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For Two Sarajevo Women, A Chance Friendship Forged In The Ashes Of War


Last month I was in Sarajevo reporting on the 100th anniversary of the assassination that started the first world war. Although I'd shown up to talk about World War I, I was surrounded by scars from the Balkan war and World War II, layers of tragedy piled on top of each other. Late one afternoon my translator and I walked into the old building where I had rented an apartment. There were three people in the stairwell speaking a mixture of Bosnian and Hebrew. An 85-year-old woman was slowly, slowly climbing the stairs with the help of her son and her daughter-in-law. When they told me why they were there I invited them in to see the apartment. The man introduced himself as Yosi Pinto. He'd come to visit Sarajevo with his wife and his mother from Israel where they all live now.

YOSI PINTO: My father was born here it was the building of all this family. His mother and father were Simone and Donna Kotton. And you can see the entrance of the building on the - just above the entrance they signed S.K.D.

SHAPIRO: In stone just above the front door it says S.K.D 1916. The ground floor used to be his grandfather's stationary shop.

Y. PINTO: He was very successful. During the time there were a lot of soldiers here from the Austrogarian period and they used to send the postcard home.

SHAPIRO: Yosi Pinto shows me a collection of postcards from a century ago. They're from his grandfather's shop. He has picked them up on eBay over the years. On his iPad he shows me photos of what this dingy old building looked like back then. It was a beautiful home with a grand piano and opulent furnishings. His mother, Ella Pinto, grew up across the street.

ELLA PINTO: (Through translator) Not easy for me to come back here. Since then entire family was taken away from here to the camps.

SHAPIRO: She and her husband both survived the Holocaust. They lost almost every one else in their family.

E. PINTO: (Through translator) I was afraid I would not even be able to find their graves because of the last war here in Sarajevo. And I heard that many graves and places were destroyed. And today I went there and I found their graves.

SHAPIRO: And what did you do there?

E. PINTO: (Through Translator) And I kiss the graves when I saw them.

SHAPIRO: When we finished the interview 85-year-old Ella Pinto kept talking with my translator Nidzara Ahmetasevic. It didn't look like small-talk, they were deep in conversation. At a cafe later I asked Nidzara, what did the two of you talk about? Nidzara explained that she's a war survivor, too. She lived through the siege of Sarajevo 20 years ago.

NIDZARA AHMETASEVIC: She asked me were I in Sarajevo during the war and I said, yes. And then she asked if I lost any family members, any friends. And I told her, yes. And she even touched my hand and she told me, I know how does it feel. And at the end she told me that, people like she and I, that we survived, in order to be able to talk about what we survived. And she told me, that we are the people who know what the war is and we know what the peace is. And we know that we should talk about the peace.

SHAPIRO: Ella Pinto told Nidzara Ahmetasevic, we need to let them know what we lived through so they will understand why peace is important. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.