Bosnia – December 14 2020

Remembering childhood during the Bosnia War

The official signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement on 14 December 1995 put an end to the Bosnian War, the most devastating armed conflict on European soil since World War II, in which over 100,000 souls perished and over 2.2 million people were displaced.

Esnaf  was 15 when the war ended. A survivor of the Bosnian War and the Srebrenica massacre, Esnaf now lives in a mountainous village near Srebrenica with his wife and son. He works hard to make ends meet and give his son a better future, while still coping with his own traumatic childhood memories.

"My childhood was in war. It wasn't a nice childhood to remember. In 1995, I was 15 when my father and I fled through the woods. At 15, a child still, you don't know what's a gun, or what it means – a dead person, without an arm, without a leg, without a head. I lived through all of that and saw all of it," says Esnaf.

"Later I got used to it. I got used to a dead person. I was scared at the beginning. At 15 you see a dead person on the ground. I ask my dad: 'dad, what's he doing?' Dad says 'he sleeps.' The hell he slept. I saw later what it was. You see blood flowing from him, head blown from a detonation. I said to myself 'who cut these woods by the road? the trunks are big.' And those were people without arms, legs and heads. Just the corpse. And then... [Esnaf sighs] get used to it".

"We spent so many days in the woods. After the war, you turn to whatever makes a sound. You are so cautious. You walk down the street, a car screeches, you jump, get nervous. The traumas remain."

"And then school – you have to go to school. You have no memory. You cannot remember what you study. It all leaves your head. You study, but cannot remember. You study, you read, but it isn't that. Your brain is so washed away and your mind is gone that you couldn't"... [Esnaf tears up]

"Later, year by year, it comes to you what happened. The brain remembers. You rewind in your head what happened in those days while we were surviving. Then, you just run."

"When I was a child I watched movies and wondered how can a person fly through the air like that. And then I lived through it. People gathered in one house supposedly to hide. How could you hide when the tanks in the fields are just shooting? My dad says to me: 'let's get away from here, the tank will hit the house, it's close.' He walked in front of me, I was behind him on the house's threshold. A grenade from the other side hits the house. That detonation threw me 3-4 metres up in the air and around 20 metres in distance, into some ferns. I could barely pull myself together. I said to myself, that's it, this is the end. It reminded me of that movie I saw with the man flying through the air. Then it happened to me. It wasn’t just then, there were many such things. You get used to it."

"It's not important from where the shots come, who shoots, you get used to survive. You run through fields, rocks, machine guns are firing. The first thought in my head is a movie. But, a movie is something else, in the movie people don't die for real. What we lived was real where people are killed for real."

"There was an apple tree. I remember it well. Oh, how hungry were the people. You run to the tree across a field, machine gun on one side, machine gun on the other. You have to run through them. People would go to pick an apple, they were so hungry. As they pick an apple they fall dead. You run across the field and they just fall around you – just like in a movie. But, this was reality."

"How does it affect me? In all sorts of ways. But, you have to make peace with everything. You cannot live in another way."

"My son, I haven't yet talked to him about that. It's early for him. If I had to live through that, he doesn't have to. Hopefully, he'll learn about what happened at school. From my side, I just want to make sure my son studies well and has his bread to eat, finds a job and has his salary. So that he doesn't struggle like me. I only wish him the best in life and only not to survive what I survived."

SOS Children's Villages helps Esnaf's family through the family strengthening programme in Srebrenica. The main focus is on improving the educational opportunities for Esnaf's son and improving the economic situation of the entire family.