Wednesday, August 02, 2006



The final semester of my senior year at New College in San Francisco began eleven days after September 11, 2001. My professor, Ani Mander, set aside the planned lesson for the day to discuss the situation in America, where ten innocent immigrants had been murdered by vigilantes unable to contain their misguided rage.

As it turned out, there were others in the room who'd experienced war atrocities themselves. Amongst my fellow students were survivors of the Khmer Rouge death camps in Cambodia and the civil war in Ethiopia.

Nine months later--while I was in grad school--Ani passed away, and some time later I recalled she'd written a memoir of her childhood in Sarajevo and decided to read it. Since then, I made a promise to myself to see Sarajevo someday from the Jewish cemetery Ani described visiting on a trip ten years earlier.

A month ago I came across a weblog of photography from Sarajevo published by a woman who goes by the pseudonym of Seesaw, and was captured by the simple elegance of her work, having in the intervening four years since Ani's passing forgotten all about the cemetery story. Prompted by this tenuous connection, though, I dug through my files for the obituary from the June 22, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle.

In the article, Nanette Asimov noted that Ani had gathered key evidence that led an international tribunal to declare rape a war crime. "In the early 1990s," wrote Asimov, "Professor Mander traveled to what had been her native Yugoslavia. Her interviews with Bosnian rape victims were later used to transform the legal interpretation of that crime during war."

"Born in Yugoslavia five years before World War II,"Asimov continues, "Professor Mander fled the Nazis with her family at age 7 and hid for years on an island in the Adriatic Sea. When the Nazis threatened that hideout, the family wound its way through Europe and, in 1949, arrived on Ellis Island."

By chance, I had just finished reading a book by a Bosnian poet, and mentioned this to Seesaw in the following email: "I just read Sarajevo Blues by Semezdin Mehmedinovic who mentions the Jewish cemetery overlooking the city. My San Francisco professor who grew up in Sarajevo prior to the Nazi occupation went back to this cemetery before her passing in 2002. Her grandfather was once the head rabbi for the city. Maybe someday you can show us this place."

Seesaw sent this remarkable response:

Today, taking a second look at the title page to check the date of publication, I noticed Sarajevo Blues was published by City Lights Books in San Francisco.


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