Nov 07 2010
All photographs (C) Nina Berman 1993, all rights reserved
Bosnia archive – Tuzla
November 5, 2010 by Nina Berman
I’ve been scanning old pictures from late 1992 and early 1993 of women and girls who were raped in the Bosnian war which means they were personally, brutally, and sadistically attacked, violated, terrified and humiliated for no reason, simply because they were women and Muslim, sometimes just once, in one case for 10 weeks. I wasn’t a very skilled photographer then. I didn’t think much about constructing a picture. And after the fact, I felt terrible that the pictures were photographic failures and I hadn’t done these subjects justice. Now I just want to look at them. Holding the scratched transparencies and reading my notes, brings me back to those women and the process of finding them, which is maybe the most important part of this kind of work, the getting to the photograph. For those interested, here is an interview with the subject of these three photographs made in Tuzla on January 1, 1993.
Her story as recorded at Tuzla Hospital. “It was June 30. I was in Belgrade a the bus station. I had been in Belgrade for close to two months, staying at my cousin’s house while my mother was in the hospital undergoing surgery for breast cancer. I was on my way back to Tuzla but I didn’t know that the roads had been closed because of the war.
So I was just waiting at the station when two soldiers came up to me. First they asked me for a cigarette, then they grabbed me, showed me their guns, told me to shut up or they would kill me and they forced me into a car. They told me to keep my head down and not to look out the windows. I was sure I was going to die.
We drove like this for two hours until we reached a village. I had no idea where I was. They took me into some basement room and gave me half a piece of bread and a little meat, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to eat anything. After about an hour, they took me from this place, put me back in the car and drove to some other village. There were a lot of soldiers outside but I didn’t know who they were or where I was. Again, they took me into a kind of basement room that had a bed and a small table. I went two days without food or water or anything.
On the third day, a soldier came in and asked me if I was hungry and he gave me a sandwich and some water. I got the feeling he wanted to help me. I stayed in this place four days. Nobody did anything to me. After four days they took me into another building and I heard a soldier say they were going to bring me to Pale. (The administrative headquarters of the Bosnian Serb forces)
Soon after that, they brought me outside to a car that had Sarajevo registration on it. They put me in the car and blindfolded me. We drove for a while until we got to some barracks where other prisoners were. We went past the barracks and into this room which was fairly big, it looked like it had once been an office. They told me to lie down by the door and not to say anything.
There were four other girls about my age in the room as well, but we didn’t talk. Then four soldiers came in and told me to take my clothes off. I didn’t want to and the soldier said he would go out and by the time he got back, I should be undressed. The four other soldiers who had been with these girls left and I went out in the hallway to go to the bathroom.
No one was around so I just went and on my way back I met this soldier in the hall. He hit me and yelled at me because I hadn’t asked permission to use the bathroom. So I went back into the room and the four girls asked me why I hadn’t taken my clothes off because if I didn’t, the soldiers would kill me. That was the only time I spoke with these girls.
I still have no idea who they were or where they were from. The soldier never came back in the room that day and the girls left. The next thing that happened was another four girls came into the room with four soldiers and they told me to leave. They put me in another room and some soldiers came in. The first ordered me to take off my clothes. I said I didn’t want to but he just took them off himself. Three other soldiers were in the room and one of them held my legs while another cut me with a razor.
The one who took my clothes off burned my mouth with cigarettes and then raped me while the other three watched. I was sure they all intended to take their turn, but after the second one raped me and the third one was preparing, the first two soldiers said to him not to bother because I was no good, I was just a peasant. And so I was spared.
I was then taken to a large room with mostly old people in it. I saw one man with a piece of flesh cut out of his arm and he was telling a soldier “Please don’t put salt on it because it hurts.” I stayed there a little while and then they brought me back to the other room. I heard them say they were thinking about putting me in yet another room and it I was to go there I would have been the 176th girl in that room.
But nothing happened and I pretty much spent 10 days alone except for one day when a girl from Bratunac came in, but she left the same night, and then the last day when four girls came in. After they left, I was raped again. I tried to defend myself but I couldn’t. They took my clothes, they hit me, they were pulling my hair. A few days later, six soldiers came in and all of them raped me. They cursed me, insulted me, said there were too many Muslim people and said a lot of Muslims were going to give birth to Serbian children.
Four more days passed and no one touched me. They fed me a sandwich each day and that’s all. I asked if I could bathe and they said yes but only with cold water. After five days another soldier came in and raped me. And that evening, two very drunk and dirty soldiers raped me very badly. They had guns and knives and were very rough.
Three days passed, another two soldiers raped me, this time in front of four others. I got sick and was vomiting and they said I was worthless and they should just kill me. It was the 16th time I was raped. After that, no one touched me again.
A few days later, I heard there was going to be a prisoner exchange but I didn’t know I would be part of it until I was put on a truck with about 30 to 40 other people – all men – and we were taken to Visoko and they exchanged us for flour. I met four other girls in the refugee place in Visoko. They had been in another prison. One of them was pregnant. They said the soldiers burned them with hot metal bars and they had to stay naked all the time.
Some people from Visoko took these girls and other refugees and they asked me if I wanted to go too, but I didn’t. Two weeks later I was transported to Zivinice. I arrived there September 20. And when October and November passed and I didn’t get my period, my sister, who is the only other person I have told all this to, took me to a Tuzla hospital and they told me I was pregnant and could still get an abortion if I wanted.
If I would not have been able to get an abortion, I would have killed myself. I told this to my doctor. I wasn’t going to give birth to this baby. I never want my parents to know about this. I also have a boyfriend, but I can’t tell him. I’m so afraid of what people would think of me and say about me. I know I can’t keep this inside me forever.”
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