News & Features

Exhibit, movie of genocide opens at Fontbonne

by Janice Denham for the Suburban Journals, Oct. 17, 2008

For local Bosnians who came to the St. Louis area as survivors of the genocidal violence of 1992 in the city of Prijedor, the multi-media exhibit is a page from personal history books. For students at Fontbonne University who pieced together the exhibit which opens in their library this weekend, Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide is a measure of humans surviving tragedy.

An opening program and reception will begin at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, in the Fontbonne University Library, 6800 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, the documentary film, "A Town Called Kozarac" will be shown in the lower level of the library. A panel discussion after the film will feature filmmaker Ed Harriman of London, who in 1993 secretly filmed one of the first television documentaries to expose the genocide being committed on Bosnian Muslims.

Also on the panel will be Azra Blazevic, a survivor who lives in the St. Louis area. Ben Moore, chairman of the English and communications department at Fontbonne, said a camera she carried when imprisoned in one of the concentration camps in Bosnia was used to take photos, which were smuggled out by a journalist and later used in war crimes trials. The exhibit uses copies of some of those photos.

Moore explained that the exhibit contains artifacts, photographs, maps and first-person survivor accounts of the violence in which more than 5,000 people were killed and more than 50,000 non-Serbs - half the population - were expelled from the district of Prijedor and surrounding villages in the early 1990s in the country previously called Yugoslavia.

Students conducted the 10 interviews with survivors. Most of them are among the 50,000 Bosnians who now live in the St. Louis area.
Amir Kardzic of Oakville, a genocide survivor, was trying to put together a display at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center when he met Moore.

Kardzic became a principal collaborator on the exhibit made with Fontbonne students linked to a class, "Bosnian Immigration: Narrative, Memory and Identity," taught by Moore and Jack Luzkow. The idea for the course, first offered in spring 2007, came in an effort to help identify who these "new neighbors" were as part of the greater world.

Kardzic considers learning institutions such as Fontbonne and Jewish Holocaust museums good repositories for the exhibit until it finds a permanent home.

"The biggest point of the exhibit is to teach our Bosnians that we have to pay attention to our history, not for revenge, but to teach our youngest, like my son (now age 22), that they remember this and treat history correctly," Kardzic said. "We must live together with other nations."

A total of 10,729 viewers came to the Holocaust Museum, a department of the Jewish Federation, to view it during its first two months. Kardzic, a former Prijedor resident was pleased that it attracted not just Bosnians, but local dignitaries such as U.S. Sen. Kit Bond and former Sen. Jean Carnahan to help explain who the Europeans are.

Since then, two versions nearly identical to each other have been displayed at the University of Colorado in Denver and Southern Commercial Bank in south St. Louis.

"We have more and more requests for it," Kardzic said. "We are trying to have it in institutions with respect and where it will have an influence on the people who see it."

Showings are expected at the United Nations in New York, as well as in Washington, D.C., in 2009.

Fontbonne continues to link the Bosnians with their new community. Moore explains educational goals of the exhibit connect to social aims.

"We're learning more and more about the Bosnian community and, through that, building stronger relationships," he said.

While it will remain open in the Fontbonne library through January 2009, it is best to call ahead at (314) 889-1417 for viewing because the exhibit will be used as a class link and accompany more events. Now in its fourth semester, the class stirs Fontbonne students with personal visits from people in the Bosnian community.

"First, students are always amazed at how the survivors have rebuilt their lives without hatred and without a desire for retribution," Moore said.

"They're also amazed at how little they (students) knew, how little they were told about the genocide before they took the class and met the people."

Kardzic noted how many other groups, such as the St. Louis Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Missouri Humanities Council, have helped present the Bosnian story. He has traveled a long distance since he left Bosnia "without my family, as I received threatening calls and people tried to hurt me." After three months in Croatia, his family joined him. They spent seven years in Vermont before moving to St. Louis.

"The exhibit is non-profit," he emphasized. "Everything in it contains documents from the International Court (of Justice) in The Hague and from our citizens."

Learn more about the exhibit and upcoming events