Meghan Menchhofer (graduate student, communication and TENL certificate) traveled across the world in summer 2017 on academic and personal adventures. She visited a concentration camp in Serbia, completed a 56-mile “Peace Walk” as part of the Summer University Srebrenica program in Bosnia and Herzegovina, presented her research on Fort Wayne’s Muslim immigrants and refugees at a conference in Columbia, and explored parts of Peru. She went to so many places that we had to split her adventures into two articles! So now, part one, in which we follow Meghan on her European travels.
First, Menchhofer visited the Red Cross (Crveni Krst) concentration camp in Niš, Serbia, where Serbs, Romani, and Jews were held during World War Two. “I was the only person there, other than a worker. You can see the cells where they held people. There’s barbed wire on the ground. The cells were so small, and it was so hot up there. People were killed there in an escape attempt, and you saw their graves in a memorial. It was such a strange, an eerie experience.”
From Serbia, Menchhofer traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina, for the Summer University Srebrenica program, where she learned about the 1995 Srebrenica genocide through classes and field trips. The program’s first days were educational. The group learned about the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica genocide during the Bosnian war.
The program director, Muhamed Duraković, was a survivor of the genocide. He and other survivors shared their first-hand experiences with the program participants.
The students also visited the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) in Sarajevo. Though the massacre occurred two decades ago, the ICMP continue to DNA test remains of about 2,000 unidentified bodies from the Srebrenica genocide. Menchhofer and her group saw a room in which “there were literally shelves from the floor to the ceiling in this huge room. I remember the body bags on the shelves. You could see through some of the bags, and see the skulls and bones of people who haven’t been identified.” Families with missing loved ones regularly provide DNA samples in hopes of identifying missing loved ones. In the past year, 72 bodies were identified.
Students also participated in the annual Peace March—a three-day, 56-mile walk that follows the same route taken by Bosnian war refugees fleeing the massacre. Thousands of people from across the world take part in the annual Peace March, many of whom are survivors or family members of genocide victims.
Along the way, Menchhofer met survivors of the genocide. She met a woman who spent five days along the Peace March path in 1995, trying to hide. She was eight months pregnant at the time and thought she was going to die. She now lives with her husband in a house next to the path and, every year, sets out fruit, water, and coffee for Peace March participants.
The march also passed mass graves and off-limits sites that still contain active mines. Menchhofer called the march “emotionally and physically draining,” but she did finish through sheer determination and with the help of her fellow marchers.
On the final day, at the bottom of a hill, amongst a mass of graves, Menchhofer and others attended the funeral for the 72 genocide victims identified in the past year and remembrance service for victims of the 1995 genocide.
Menchhofer found the program impactful personally and academically. “I’ve always worked with refugees, and this program gave me even more compassion and empathy. It also made me more passionate about genocide prevention and teaching history. I can’t believe the strength that surviving took. I think that’s why I’m really fascinated and inspired by refugees. After they get out and somewhat heal from it, they often end up doing really powerful things with their lives. Refugees end up being some of the most compassionate people, even if they have nothing. I don’t understand it, but I’m interested in it.”
Two days later, Menchhofer flew to South America for another set of adventures. Click here to read part two of Meghan’s Summer Adventures!
*Photos in this article were taken by Menchhofer and various participants of the Summer University Srebrenica program