Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupović met ceramicist Clare Twomey as part of our Memory Makers project for HMD 2015. The pair discussed Nisad’s experience of the camps, and how human solidarity can triumph even in horrific circumstances. Find out more about their meeting, and Clare's Humanity in our hands project - her artistic response to meeting Nisad - on our Memory Makers website.
‘I was under arrest at a local school sports pitch, and there was a guard – a former desk mate from school and close neighbour – who ignored me when I clearly needed help. Yet there was a similar situation where another familiar face, someone I knew less well, chose to help me out.'
Nisad was born on 30 April 1965 in Prijedor, a town in the north-west of Bosnia. A year later Nisad’s parents decided to move him and his 10 brothers and sisters to a village called Kevljani. His father worked on the railway, along with three of his brothers, whilst his mother stayed at home. Nisad and his siblings were pupils at the secondary school in Omarska. Growing up, Nisad remembers Kevljani as a diverse community of Croats, Serbs and Bosnian Muslims (known as Bosniaks), without problems of ethnic tension.
Nisad studied geology for four years, but after being unsuccessful in finding a job, as was the case with many young people at the time, he moved to Croatia to work as a labourer.
Nisad regularly returned home to his family in Kevljani. During one of his trips home, on 30 April 1992, Nisad’s 27th birthday, Prijedor was taken over by the Serbian paramilitary forces. Nisad was arrested and detained at a local school sports pitch. It was here that Nisad recalls being ignored by a man who he knew well, his deskmate at school for four years, who followed the crowd and refused to show any connection with him when he needed it the most. But he also remembers being helped by someone he barely knew, who despite being enemies, still tried to help Nisad by telling a soldier to leave him alone.
Because they were Bosniaks, Nisad and four of his brothers were detained in the notorious Omarska Concentration Camp until 6 August 1992. He has memories of his brother telling him to wear a black T-shirt so that he would stand out less and avoid being beaten. On 6 August 1992 a news crew from Independent Television News (ITN) visited the camp. Only the healthiest looking prisoners were allowed to be filmed, in an attempt to cover up the atrocities taking place there.
Conditions in Omarska were horrific, and in the 72 days that Nisad was imprisoned there, he lost a staggering 21 kilograms (46 lbs). Nisad and three of his brothers were later moved to Manjaca Concentration Camp, whilst the eldest brother was sent to Trnopolje Concentration Camp. A few months later Nisad was transferred to a detention centre in Croatia where the Red Cross were working to contact family members in other countries.
In February 1993 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) allowed Nisad to move to the UK, where one of his brothers was living, and Nisad was faced with living in a country with few contacts and unable to speak English.
Nisad got married in 1995 to the daughter of another survivor of a concentration camp, and he has two children. After studying at Kingston University in London he now works as a civil engineer. He has also had some of his poetry published in Bosnia.
Nisad wants to share his story to make sure that people never forget what happened in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
For more information:
- Read more about the Genocide in Bosnia hmd.org.uk/bosnia
- Read about the day British journalists gained access to the Omarska concentration camp hmd.org.uk/07081992
- Read the life story of Hasan Hasanović hmd.org.uk/hasan