Balkan War Stories Told in St. Louis St. Louis is home to an estimated 50,000 Bosnians, many of whom fled war in the Balkans. Stories from war survivors are the focus of a new exhibit at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum.
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Balkan War Stories Told in St. Louis

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Balkan War Stories Told in St. Louis

Balkan War Stories Told in St. Louis

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In 1992, many thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed in genocidal attacks by Serbs and Bosnian Serbs during Bosnia's civil war. Ethnic cleansing, it was called, a euphemism that always seemed too easy for the horror that so many people confronted. Some of the worst violence took place in the city of Prijedor where thousands of people died. After the war, many survivors of Prijedor landed in St. Louis, where an exhibit about the war opens today at the city's Holocaust museum.

Matt Sepic of member station KWMU talked with one Bosnian Muslim couple who survived.

MATT SEPIC: Edina and Said Karahodzic did not think the war would ever come to them. It was late 1991 and Yugoslavia was crumbling amid ethnic conflict. But Edina says in Prijedor, the lives of Serbs, Croats and Slavic Muslims had been intertwined for generations.

Dr. EDINA KARAHODZIC (Medical Practitioner, St. Louis): We were so mixed and we were always saying no, it's not going to happen to us. There are so many intermixed marriages, so many kids from those marriages, so many, I mean, friendships that we just didn't believe that.

SEPIC: Edina and Said have just gotten married. Both were training to be doctors, and soon they were expecting a baby. But more did come to Prijedor. Checkpoints spraying up everywhere, all non-Serbs were forced to wear white armbands.

Said Karahodzic says just staying alive was a matter of luck.

Dr. SAID KARAHODZIC (Medical Practitioner, St. Louis): Overnight, we - everybody lost job. But beside paychecks, we lost bank accounts.

Dr. S. KARAHODZIC: Ten meters being at one place in the city compared to another place in the city meant a lot. It meant life or death.

SEPIC: Many of the couple's friends and relatives went missing. Edina's uncle disappeared. Zahid's brother-in-law was imprisoned in Omarska, an iron ore mine used by Bosnian-Serb forces as a concentration camp just outside Prijedor. In August of 1992, the international media got inside Omarska and other camps around Prijedor. Pictures of emaciated men standing behind barbed wire flashed around the globe drawing comparisons to the Holocaust of a half-century earlier.

The stories of rape, torture, and sadistic murder outraged the world but war crimes continued all over Bosnia. Said and Edina Karahodzic had a few close calls. Once, they were nearly arrested while walking down the street. Later, Said learned from survivors of the Omarska camp, among them his brother-in-law, just how lucky he was.

Unidentified Man #1: After all, I hear that - from my neighbors that they call my name couple of times in the door because they said when they call you in nighttime in concentration camp, actually, you are dead.

SEPIC: In late 1992, Edina gave birth to a son, Vedad(ph), and then the situation around them became even more dire.

Dr. E. KARAHODZIC: We didn't want to leave Prijedor but we heard, you know, that they are picking up to go to concentration camp or whatever, and that was like, okay, it's not, we cannot do this anymore.

SEPIC: Family members helped them get visas for neighboring Croatia, but before they left, they had to surrender their possessions to the Serbs. They stayed in Croatia for two years before moving here to St. Louis as part of a refugee resettlement program. Today, Said and Edina Karahodzic have two sons and a family medical practice. In Prijedor, there are few non-Serbs left and the Omarska Death Camp is, again, a working mine. But still, Said Karahodzic said not all Serbs were killers and he does not want revenge.

Dr. S. KARAHODZIC: Sometimes, somebody ask us, can we forgive? I always said, yes we can. But to do that, somebody have to say I'm sorry.

SEPIC: Said and Edina hope this new exhibit in St. Louis will remind visitors and their own children about what happened in Prijedor and that banned(ph) politics and old hatred are a terrible mix.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in St. Louis.

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