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From Bosnia, from Sanski Most, village of Hrustovo. I was born in the village of Humici, Kljuc county, it wasn't far, we'd walk the three kilometers from Kljuc. I finished four grades of school. I met him in a village not far away, I had relatives there and we used to visit each other, that's where I met him and then I went to Hrustovo.
We lived well, normal-like. You had to struggle along until you built yourself a house, you had to scrimp and save, watch every cent, to build the house, the barn, feed the kids.
The two of us built the house, he was a builder, he did the building and paid the workmen, he couldn't do it all himself, he worked in Slovenia, I was alone with the kids. I had a cow, for the kids. I grew a few things in the garden, just for us, for the house. So I had everything I needed, I had everything.
No, no we didn't hate each other. And how it happened, it beats me, especially where I was born, we were neighbors, the Serbs and us, next door neighbors, we were always visiting each other, working together, eating, drinking, everything. I just don't know what happened.
When the shooting started, we hid in shelters, we were always on guard, always in groups, finally we went into the woods, hid in caves, and then they went to negotiate, anybody with weapons was to turn them in so things could be done peacefully. We didn't have a lot of men, they were all away working, there were no men at home, only the old ones. And then they came back from the talks, I remember the day, it was May 31, 1992, and told us to go to the neighboring village and gather in the shelter, because of the shelling.
That day they came, checked the village for weapons, said to leave all the houses open, we headed for the village of Kukavici, it's just like Hrustovo but smaller, we headed down there, they'd come to search all the houses, and we were at Huska Merdanovic's house, we'd arrived there.
Again, one by one, group by group, they checked the houses. We didn't even really know them. You couldn't know who was what. Before even two groups had passed through, our mosque was on fire, burning. Some passing by asked for water, we gave it to them and they drank it, and that same Huska, he'd been to negotiate, he'd come back, yes, he'd made coffee for when they passed by, he knew everybody.
And he got some coffee ready for them if they came, so they could have a cup of coffee.
Soon after Huska returned, they came, swung open the door, told everybody to get out, swearing, others said, kill'em. And Huska stepped out and said, don't do that brothers, they're just women and children, here, take me, Huska, and he was the first one they killed. Right then and there they pressed the rifle barrel against his forehead, right there on the spot. I stepped away, I had a handbag, to carry my documents in, something like that, and dropped it, there was a horse cart there, I Just told the kids, run for it, that's all I said to them, I had three kids with me, run for it, we looked at each other, I let them go first, to escape.
We started running, I didn't even see the kids, I just saw this youngest one in front of me, I didn't even see the other two, and I fell right there, I didn't see a thing, just them down there, they were shooting, they were at our heels, as soon as we started running there was a burst of gunfire behind us, we fell, they stopped and waited. The wounded in the courtyard, they were sobbing, I could heard it lying there on the ground, but I couldn't see the kids ahead of me, I didn't know where they were, what'd happened to them, were they alive. I heard them killing people down there, going from one to the other, to whoever was wounded and crying, going and killing them all off. I lay there like that for a while, and when I saw that they'd gone, that they'd moved on, I looked around me, still lying there like that, and down in the courtyard below they were all lying there dead. Next to me was my daughter, she was wounded too, she wasn't even three meters away from me but I didn't see her, all I saw was them leaving. She was covered in blood and I didn't know if she was alive or dead, I called out to her, her name is Razija, it rang out, I said Razija, child, come over here, I'm afraid, come on I said, crawl over, drag yourself over, and that's what we did, we crawled over to the next house, then I saw the two little girls, Huska's granddaughters, they were alive too, and I saw my boy here, but not the younger one, I didn't see him. And we sat by the house, there was a grape vine, a small hedge.
The second group of them was coming now, calling out each other's names, we knew it was them 'cause there was nobody else, one of them says, over here, there's a kid wounded. We stepped out in front of them, we had no choice, we had to come out, they'd see us anyway, they'd do whatever they did. And then I said, shouting, that's my Asim, that wounded child, I thought he was wounded, just a little wounded, but he was already dead. The bullet had gone through his mouth, his lower Jaw was split open, I just took him by the hand, he was dying, he was Just dying. I know that I said, are you done for child, and I crouched there beside him for a while, Just crouched next to him. The men came up to me and said, come on woman, let's get away from here, leave him, come on, let's go. Get up, get up, that's it, come on, come on, let's go.
They brought some others along and when they came on all those dead they Just left them there and gathered up those of us who were alive, the two kids and me, and the other two little girls, but in that shelter they killed, as far as I can remember, about thirty-five women and children, and Huska, I don't know about all of them, I can't know, all I know is what I saw.
So nothing, I had to leave, leave him there on the road like that, dying. I left with my other two kids. You don't know what to do, I'm grieving for one child and scared for the other two, scared what'll happen to them.
It was almost dark already, there're wounded somebody shouted, they said anybody wounded should go up to the command post. I took Razija up there, I told them I had one child dead and one wounded. An army doctor came, one of theirs, and I was afraid, I stood up, sit down they say, you've nothing to be afraid of, he didn't say a word, he just looked and afterwards he said, don't be afraid, don't be afraid. And those women there, the nurses, they were scared too, one cleaned Razija's wound and she was trembling the whole time, she says who killed your child, I don't know who or what, I say, it was some soldiers. She didn't say a word, then she gave us some tea.
The old and the wounded were put in the first truck and then they drove us to the bridge, there's a bridge down there, a command bridge they called it, and they Just ask what are you driving, Moslem women refugees, he says. Go ahead. They took us to Tomina, we stayed there four weeks. All night long there was shooting, you couldn't move anywhere, you just kept waiting for them to take you away again. Then one morning they told us over the loud-speakers for everybody to come out of the houses and leave the place, only the locals could stay, they'd kill anybody else they found. So we got out of there, some on buses, others on trucks. We arrived in Sana, Sanski Most, that's where they assembled us from the surrounding villages, about three thousand of us were assembled there. You've got nothing to eat, nothing to drink, but it doesn't matter 'cause you're so scared of what's to come.
In the morning they came early again, some were put on buses, others on trucks, and again you don't know where you're going, you go where they tell you. Me and my two kids and my next door neighbor Djemka. They piled us but now the truck isn't moving, they've dropped the back flap and the stories they're telling are getting worse and worse, more and more frightening. What're you gonna do with that load, just kill'em, tell Arkan's2 men to kill'em all, what're you gonna do with 'em. And you Just keep praying to God that the truck starts moving, never mind what they do, Just so long as you don't have to listen to all those horrible stories, but they keep talking, and you can't do a thing, all you can do is cringe with fear. Then at one moment somebody passed by, peaked in, you hot, he shouted, how can you be hot when you're shivering with fear, he opened the flap a little, gave us a whiff of freedom. But nothing moved and then suddenly we were off.
So they drove us to Prijedor and we got out there, hurry up, hurry up they said, how could we hurry up when there were so many of us, but it all went fast enough. They piled us onto that train, the kind you use for cattle, it Just has that little window, and you're on the run again, you don't know where, but you're on the run again. You don't know where to go, what to do, how far you'll get. You feel that for every step forward you're taking one step back. And so they brought us to Doboj, and when we got there again they said, get out, hurry up, hurry up, faster, you Jump down, they're standing there keeping guard, come on, come on, hurry up over there. Kill'em, and before the words were out of his mouth that's what they did, they started shooting. We threw down whatever we had, I even threw down the empty bottle I had, and we grabbed hands with my children, Djemka and me, we held hands and I looked around to see what to do with the kids. You drop down, throw yourself down but you mustn't lie there, a bullet'll hit you even when you're lying down, it'll hit you when you're running, either it'll catch you or you'll catch it. Bullets kept pinging off the asphalt. We held hands, we held on to each other so we could go together, and then Djemka, she was my next door neighbor, she just dropped next to my Razija, she said hurry, run after your mother, go to Camka. We turned around to see if she was coming, but she was already lying by the road dead. As if she was asleep. But there's nothing for it, you've got to go, when I had to leave my own child dying like that, then you know what I mean.
There was some water down there, it looked bottomless, I thought of going down and drowning myself and the kids in that water, it's better to be your own judge of death than to fall into their hands. Time passed and when they came again they said come on down to the tunnel. So we started walking down o the tunnel, not knowing what was in store for us, and one of them said, come on, come on, your people are waiting for you there, you'll be freer there. Will we, God bless you, I say. You will, you will, he says. And we actually go through the tunnel and then toward Gracanica, on foot, we walked a long way on foot, but you've reached some kind of freedom so you keep on walking. And they took us, me and my children, to a school, a village called Maleici, and gave us some tea.
When we arrived in Slovenia I was lost, I just kept crying, and this woman came, Fahra, she hugged me and said, you'll be with me in the room. And we were together in the room, there were about thirty of us there, it was a big room. And that's where we met, and became friends, and took care of each other and got along well. She could sleep, but because of me she was always awake sitting, she'd sit with me all night, holding my hand, listening to me. I thought if only I'd left in time I would've saved him, he'd be alive, I felt bad that I hadn't left sooner, that I'd waited for those last days. That morning when I'd gotten him up to go, I didn't know I was taking him to his death, it was me who took him to his death. It's not hard, it's more than hard. She said nothing, she listened, and I cried and talked to her, back there in Bosnia I cried all the time but couldn't make a sound, there's no grief I don't know, I've been through it all, but I didn't dare make a sound. She just kept silent, held my hand and let me cry. And when she left, we wrote to each other for a while, but then you have to let go.
Our house was destroyed. When we were still in Tomina they went back and destroyed our houses, and we'd been waiting to go back. We watched, it was nearby and from the field we could see our houses burning. When you have no house you don't know where to go, what to do. There's almost nothing I want. I'd like to have a house some place, any place, to be together with what's left of my family, it doesn't really matter where. That's what I'd like, wherever it is.
"You're crying", she said to me.
1 Tromblons or grenade launchers
Simon Wiesenthal Center-Museum of Tolerance Library & Archives