The War Childhood Museum (Bosnian: Muzej ratnog djetinjstva) is a historical museum in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina that opened in January 2017. The museum presents the experiences of children who lived through the war in Bosnia, told through objects, video testimonies, and excerpts from oral histories.
The Book and the Museum
The War Childhood Museum was born from a crowdsourcing project started in 2010. The idea was to collect 160 character reflections on “childhood in wartime” from young adults who had like myself, grown up during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. This culminated in over a thousand submissions from young adult-survivors around the world, and their contributions were published as an edited volume in 2018.
While I was working on the book I realized just how important it was for people to have an opportunity to share their experiences. I decided to pursue the project further and work to establish the world's first museum dedicated to the experience of growing up during war. My first collaborators were Selma Tanovic and Amina Krvavac. Together we began collecting items., documents, stories, and video testimonies. Today the War Childhood Museum has three official functions: research, exhibition, and education. Its first permanent exhibit opened in January 2017 in Saravejo.
In the introduction to the book war Childhood, I wrote that I sincerely hoped that the book would improve people’s understanding of this specific experience, as well as contribute to adults’ awareness of their obligation to create a better world for children. I hope that the War childhood Museum will achieve even more.
War Childhood Museum Founder
Humanitarian Aid Packaging Collection
I wanted to keep a memento of something completely new to Yugoslavia -humanitarian aid. We laughed about it at the time, thinking: Come on, by Monday everything will be back to normal. That’s the real reason why I kept that first tin. But the crisis wasn’t over by Monday, and more tins followed. Soon we were eating things that had never before been in Yugoslavia. It was an excellent reason to collect all those wrappers and tins.
At one point, as I was forming this collection, I had to ask myself how long I would continue to do so. That’s when I decided to keep collecting either until I made it into the Guinness World Records or until the war ended, and we stopped receiving aid. Thanks to the journalists who visited Saravejo, I was able to send a letter to Guinness. As I waited awaited their response, I continued collecting wrappers. Even though my collection made it into the record book, the number of wrappers is actually greater than the one listed by several hundred.
We even erected a monument to Icar in Saravejo, but few remember that there were actually three different types of Icar tins. Because of details lie that one, collecting proved to be a good way to preserve our collective memory of that period.
The Silent Mark of War
For me, the war started when I realized that people were dying, that children were dying. The first civilian casualty of the war in Lukavac was Tanja. She was 11 or 12 years old. She was my good friend. Adults would vividly describe her death, and I imagined and could “see” her dying. I will never forget her lifeless arm falling from bed. That image haunted me for a long time. I tried to erase it to no avail. Instead, I tried drawing or writing about her- images and retelling of events in the media mixed with an anticipation of horror. And we did live through horror. This drawing portrays burning houses, wounded and lifeless bodies; UNPROFOR soldiers either helping or silently recording everything around then just as I did.
A Sniper Killed My Brother
Amel was killed on May 3, 1995. It was during a period of truce. He was killed by a sniper coming from the Spicasta Stijena, located above Saravejo.
My late brother was always drawing something, even by candlelight. He never rested. He was an artist.
This cardboard breastplate was made from the casing of a lunch package. My brother drew and colored the coat of arms and fleur-de-lis on it.
Big Bird and Ladybug
During the war, we would receive packages from abroad that contained letters we couldn’t understand. Today I know that those letters had been written in English. The most exciting packages were the ones that contained toys. I played with these toys – the bird and the ladybug that I have donated in the museum- for the full duration of the war. I don’t remember when I got them or whether they came together, I do remember, however, how I would keep the bird underneath my pillow and push the little ladybug along the sidewalk in front of my building along the stairs, and along the wood floors of the basement.
Chalkboard with a Shrapnel Hole
I got this chalkboard from Mister Alija from Dubrovnik. We were not allowed to go outside, and toys were alien to us during the war. I spent my days at home, studying and going to an imaginary school in my mind.
In 1994, after our family home had already been burned to the ground, a grenade fell on the apartment where we had been living. My brother was only a few days old. We found three pieces of shrapnel in his crib. One of them hit my chalkboard as well.
Twenty years later I have a successful career. Sometimes I believe that I’ve achieved all of that because of this chalkboard pierced by shrapnel.
Chalkboard with a Shrapnel Hole
These are the keys to my house in Syria. I got them when I was 5 years old and I added some key chain ornaments to them. The keys opened the doors to the most beautiful house I have ever seen. My room had pink and green walls. Unfortunately, the house burned during the war, so we don’t have a house anymore.
When we left for Lebanon, I couldn’t bring anything because everything was completely burned. I took these keys, some toys that didn’t burn, and some ash – the remains of our home. Life in Syria was full of hope and love.
Life in Lebanon is not easy. When I tell people that I’m from Syria. I don’t feel welcome. I don’t like living here because I feel like an alienated stranger. That’s not fair. They should help us to not feel like that.
I want to go to school and gain enough experience to one day contribute to the reconstruction process of Syria. I want to work in trade and business.