a year-and-a-half ago, when Cavender was approached by local Bosnians who were interested in having an exhibit about the genocide in Bosnia. More than $20,000 was raised to produce the exhibit, which will be on display until May 2008.

Amir Karadzic, whom Cavender describes as “a driving force” behind the exhibition, said that he hopes the exhibit will help the community understand what happened in Bosnia, and what brought many Bosnians to the area.

“This wasn’t Europe in the 17th century, this was the 20th century,” said Karadzic, who is president of the organization Union of Citizens of Prijedor. “With this exhibit, I want people to understand the truth about what happened, and not forget.”

Karadzic said many Bosnians still do not know what happened to loved ones, and he said mass graves are still being uncovered in Bosnia.

Cavender said the exhibition includes text panels showing the history of the conflict in Bosnia, starting with the decline of the Ottoman Empire and through to the aftermath of the conflict, along with photographs and artifacts.

In addition, the exhibition includes video interviews with survivors of the Bosnian genocide, produced by students at Fontbonne University as part of an Honors course last year on Bosnian history taught by professors Ben Moore and Jack Luzkow.

Professor Moore said the class recorded about 18 hours of interviews, which was edited down to a 30-minute video for the exhibition.

“With these interviews, we wanted to give a human dimension to the genocide and to demonstrate that the genocide of the early 1990s in Bosnia had an effect on our own local community in St. Louis,” said Moore, who is chairman of Fontbonne’s Department of English and Communication.

“We found that through these interviews, our students were able to see how the genocide affected people, affected families, and affected the lives of their own neighbors,” he said.

St. Louis has approximately 50,000 Bosnian refugees.

Lauren Weissler was one of the students who took the course at Fontbonne, and helped conduct the interviews with local Bosnians who survived the genocide.

Weissler and other students conducted the interviews at Buder Library in South St. Louis, with the help of a translator.

“You can talk about the horrors of genocide and ethnic cleansing, but when you actually hear it from someone who lived through it, who is still functioning as an adult, is really an amazing experience,” Weissler said.

“No one in the class had experienced anything like it,” she said. “You were trying to ask someone what happened and they would freeze up. Then you find out that they spent months in a concentration camp, and they lost 60 pounds, or their son or daughter was killed,” she said.

“It’s hard to even sit there and ask someone those kinds of questions, because you can watch their emotions play out and you are trying so hard to keep yourself together, and realizing how difficult it is for someone else to have to talk about that on camera,” Weissler said.

As part of the project, Weissler and a fellow classmate, who both graduated from Fontbonne in May, developed a curriculum of lesson plans on teaching about the Holocaust and genocide.

Weissler is now a social studies teacher at McCluer High School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. She said she has been able to use some of the lesson plans she created in her World History class.

“We talk about genocide and we talk about the Holocaust a lot, but many students tend to think that genocide ended and began with the Holocaust, and they don’t realize that it has definitely continued well into the 20th and 21st centuries,” she said.