Four people managed to escape throught the window
HIGH in the mountains, in a quiet village nine miles from Travnik, are a few remnants of a family from the town of Visegrad, in eastern Bosnia. They are staying in the home of a family they have never met before, just one of thousands of families living in strangers' homes.
I was led there by a 10-year-old boy from a nearby town who spoke a little English. The boy told me that I should talk with this family of refugees, because there is a survivor of a massacre there.
The family invites me into their one room. The atmosphere is brittle, as if the world is made of eggshells. The first thing they do is make coffee for everyone. It seems that if Bosnian Muslims have absolutely nothing, they will always manage to make coffee for guests.
The family consists of a woman, her child, and her parents.
In the spring of last year, the woman says, Visegrad had been taken over by Serbs. On the morning of June 13, she talked with a good friend of hers who is Serbian. The friend told her that she should get out of town as fast as possible, and try to go to another village that was safer.
When she returned home from visiting her friend, it was already too late. The Serbs were rounding up the men and taking them away. Young women were being taken to "rape hotels" for the soldiers.
The people who remained were told to leave at gunpoint. From her neighborhood, there was a group of 64 old men, women, and children. One baby girl was only two days old. They got as far as the Drina River, still in the city of Visegrad. They were stopped on the bridge that leads out of town.
There they were searched for money, jewelry, and anything else of value, and it was stolen from them. They stood on the bridge for two hours. During that time, the woman saw about 10 bodies either floating in the river or lying along its banks.
The five soldiers holding them on the bridge were all familiar to her. She had grown up with some of them and knew some of their families.
The 64 Muslims were led into a house and forced into one room. The soldiers made them take off their clothes, and their clothes were taken away.
The people waited in the room for a short time, and then the door was opened and someone threw in a bomb. It was not a regular bomb, but something that burned. In the madness, people tried to escape through the window. then the commander came in with a machine gun and opened fire. Four people managed to escape through the window; the other 60 were killed, including her mother-in-law, with whom she lived. She herself was shot twice, once in the arm and once in the leg.
Of the people who died, she knew the names and families of 26 women, nine elderly men, and 19 children. The oldest was a 93-year-old man, and the youngest was the two-day-old baby girl.
She could not keep up with the other three who had escaped. There was a woman, the woman's son, and an elderly man. But she could only get a short distance away, where she found a sewer and crawled inside. She lay there for three days.
A Muslim woman who was still in Visegrad found her, after the other survivors said where they had last seen her. The woman administered some minor first aid, gave her food and water, and contacted her mother and father, who had also heard that their daughter was still alive.
They managed to come to her. In the evening, they had to crawl and walk, carrying her for more than a mile along sewage ditches to avoid being seen. Then they walked and hitchhiked 30 miles to the Muslim-held town of Gorazde, where she stayed in the hospital 22 days.
As soon as she was well enough, she was let out of the hospital to make room for others. Gorazde was under siege at the time, and the city was being bombed.
She, her son, and her parents again walked and hitchhiked through dangerous territory for five days until they reached Zenica.
During the whole interview, the mother had not said a word. She sat quietly listening to the story, distractedly serving coffee now and then, but mostly looking down or out the window. The tears were in her eyes as the interview ended, and she was embarrassed for crying. She told the 10-year-old guide that four of her sons also have disappeared. There has been no word from them in six months.