Making It Through: Bosnian Survivors Sharing Stories of Trauma, Transcendence, and Truth

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Bosnia, once the proud multicultural heartland of Yugoslavia, its villages treasured for Ottoman-era mosques, arched stone bridges, and red-tiled roofs, lay in ruins in 1995, destroyed by three-and-a-half years of murder and rape known to the world as ethnic cleansing.

Dr. Demaris Wehr, Quaker, Jungian therapist, peacebuilder, and the author of Jung and Feminism (Routledge), came to Bosnia after the war to assist in peacebuilding trainings, and she returned several times to bear witness as survivors of the genocide told her their stories in one-on-one interviews. She asked each of them, “How did you make it through?”

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Bosnia, once the proud multicultural heartland of Yugoslavia, its villages treasured for Ottoman-era mosques, arched stone bridges, and red-tiled roofs, lay in ruins in 1995, destroyed by three-and-a-half years of murder and rape known to the world as ethnic cleansing.

Dr. Demaris Wehr, Quaker, Jungian therapist, peacebuilder, and the author of Jung and Feminism (Routledge), came to Bosnia after the war to assist in peacebuilding trainings, and she returned several times to bear witness as survivors of the genocide told her their stories in one-on-one interviews. She asked each of them, “How did you make it through?”  

A pattern became apparent. Amid the chaos, the rupture of all they had once cherished, each of these individuals had found a powerful internal resolve, an overarching personal value such as family, faith, integrity, or duty that held them steady during these turbulent times.  

No matter the era, humanity seems destined to be blindsided by arisings of hatred and divisiveness, projection and scapegoating. In Making It Through, eight ordinary Bosnians demonstrate ways we can endure and be strengthened and changed by adversity. Despite unimaginable horrors, when we find our centerpost and remain true to it, not only survival, but forgiveness, peace, and the impetus to work for a loving, inclusive future is possible.

“In this beautifully written book, Demaris Wehr presents a brief history of the war in Bosnia, illuminating a moment in human history that some people prefer to forget. But as Wehr explains, forgetting does not contribute to forgive ness, which is the only thing that will help humanity create a different, more loving future. Readers will be captivated by the guiding image of the book, the centerpost around which eight stories of survival revolve. Each survivor describes a different centerpost, the one thing that helped them make it through and return home, including family, optimism, faith, duty, and more. The final message of the book is that each of us must find our own centerpost in turbulent, chaotic times in order to stand, with the author, for the possibility of peace. By reading these stories, you too will see ‘what the best of humanity can do under the worst of circumstances.’”

— Elizabeth Eowyn Nelson, PhD, author of The Art of Inquiry and Psyche’s Knife

 “I followed the news about the Bosnian conflict when it was happening, but I couldn’t touch the pain. The hope that Demaris Wehr has found through the voices of these narrators is palpable. Her choice of the centerpost image brings a clear focus to that place in the heart where fear can be transformed into courage. And her Jungian insights help, as well. Like this quote, ‘There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will not fall prey to.’ We in America now live in presence of the Trumpian archetype, where truth is adumbrated. Sometimes even the memory of what truth was is erased. Making It Through is a powerful reminder of how we can meet this kind of adversity with courage and forgiveness.”

— Robert A. Jonas, editor of The Essential Henri Nouwen

“This book about one of the darkest moments of Western history since the last world war is paradoxically an extraordinary book of hope. It is a book of hope because it shows how very ordinary people who could have been you or me managed to rise above hate and the total disruption of their lives. Here are eight people whom the author interviewed and who had been through sheer hell. The eight narrators made it through by healing others and remaining connected with the deepest essence of their being and learning to forgive what would to many seem unforgivable. Authentic forgiveness is first and foremost a gift one makes to oneself, which is why it enables one to remain whole. This book of interviews enriched by Demaris Wehr’s profound insights will appeal to both professionals in many fields as well as the layperson.”

— Pierre Pradervand, author of The Gentle Art of Blessing

 “A book of immeasurable heart and practical wisdom that can help each of us identify our own ‘centerpost’ and ‘way home.’ These inspiring stories will appeal to people of all religious and political persuasions. Making It Through shows how to survive and thrive in an increasingly chaotic and difficult world—a treasure map for our times.”

— Michael Dowd, author of Thank God for Evolution

“Demaris Wehr’s deeply inspiring book explores a paradox:  In listening to survivors of the Bosnian War, she is struck not only by the searing trauma of the conflict, but also by the remarkable forms of resilience that arose in the face of it. Indeed, many survivors tell her of strengthened capacities for compassion, love, and hope. Through a series of thought-provoking interviews, Wehr seeks to understand how such transformative responses arise. As we face a world of deepening divides and the necessity for collaborative action, this moving account has much to teach us about how we can rediscover and affirm our common humanity.”

— Olivia Stokes Dreier, Senior Peacebuilding Advisor and Former Executive Director, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding

“When archetypal evil takes on a human face, the challenge is no longer about defeating evil, but holding on to what makes us most human. In this eloquently and insightfully written book, Demaris Wehr, weaves a beautiful tapestry of stories that illustrate the profound difficulty and power of holding on to truth, love, and forgiveness in order to triumph over unimaginable cruelty and injustice. This book and its stories of heroic courage, resilience, and determination are more relevant for our world today than ever before.”

— Loralee M. Scott, Founder and Director, The Sophia Center for Transformative Learning

“The horrors of the Bosnian war have been well-documented, and yet if the world is not to see that region descend into war again, then Milka Marinković’s observation is crucial: All three nations in Bosnia-Herzegovina—Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats—need to reenvision history. Presently, each nation has a story justifying its actions and its position. We need one story.  Relating experiences from all sides of the conflict, Demaris Wehr gives this community, and us, a common narrative. She offers us insight into forgiveness and reconciliation from the frontlines of anguish. The wisdom of the narrators in this volume is wisdom that seems particularly apt and necessary at this moment in history: Forgiveness is about leaving the negative energy behind and having space for positive energy.  As Sabiha Husić reminds us, ‘It’s important to distinguish between forgiving and forgetting.’”

— The Rev. Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth, Executive Director of the Tutu Teach Foundation and coauthor with Archbishop Desmond Tutu of The Book of Forgiving and Made for Goodness

Table of Contents

Foreword                                            

Part I—Introduction

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina                       

Introduction                                         

Chapter One: The Centerpost                          

Chapter Two: How Beautiful Bosnia Became Host to Concentration Camps

Part II—The Interviews

The Karuna Center Participants                      

Chapter Three: Forgiveness—Vahidin Omanović       

Chapter Four: Humility—Milka Marinković           

Chapter Five: Devotion to Family—Senka Jakupović   

The Clinicians from Clinica Medica in Zenica          

Chapter Six: Faith—Sabiha Husić                     

Chapter Seven: Integrity—Marijana Senjak           

The Sarajevans                                     

Chapter Eight: Duty—Jakob Finci                   

Chapter Nine: Optimism—Salih Rasavać             

Chapter Ten: Transcendence—Vjekoslav Saje         

Part III— Conclusion

Chapter Eleven: Making It Home                   

Further Reading                                  

Acknowledgments                                

About the Author                                   

 

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