"Prijedor: Lives From the Bosnian Genocide"
By Fran Mannino

12/12/2008
Mehlville resident Lisa Wolk had Bosnian friends in high school, but she never completely understood what the Bosnian War was all about until she took what she calls a life-changing class at Fontbonne University.

Through the class, titled "The Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity," Wolk and fellow students conducted research and interviewed survivors of the Bosnian War living here in St. Louis.

The class was taught by Fontbonne Professors Ben Moore and Jack Luzkow, and coincided with the creation of a multi-media exhibit, "Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide," that has traveled the country and is currently on display at the university.

"Genocide in Bosnia wasn’t aimed at just the people, but the culture and cultural memory," said Moore. "That’s why it’s so important to remember."

The project allowed the professors and their students to use the community as a resource for learning, while at the same time creating a better understanding of their Bosnian neighbors.

"It was really breathtaking to learn about their hardships," said Wolk. "When I was in high school we really didn’t talk about the war. Doing this class and being involved in this project I really earned a greater appreciation for what they went through."

A portion of the contents of the exhibit are on loan to the university courtesy of former Fenton resident Elsie Roth, who made several trips to Bosnia during the war in her role as an aid worker through the Jewish community.

"My work was in Sarajevo," said Roth. "Everything I had, including my flack jacket, is on permanent loan with them."

Roth brought pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and warm clothing to the war-torn country, all donated by St. Louis-area organizations.

"I was in Bosnia three different times during the war, and each time the defense department would let us stay no more than four or five days," she said. "People would walk miles and miles to give me baptismal certificates, college degrees, birth certificates — all of the important papers — and I would bring them back with me."

Roth is currently working with a group of students on an archival project for the Prijedor exhibit, which has become more of an ongoing event than an assemblage of images, said Moore.

"We’ve had a number of speakers, several from Bosnia, two from the UK, who have brought renewed interest and also brought expert perspectives through public presentations," he said. "We continue to conduct interviews and collect letters and documents. We want this to be a resource to provide an enduring record of the Bosnian genocide from survivors who live in St. Louis and other parts of the world."

"Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide" will be on display at Fontbonne University through the end of January. There are plans for the exhibit to travel to Washington, D.C., and possibly to travel to the United Nations building in New York City.

"I’ve talked to no one who does not find it difficult to remember and to speak about it," said Moore. "But I’ve also talked to people who understand it’s a difficulty they need to take on because the stories need to be told."

Bosnian immigrants who are interested in donating photos, documents or other items to the exhibit are encouraged to contact Moore by phone at 889-4553 or by e-mail at bmoore@fontbonne.edu.

For more information on "Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide," visit www.fontbonne.edu/bosnia.

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