But this one was less than two decades ago, when Slobodan Milosevic put his plan for “ethnic cleansing” into place. The Bosnian city of Prijedor, where Muslims, Catholics and orthodox Christians lived in peace, saw some of the earliest bloodshed.
Extreme nationalist Serb forces surrounded the city and nearby villages, then imprisoned, starved, tortured and raped non-Serbian Muslims, Catholics and gypsies, along with Serbs who didn’t go along with the crimes.
An estimated 52,000 Bosnian Muslims and Croats out of Prijedor’s population of 120,000 were forcibly expelled or killed, a United Nations report found.
Many survivors of the camps, or those lucky enough to escape the region, were later resettled in the St. Louis area as refugees. A new multimedia exhibit here aims to tell their stories.
“Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide,” at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, collects artifacts, photographs and first-person accounts assembled by St. Louis Bosnians, the Holocaust Museum and Fontbonne College.
The exhibit provides a chronology of atrocities in Prijedor, beginning in 1992, focusing on the experience of concentration camp survivors and deportees who now live in the area.
It includes narrative accounts of life before, during and after the war; the network of concentration camps in and around the city; and the search for the missing.
A pair of well-worn boots, a brown wool sweater and some family photos in the exhibit are reminders of microbiologist Kemal Ceric, who was among Prijedor’s 200 intelligentsia killed.
Ceric was put into forced labor for the Serbs, then shot in the head, his body dumped in a well. One of Ceric’s sons, who lives in St. Louis with Ceric’s widow, provided the DNA match that was used to identify Ceric’s remains.
Perhaps the most compelling stories are interviews with those who suffered the crimes. All but one of them live in St. Louis.
While an English speaker translates their remarks, the camera stays focused on the victims, and during those long pauses, their eyes and faces show the pain of going back into their memories.
One man tells of saying goodbye to his children as he was led away to a concentration camp.
Another speaks of trying to understand why a community that had lived together harmoniously for such a long time was now being persecuted.
The exhibit, which opened in late November, draws nearly all of its factual information from a U.N. panel of experts and documents.
Amir Karadzic, president of the Union of Citizens of Prijedor and also now a St. Louis resident, first had the idea for the exhibit, which he said has generated some unusual reactions.
A woman who survived the ethnic cleansing and resettled in St. Louis begged him to remove her name from the exhibit out of concern for her family in Bosnia.
“Fifteen years later and she’s still afraid,” Karadzic said.
Moreover, a Serbian organization in Chicago wrote a letter demanding the exhibit be removed, he said.
Organizers say the exhibit will remain at the Holocaust Museum through May before moving briefly to a Bosnian neighborhood center in St. Louis. It will then travel to other U.S. cities.
The St. Louis area is home to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 Bosnians who were settled here as refugees after the war, or who moved here from other U.S. cities that had settled them. It has one of the largest Bosnian communities in the United States.