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Fontbonne's Bosnia Memory Project

Preserving the history of Bosnian genocide survivors in St. Louis

photo by Diana Linsley
Ben Moore Ph.D., associate professor of English and communication at Fontbonne University, examines two books from the archives of the Bosnia Memory Project. Nearest to Moore is “Knjiga Fotografija II,” with images of personal effects recovered from mass graves in Bosnia. Also displayed is the book “Srebrenica” by Bosnian photographer Tarik Samarah. (click for larger version)
September 07, 2011
Ben Moore Ph.D., associate professor of English and communication at Fontbonne University, leafs through a book of photographs of seemingly mundane items: a threadbare sweater, a lone woolen sock, a Polaroid of a group of people – a family perhaps – gathered around a table.

The book, titled "Knjiga Fotografija II," contains images of personal effects recovered from mass graves in Bosnia. Compiled by the American Red Cross, "Knjiga Fotografija" was circulated among Bosnian refugees after the Bosnian War of the early 1990s in an attempt to identify Bosnian genocide victims.

The book is just one of many artifacts housed at Fontbonne University as part of the Bosnia Memory Project, an undertaking spearheaded by Moore and his colleagues at Fontbonne.

Because of his dedication to the preservation of Bosnian history and his work with the St. Louis Bosnian community, Moore was recently accepted into the Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences as an honorary member. He said he is thrilled and humbled by the recognition. He is also hopeful the honor will bring renewed visibility to Fontbonne's Bosnia Memory Project.

"The most important thing going on here is the work to preserve the record of Bosnians who immigrated to St. Louis and to try to understand their experiences," Moore said. "There are so many wonderful things the Bosnian immigration has brought to St. Louis. Areas of the city have been revitalized, schools have been revitalized, and educated Bosnians have become important contributors to the community."

Fontbonne graduate student and employee Lucy Allen, center, holds up a flak jacket worn by aid worker Elsie Roth on her trip to Bosnia. Students from local schools signed Roth’s jacket, which is now in the archives of the Bosnia memory project. At left is Fontbonne student Claire Sheehan. At right is Fontbonne professor Ben Moore. photo by Diana Linsley. (click for larger version)
Genocide in Bosnia

Bosnia-Herzegovina is located in southeastern Europe just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. A former republic of Yugoslavia, the multi-ethnic country endured war from 1992 to 1995. Stories of rape, torture and the murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslims at the hands of Serbian nationalists led an international war crimes tribunal to declare those acts genocide.

Amir Karadzic, a Bosnian refugee now settled with his family in Oakville, said it may never be known how many civilians were killed in the war.

"These were civilians, not soldiers," he said. "We didn't fight, we were just sitting there at home and they came and killed us."

Karadzic is chairman of the non-profit Union of Citizens of the Municipality of Prijedor. The group collaborated with Fontbonne University and other organizations in 2006 to produce the exhibit "Prijedor: Lives from the Bosnian Genocide."

The exhibit was on display at Fontbonne before traveling to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center and other local venues. It has also been on display in Washington, D.C.

Karadzic is part of an ongoing collaboration of Bosnian refugees and academics in St. Louis. This core team includes Moore and fellow educator Jack Luzkow Ph.D., associate professor of history, philosophy and religion at Fontbonne; members of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center; and Patrick McCarthy, director of the Medical Center Library at Saint Louis University.

McCarthy has been working with Bosnians in St. Louis since 1993 when the first influx of refugees came to the city. He is the author of "After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis."

McCarthy first met Moore in 2005 at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the wartime massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica.

"Ben was preparing to teach a course on the Bosnian immigration. We formed part of a nucleus of a group that developed the Prijedor exhibit," said McCarthy.

McCarthy was accepted into the Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences several years ago and is now on the board. He is helping plan the academy's annual meeting at which Moore will be honored. McCarthy said the organization wants to acknowledge the important work Moore is doing with the Bosnia Memory Project.

"There are an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Bosnians in St. Louis. That's a fairly substantial proportion in a city of 350,000," said McCarthy. "They're part of this country. They have one foot in the American culture and one foot in the traditional Bosnian culture. The dilemma is they don't really fit completely into either one. That's one of the reasons Ben's work is so important. It's a living history he's capturing during this transition time as Bosnians integrate and assimilate into the community here."

Bosnia Memory Project

Begun in 2006, the Bosnia Memory Project continues to grow in scope. Its participants have produced the traveling Prijedor exhibit, recorded interviews with genocide survivors, offered academic programs for students, collected books, letters, memorabilia and more.

"Ben is the perfect person for this because he has such a nice ability to learn at the same time that he's doing the work," said McCarthy. "He always says he's a student of these experiences too."

Moore hopes to one day see the construction of a Bosnian research center at Fontbonne. Fontbonne graduate student Lucy Allen would like to be part of that endeavor. She has completed two internships through the Bosnia Memory Project and has taken Moore and Luzkow's class on the Bosnian immigration. She has helped archive items brought back from Bosnia by former Fenton resident Elsie Roth, an aid worker who made several trips to Bosnia during the war.

Allen has also transcribed many interviews with genocide survivors.

"Sometimes they're so detailed and graphic I just have to turn the tape off and walk away," she said. "It's one thing to hear about what happened, but when you have survivors tell you in graphic detail it's different."

Kirkwood's Claire Sheehan, a junior at Fontbonne, also took the Bosnian immigration class.

"I didn't know anything about the war," she said. "I thought I would take the class and get an in-depth look into the atrocities. It was a great learning experience.

"It's very hard to just go back to your dorm room and your normal routine," she said. "It's definitely inspired a lot of research."

Moore said students and faculty alike have called the Bosnia Memory Project experience "transformative."

"It's given me a renewed sense of the value of being a teacher," he said. "It's given me, maybe in some ways for the first time, an understanding of the importance of knowing one's neighbor."

Moore will be accepted into the Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences at events held Sept. 16-18 at Fontbonne University. For details visit bhaaas.org.

To learn more about the Bosnia Memory Project visit www.fontbonne.edu/bosnia. "Prijedor: A Virtual Exhibit," which includes interviews with Bosnian refugees, can be found under the "Prijedor Exhibit" link.

Learning More About Bosnia

• Steven Galloway will discuss his book, "The Cellist of Sarajevo," Monday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m., in College Hall on the Washington University South 40 campus.

• Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon is giving a public reading at Washington University on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 6 p.m., in the Whitaker Hall Auditorium, Room 100.

• "Bridges to Success: A Mentoring Program for Young Bosnians" will be held Thursday, Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m., and Friday, Sept. 16, 3 p.m., at Mehlville High School, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

• The Bosnian-Herzegovinian American Academy of Arts and Sciences annual meeting is Saturday, Sept. 17, in Anheuser Busch Hall (Rooms 203-205) at Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Blvd. The noon program is open to the public.

• "Free Fallin'," an exhibit by Bosnian-American artist Jesenko Kurbasic, is on display at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Gallery.

• Aleksandar Hemon, a Hurst Visiting Professor in the department of English, is giving a talk on the craft of fiction at Washington University on Thursday, Sept. 22, 6 p.m., in the Hurst Lounge in Duncker Hall, Room 201.

• A panel discussion entitled "Deadly Medicine: Beyond the Era of National Socialism" at Washington University's School of Medicine will include Dr. Fred Sweet who will talk about his Fullbright-sponsored research on the role of physicians in the Bosnian genocide. The discussion will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., in the Moore Auditorium, North Building, Medical School Campus.

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