“I imagined 'Četniks' as some kind of hideous monsters, with horns who killed and tortured people. Then they stood in front of us, I remember one of them clearly. He was tall and bald, he had a beard. On his left arm there was a giant tattooed cross. My heart stopped, I realised these horrific monsters were actually human.”
This photo was taken a year before the genocide in Srebrenica. The hills behind us is where the Bosnian Serb forces were. We were in constant danger. I was 6 years old at the time, the clothes I'm wearing are sewn together from patches of old clothes that were actually far too small, my shoes are made with belts that UNPROFOR used to tie up their carriages. It was taken by a UNPROFOR soldier and acts as a great reminder and glimpse into life then but he was subsequently dismissed from his position for getting to close to the people in our village.
It was sent to my father who had been separated from us at the beginning of the war in 1992, when he fled to Austria and we barely had contact with him. It would be 3 years before we see him again. He feared he would never see us again.
Life was incredibly difficult. We had very little food. The Serbs were often blocking the food transfers and convoys to Srebrenica. My mother would often go looting with the men and women from our village. She risked her live for us. I remember how tightly she would hug us and kiss us on those nights fearing she may never come back. She would tell my grandparents to take good care of us if something should happen to her. Often she would return empty handed and would cry because she didn’t know how to feed us. Most days she wouldn’t actually eat anything to make sure that my brother and I had something.
When it was safe enough to do so, we’d go back to our village from Srebrenica and plant vegetables and wheat. Mostly at night to try and avoid snipers in the surrounding hills. Many died from sniper fire or shelling. When shelling would start, we’d hide in cellars.
In July 1995, when we were all ordered to gather at Potocari, we thought that the war was finally over and that soon we could all return to our homes. My mother dressed us in our best clothes, packed spare clothing and a piece of bread into sheets. Arriving in Potocari we soon realized that something was wrong. As soon as the Bosnian Serb forces arrived shrieks of terror were heard, people were screaming that 'Četniks' had beheaded someone near a well. I grabbed my mother’s hand as hard as I could fearing what was out there.
I imagined 'Četniks' as some kind of hideous monsters, with horns who killed and tortured people. Then they stood in front of us, I remember one of them clearly. He was tall and bald, he had a beard. On his left arm there was a giant tattooed cross. My heart stopped, I realised these horrific monsters were actually human.
I said to my mother, "They are human, they are human. Why don't they have any horns on their heads.” My mother shushed me, her hands were shaking. I could hear someone saying, "Those of you who want to stay, can stay. No one will do you any harm. Everyone who wants to leave, we have prepared transportation for you. They will bring you to your troops." We ended up staying for one or two nights and were one of the first groups who were deported.
People believed them. My grandparents stayed behind as my grandmother was feeling too well so they wanted to leave the next morning hoping she’d be better. As we were leaving towards the busses, soldiers started separating men and boys from women. Men and boys were to go to the left and women and little children were led to the busses and trucks. We were unlucky and directed to a truck. We over heard one soldier saying wouldn’t it be better to let women and children to go on the bus instead of the truck. The other replied, “I don’t care put them on the truck.” We had nothing to drink in the truck, it was so hot and many lost their consciousness. After travelling for some time, we arrived on a road that led toward our troops and forced to march the rest of the way.
I don't know how long we walked until we met our first soldiers (Bosnian Army), they told us to go towards Tuzla and that there was a refugee camp were we could stay. As we arrived there, panic kicked in. What happened to the men? Why aren't they arriving? The following days less and less people arrived. Mostly if not all women and children.
They told us what had happened to the men. They were all dead. My grandfather was one of them. Every day we could hear screams of anguish through the camp. We were all broken. We survived but a part of us died in Srebrenica. I'm 32 years old right now, I still struggle with my memories. I rarely talk about these experiences. Since we left Srebrenica I tried to forget everything. But you can't forget trauma. As an adult I had to confront everything and let my memories resurface. I cry a lot these day.
Sometimes I smell a certain fragrance in the air that reminds me of our home. Other times I look at my 4 year old nephew and realize that I was his age when the war started and I never would want him to go through the same hell as I did. No one should go through that hell. That is why I decided to start sharing my story. I don't want other children to grow up like I did. We as survivors must tell our stories and educate others.