“My Childhood Under Fire”
By Charles Rein – 9/21/20
Most of you have read, “The Diary of Anne Frank” in school. Given that this past weekend was the biggest Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah – the Jewish New Year, I re-read some of Anne Frank’s entries, but actually selected another war book to read, a simpler childhood account of a different war-torn country in the tradition of the World War II classic.
This week’s selection was, “My Childhood Under Fire” by Nadja Halilbegovich. This short book, aimed at readers 15 and under, can easily be finished within a couple of evenings. Occasionally, a child’s book brings simpler insights to complicated adult lives. Read the book with your son or daughter and imagine it through a child’s eyes, as you consider the verse:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 18:2
Nadja’s book, made up of entries from her diary, was written during the Bosnian War which began in April, 1992, and lasted through December, 1995. It killed nearly 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million, making it the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of World War II.
While your children may find reading this book to be a bit sad, it can help them appreciate not having to live through war and can give them a greater empathy for the young author and other children who suffered almost three years during the conflict.
I’ve selected key diary entries in her own words – events young Nadja saw or experienced.
These are descriptions of events she experienced:
“All we can find to eat are rice, macaroni and beans so we don’t get the vitamins we need. We were given vitamin supplements by the humanitarian organization La Valencia.”
In December, 1993: “No water, no electricity, no gas! There is nothing!”
“The simple pleasures – going out to get ice cream – are put on hold.”
“The electricity came on. I dried my hair with a blow-dryer!”
“It’s been a year since the day I was wounded … I tried to imagine what the man felt and thought when he pulled the trigger. I must have been some kind of a threat to him, but how could a 13-year-old girl who loves school, music and just being a kid, be a threat to anyone?”
“Dad and I went bike riding; saw a performance called ‘Happy Beginnings of the New Year!’ Lots of laughter, theater and songs. Occasions such as these are a wonderful escape for us.”
December 24, 1993: “A formal Christmas concert was held today in this Sarajevo Cathedral. The concert ended with the message of peace.”
These are some of Nadja’s observations on what she saw going on around her, and its effect.
December 27: “How can anyone survive? In the last 5 days over 20,000 shells have landed on the suburb of Zuc Hill. Do they know they are killing not only Bosnians but Croats, Serbs … all who consider this their homeland? Do they know that we help; love each other? Do they know that young people are getting married, paying no attention to religious differences, only to their heart and character?”
“The deepest scar is in my soul.”
January 26: “The world looks on and perhaps gives us a thought while sitting in their comfortable homes; are they unable to see? WORLD PLEASE WAKE UP AND HELP US!!!”
“Schools, nurseries, and museums – all things that symbolize culture, knowledge and education are being destroyed.”
“Hey you! Mankind! I am your future, so stop the … wars! Let your heart be filled up with warmth and love. If only the adults could become children. There would be no wars, no suffering and slaughter. There would be no hatred or lies.”
I was left with a lasting impression of empathy and sadness, yet thankful I personally never had to experience living three years in a war-torn country.
Fortunately, both young Nadja Halilbegovich’s childhood diary and she survived. Near the end of the war, she escaped from Bosnia and became a refugee in the United States. In 2000, she was featured alongside the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa and others in the book, “Architects of Peace” by Michael Collopy. In March, 2001, she was honored with the first Woman of Distinction Award from Butler University.
In Nadja’s words again:
“While atrocities have occurred on both sides during war, different religions have joined together too. In 1992, for example Jews and Muslim Serajevans came together to save the National Library from destruction by the Serbs because it housed “graphic and palpable evidence of 500 years of life in Bosnia.’”
“I believe war that affects civilians should only be fought as a last resort.”
I closed the book and pondered another quote from a different author.
“The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.”
– Ayn Rand