Philipp von Recklinghausen from Berlin is one of the two foreign reporters who were in Srebrenica in 1993. He returned to the city a month after the genocide, which he did not know had been committed at the time, but he noticed that the people he knew were no longer there. His films with photographs were confiscated by members of the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS). He managed to get back only a part of the photographs after the war.
”I went to visit the hospital and places I knew before. That was the moment I realized that the population in the city had completely changed. Everything was full, but it was some other people,” says Von Recklinghausen in an interview, adding that he was then imprisoned in a police station where he was told to leave Srebrenica within 12 hours.
At the time, he did not know that a genocide was committed in Srebrenica in which, according to the verdicts, more than 7.000 men and boys were killed, and more than 40.000 women, children, and the elderly were exiled.
Von Recklinghausen spent a lot of time with Doctor Nerdet Mujkanovic, the chief surgeon of the war hospital in Srebrenica, who later died. He photographed the wounded and the dead who were brought to the hospital, and operations without anesthetics.
”A man was brought to the hospital with a bullet that went through his jaw and exited his eye. (…) Death in Srebrenica was an everyday occurrence,” he says, adding that the most painful thing for him was photographing children, among whom he remembers Mirnes, a boy who was wounded and died in his parents’ arms while waiting for evacuation.
Closed Srebrenica and lack of medicine and food
Upon his arrival in Srebrenica, he also met Naser Oric, former commander of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH), who was acquitted before the State Court together with Sabahudin Muhic for war crimes against prisoners of war committed in the area of Bratunac and Srebrenica. In 2008, Oric was legally acquitted by the Hague Tribunal of the crimes committed in Srebrenica.
During 1993, Von Recklinghausen photographed Oric and his comrades several times on, as he explains, the front line that was located in the vicinity of the “Sase” mine.
Also during 1993, he remembers, there was not even food for a large number of residents of Srebrenica and the refugees who came there. He remembers how people used to tear bark from trees and make soup out of it. During his stay, three convoys entered Srebrenica, and one, he remembers, mostly wounded people left.
The men put on women’s clothes in an attempt to leave, he describes. People climbed onto the truck and hid under it to escape, and, according to the photographer, some of them died that way. Then it was decided that no one could leave the city.
Memories of the trip to Tuzla
He heard about the war in Bosnia from refugees who arrived in Germany in the 1990s. With his colleagues from the Berlin newspaper where he worked at the time, he wrote several reports on refugee centers, which aroused his interest in the war in the former Yugoslavia. He wanted to be there.
At Christmas time in 1992, he moved from Zagreb to Split, then hitchhiked to Tomislavgrad and Livno. Going to the north of Bosnia through the destroyed cities, he saw the first signs of the war live. Earlier, in the beginning, he watched reports and photos from Sarajevo, where there were a lot of foreign journalists and photojournalists.
He wanted to go and see places where there are no others, he says. He hitchhiked to Tuzla and settled in a hotel where there were representatives of the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations (UN), and the ARBiH.
At the beginning of 1993, while waiting to leave for Tuzla, he befriended soldiers from the Army. After a conversation in a bar, they agreed to take him to Srebrenica. From Tuzla, they were transferred to Nezuk and from there they started through the forest.
Von Recklinghausen walked to Srebrenica for three days together with 40 soldiers. Apart from his backpack, he carried medical equipment, 300 bullets, a GPR mine detector, and two trombones.
They walked mostly at night and slept during the day. They spent one night on a farm near Konjevic Polje.
The war experience marked his life to a great extent. Even today, he says he cannot get rid of the “pictures in his head” that he saw during his stay in Srebrenica, Detektor writes.