Remembering War’s Youngest Victims — New Museum Spotlights Children of Armed Conflict

Most war museums showcase the weaponry and vehicles of conflicts past. A new Sarajevo collection contains artifacts from children who came of age in the line of fire.

Most war museums showcase the weaponry and vehicles of conflicts past. A new Sarajevo exhibit consists entirely of artifacts from children who came of age in the line of fire.

“The project has gathered artifacts from 2,000 donors and captured more than 70 hours of audio and video from eyewitnesses.”

A NEW MUSEUM set to open in Sarajevo seeks to commemorate the smallest victims of armed conflict — children.

The War Childhood Museum, which is expected to open this year, will showcase objects, drawings and oral histories from adults who grew up in the midst of bloodshed.

The project is the creation of 28-year-old Bosnian author Jasminko Halilovic.

A survivor of the three-year siege of Sarajevo, Halilovic spent years documenting the experiences of more than 1,000 fellow residents who were youngsters when the city was a battlefield. The effort led to his 2013 book War Childhood: Sarajevo 1992–1995.

The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days — a veritable life-time for the children who (literally) lived there ‘under the gun.’ (Image source: WikiCommons)

“When I started working on my book, I asked people to send me some contributions with their childhood memories of the war,” Halilovic told Rodolfo Toe of the Balkan Independent Reporting Network. “Many of them still had things they had preserved for 20 years after the war… and that they have a strong urge to share their stories.”

While compiling the book, Halilovic realized that his campaign warranted its own museum. Since then, the project has gathered artifacts from 2,000 donors and captured more than 70 hours of audio and video from eyewitnesses.

The objects that make up the War Childhood Museum paint a picture of the enduring spirit of youth in a time of turmoil. They include a pair of ballet shoes kept by a girl who dreamed of someday studying dance, a young student’s scorched school notebook and one child’s improvised rope swing that once hung in a family bomb shelter. Bits of clothing, home-made dolls and the wrappings saved from humanitarian aid packages along with countless diaries, journals and drawings round out the collection.

While the exhibit’s treasures speak mainly of the survivors of the violence in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Halilovic wants the museum to expand beyond the 1991 to 1995 Yugoslav Wars to include artifacts from children raised in other conflicts. He invites anyone who grew up in a war-zone to add their old letters, pictures and keepsakes, as well as sound and video recordings of their experiences, to the museum’s collection via Facebook or the museum’s own website.

Jasminko Halilovic presents his plans for the War Childhood Museum. (Image source: War Childhood Museum)

Jasminko Halilovic presents his plans for the War Childhood Museum. (Image source: War Childhood Museum)

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The War Childhood Museum logo.

Tragically, there is no shortage of potential contributors to the museum; the number of children who have experienced modern war is staggering, says Halilovic.

“According the UN, in ongoing conflicts around the globe, civilians have been increasingly and severely affected by war, among them half are children and adolescents younger than 18 years of age,” reports the museum website. “In the period of 1985-1996, two million children died in war, four to five million have been left disabled or severely wounded, 12 million children were displaced or made homeless and one million lost their parents or were separated from them.”

Halilovic hopes the exhibit, which is currently touring Bosnia-Hercegovina, will soon find a permanent home in Sarajevo.

Click below for a short documentary film about the campaign to establish the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo.  

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