Home > srebrenica massacre > IN MEMORIAM: DR NEDRET MUJKANOVIC, SREBRENICA’S WAR SURGEON AND A TRUE HERO

IN MEMORIAM: DR NEDRET MUJKANOVIC, SREBRENICA’S WAR SURGEON AND A TRUE HERO

December 28, 2008

Last updated: January 7, 2009.

  • Risked his life to reach Srebrenica on foot through hostile Serb-held territory in 1992.
  • Worked as Srebrenica’s war-Surgeon and saved many lives in the Enclave under the siege.
  • Recipient of the Golden Lily medal – the Bosnian Army’s (ARBiH) most prestigious award.
  • Recipient of the Saint Peter dabrobosanski medal – the biggest award of Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see here).
  • His team of pathologists worked on identifying Srebrenica victims, including pregnant women and children that Serbs around Srebrenica burned alive (see photos).
  • Served as a a key Prosecution witness at Naser Oric’s trial. [Note: His testimony actually helped the Defence]
  • His life in Srebrenica was documented in a book titled “War Hospital: A True Story Of Surgery And Survival” by Sheri Lee Fink (limited preview here)

Dr. Nedret Mujkanovic’s (48) lifeless body was found by his wife Jasminka in their Tuzla home around 4:00 am on December 25th 2008. Local Bosnian media widely reported the cause of his death as “suicide by hanging.” According to a local web portal, Tuzlarije, his colleague Dr. Lejla Muminhodzic said that Dr Mujkanovic’s neighbours heard him begging and screaming for help for about 10 minutes. Apparently, neighbours reported a loud noise, as if somebody was slamming objects. However, his wife Jasminka told police that her husband attempted to commit suicide just a night before. His funeral was held on Saturday, December 27th. The case is under police investigation.

In 1992, Dr Nedret Mujkanovic was asked to risk his life and trudge for seven nights through miles of hostile territory from Tuzla to Srebrenica. According to War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Lee Fink,

“When the ham radio operators in Srebrenica started calling for a surgeon, the responsibility for finding one fell to Tuzla’s surgery department chairman, an Orthodox Christian in a still-mixed but increasingly Muslim city being attacked by separatist Orthodox Christian Serbs… he knew he had little chance of convincing any surgeons to go to Srebrenica against their will, and, with 40 percent of the surgical faculty in Tuzla having fled at the start of the war, he didn’t have much of a selection. After an unsuccessful search for volunteers among the better-trained surgeons, he landed on Nedret, one of his last hopes. The chairman summoned Nedret from his field station to the hospital and made his request. Would Nedret go to Srebrenica? Nedret was flattered to be asked, but how could he get there given the intervening sixty miles of territory controlled by the nationalist Serb military?”

According to Chuck Sudetic (The New York Times, April 24, 1993), Dr Mujkanovic accepted the risky mission and managed to reach Srebrenica by August 5th 1992. “The medicines, bandages and other medical supplies, carried into Srebrenica by 50 men who accompanied him on his trek through Serbian lines, started to run out in mid-September… Dr. Mujkanovic estimated that during his nine months in Srebrenica about 10 to 15 percent of the 4,000 patients brought to the town’s hospital died… Between December and early March, about 20 to 30 people were dying daily from pneumonia and other diseases worsened by long-term hunger,” reported Sudetic.

As the only surgeon in the besieged town, Dr. Mujkanovic performed 1,390 operations, 100 amputations and four Cesarean sections – many times without anesthetics. According to war correspondent, Peter Maass, (The New Republic, October 12 1998) “…in addition to Muslims, he operated on captured Serb soldiers and protected them from the retribution that many people in Srebrenica desired.”

In The New York Times article, Dr Mujkanovic recalled some of the horrors he experienced during his stay in Srebrenica. “The Serbs knew there was a camp of refugees from Cerska and Konjevic Polje in the school,” he said. “They directed their fire at that location. It came completely by surprise. There were pieces of women scattered about, and you could not see how to fit them together. I saw one dead mother lying on the ground and holding the hands of her two dead children. They all had no heads.”

After the war, Dr. Mujkanovic received the Golden Lily medal (“Zlatni Ljiljan”), the highest level of recognition awarded by the Army of Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The medal was awarded in recognition of Dr. Mujkanovic’s service, bravery, and commitment to save lives in the besieged enclave of Srebrenica.

On November 1st 2004, Christian Orthodox Mitropolit Dabrobosanski Nikolaj awarded Dr. Nedret Mujkanovic a medal of Saint Petar Dabrobosanski – the biggest award of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This prestigious recognition was awarded to Dr. Mujkanovic as a sign of appreciation for taking care of Bosnian Serb Orthodox church priests Jeremia and Aleksandar Starovlah who were injured during SFOR action at Pale. At that time, Dr Mujkanovic worked as the director of the University of Clinical Center (UCC) Tuzla (see “Acknowledgments” section of the UCC Tuzla web site).

In 2005, Dr Mujkanovic served as one of key Prosecution witnesses in Naser Oric case. However, his testimony helped the Defence. He testified that Naser Oric’s forces had to attack militarized Serb-villages around Srebrenica in desperate attempts of starving Bosniak civilians to find food. For example, Serbs used the village of Fakovici as a military outpost for massive attacks on Srebrenica. “No one, including Oric, could have [had] effective control over civilians and the armed forces,” he testified. Oric was “fiercely opposed to those acts of burning and looting” he insisted. Dr. Mujkanovic testified that Oric often visited patients in his hospital. Prosecutors wanted to know whether he was interested in well-being of Serb patients. Dr. Mujkanovic confirmed that Oric “paid the same sort of attention to everyone, [Bosniaks] and Serbs alike.”

  1. Sarah Franco
    January 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm

    This is a very moving story and it is very sad that Dr. Mujkanovic left us, and he was so young… I hope the investigation clarifies the cause of his death. Many people who witnessed traumatic events end up committing suicide, as a consequence of post-traumatic stress, which affects many doctors who have worked in catastrophes and wars. It’s good that this blog is paying tribute to his memory, we must never forget that there are people who sacrifice their comfort, their safety, their well-being and risk their lives for help others. We should look at their example as an inspiration and as a way not to allow pessimism in the human kind to dominate us.

  2. Owen
    January 6, 2009 at 10:51 am

    A sad end to a heroic story – another casualty of the *process* of genocide.

    Peter Maass wrote about Dr Mujkanovic at
    http://petermaass.com/core.cfm?p=3&news=1&newspaper=41

    Dr Mujkanovic left Srebrenica accompanying the children, including Sead Bekric, who were evacuated after the slaughter when the shells were fired at the school in 1993.

    He operated for 36 hours continuously on that occasion – http://www.un.org/icty/transe68/050216ED.htm

  3. elvedina2006
    January 6, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    It is a honor for me to be of the same nationality as Dr Mujkanovic. There are not many people of his kind left. In his short life he greatly contributed to Bosnia and I will teach my children that Dr Mujkanovic was a true Bosnian hero.

  4. Shaina
    January 7, 2009 at 2:04 am

    thanks Daniel for the article. I was first going to write about Dr. Mujkanovic’s death when I first heard about it on the Sarajevo-X forum last week. I didn’t, but I’m glad you got a chance to write about it.

    On my blog there are two articles that might be relevant to the topic, one is a review of “Love Thy Neighbor” the other is a review of “War Hospital”-which as you mentioned, featured Mujkanovic as well as several other doctors and nurses from Srebrenica.
    In my opinion, “War Hospital” along with Sudetic’s “Blood and Vengence” and Sulagic’s “Postcards From the Grave” are the among the best books written on Srebrenica.
    What makes “War Hospital” so unique is that it focuses on the trials and tribulations of ordinary doctors and nurses under very adverse circumstances. Besides Dr. Mujkanovic, there are Drs. Ejub Alic, Fatima Dautabasic, Ilijaz Pilav; and others. There is also Dr. Boro Lazic-a Bosnian Serb army doctor, who was Mujkanovic’s friend before the war, and remained his friend during the war, although they were on different sides. And the international doctors Eric Dachy, Christine Schmidtz.
    Fink does not put the doctors on a pedistal, but instead focuses on these ordinary doctors, each with their own flaws and attributes, and how they coped under such circumstances. Perhaps it sounds cliche, but you really do feel as if you “know” the doctors featured in the book. Which is why although I never met him, and only knew a little bit of career ups and downs; I feel very saddened about Mujkanovic’s death; and especially for his young daughter.

    Your article is a wonderful tribute to Mujkanovic, and I can’t think of any annecdotes from War Hospital that would provide any greater insight. But, one of the major themes of War Hospital was the role of medicine and doctors in conflict. After all, Karadzic himself was a doctor. But, throughout his time in Srebrenica, Mujkanovic saved and protected the lives of Bosniak and Bosnian Serbs alike-making no distinction.
    Dr. Mujkanovic was a man-with flaws and virtues just as the rest of us-who under an incredibly stressful situation performed heroically.
    While I’m deeply saddened about his death, I’m glad that I got a chance to learn about his experiences, and I’m glad that through War Hospital and other books, others will also get a chance to know more about him.

    I don’t think that there is a “silver lining” to this story, especially with a little girl who will grow up without her father. But, I do hope that perhaps Mujkanovic’s statue in the community, he was also very involved in SDP politics, and lectured in the US as part of the promotional tour for “War Hospital”; will bring issues of PTSD, depression, which of course is not only caused by war trauma, and other mental health issues to the front.

  5. Shaina
    January 7, 2009 at 2:42 am

    Mujkanovic, as director of the UKC Tuzla, also sent a contigency of doctors and nurses to Pakistan to help with the devestating earth quake they suffered there a few years ago.
    Just a few months ago, he signed an agreement with iCONS in medicine, which according to their website: “Through the Internet, iCons in Medicine connects health care providers in medically underserved areas with a world-wide network of commited specialty physicians who provide expertise, encouragement and advise on difficult cases.”

    Besides his family and friends, who must be going through so many different emotions right now, my thoughts are also with the staff at the University of Tuzla Clinic.

  6. Alan Jakšić
    January 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Reading that his wife Jasminka found him and that he had committed “suicide by hanging” really struck me.

    It is truly a tragedy when something like this happens. The late Nedret, a man of such integrity and self-sacrifice, having helped save other people’s lives during a war full of unbearable circumstances, ends his own life. How can someone not feel sorry for this man? I truly feel sympathy for his family and especially for his wife who actually found him unconscious, with what they’re going through at this time.

    God rest his soul; Vječni mu rahmet.

  7. Mirela
    July 7, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    The real tragedy here is that man has to be killed so we can call him a hero. Where were all this "hero stories" when late Dr. Nedret was atacking by all kind of media and newspapers ??? Now everybody would take a credit for all he is done for Srebrenica. Saying "I know he did this, he was a hero…" Where were you before ? Hiding, pretending blind, when he really needed your support. Now he is example…NOW ?… For people who knew him well and who cared, he was always example and a hero… and always will be.

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