Children of War in former Yugoslavia, the first doc of Stichting Rainbow

poster movie on the children of ex-Yugoslavia
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Twenty-five years

That’s the longest period in my life, in which I was involved with the same project…

My name is Erga Netz, and I’m the proud parent of this grown-up child:

In November 2021 Stichting Rainbow will be celebrating 25 years of social and cultural activity. Twenty-five years of making a difference… and still going strong!

As part of the festivities, I wish to share with you, in the coming weeks and months, some background and unknown stories about our projects in the last 25 years – and the impact they created on people’s lives.

Summer, Autumn, WAR, Spring

A TV documentary about Bosnian, Croat and Serb children of war, and the events that followed the letter they sent to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, during the war in former Yugoslavia.

It was a fine spring day in 1996 when a friend told us about that letter. He even had a copy of it. We read it, with tears in our eyes…

“We wait spring… War is here”, those were the words that opened the letter, which went on to tell how the children learned about the fate of Anne Frank and felt a strong affiliation with her. They wrote the letter with their teacher and sent it from their besieged town of Zenica, to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

They had no way of knowing if the letter was received, until a convoy of the Dutch army came to their school, bearing packages of gifts and letters, from school children in Arnhem.

A Dutch teacher saw the letter at the Anne Frank House, and was so moved, he told his pupils about it.

The letter touched these children’s hearts, and they decided to collect presents for the children of Zenica. Their teacher managed to convince the Dutch government to transport the presents. All this happened while the war was still raging.

optimism in the air

When we heard about this story, it was a short while after the Dayton Agreement was signed. Optimism was in the air, and it looked like the war was over. But of course, no one was sure of it.

I worked with the director Izzy Abrahami z”l since 1988, and all those years I produced the TV documentaries which he directed. Our documentaries were broadcast all over the world, and some even won awards.

When we read the letter, we realized that this is a very important story to tell, and we started researching this story, looking for the people behind and in front of it… At that pre-Internet, pre-Google, and pre-email time, it was a serious challenge.

trace the teacher

With the help of a Serbian refugee that lived in The Netherlands, we managed to correspond, make phone calls (that were very shaky…), and trace the teacher from Zenica.

By now he too was a refugee, living in a small town in Serbia, on the border of Hungary, looking for ways of escape. He was forced to run away from Zenica, with his pregnant wife, because he refused to join either of the armies who were then fighting each other.

Sadly, his wife had a miscarriage on their route of escape and was needing urgent medication, which was unavailable for her there. All this we learned via those shaky phone calls, and we felt, right away, that our mission was much bigger than creating a TV documentary.

Using the fax machines (anyone remembers that we had them once…?) the teacher sent us the recipe for the medication that his wife needed, and we pleaded with a Dutch doctor to let us have it. When he heard the story, he didn’t think twice, wrote the prescription, and brought it to us. The generosity of the Dutch people towards the needy Bosnian overwhelmed us throughout this project, time and again, as you’ll see. 

Once we traced the Bosnian teacher in Serbia, the Dutch teacher in Arnhem, the Dutch minister who enabled the transport of the packages, and the army officer who delivered the packages – it was time for us to trace the pupils.

refugees

We already knew that some of them ‘disappeared’ – became refugees, somewhere in the world. But we knew that some of them were still in Zenica.

We envisioned a TV documentary in which we trace them all, one by one, tell – yet again – a testimony to the criminality of war.

Even though I come from Israel, which is a war-ridden country, I felt that I am stepping into unknown territory. All the wars I’ve experienced growing up in Israel (and sadly – they were too many) took place on the other side of the border, far away from us, while the war in ex-Yugoslavia was a Civil War, in which no one was safe.

So, I felt that we need to do a ‘research visit’ to Bosnia, before we start the actual filming, to find out about the reality of the situation there: are there still hotels available, and how much they’d cost? Can we buy petrol for the car? Where? How much will it cost? And food? Are there restaurants open at all? I needed all these answers, to make a proper filming plan and proper budget, with which to approach the TV station that would commission us to produce this important documentary.

kinderpostzegels

Then it occurred to me that the Kinderpostzegelsfonds might be willing to finance this ‘research visit – location tour’ and indeed, when they heard the story, they too thought it was an important one to tell, but they informed me that we need to become a foundation, a Stichting, to be eligible to receive their funding and their help.

And that was the motivation and the purpose for which Stichting Rainbow was established. We created it to get the first finance for “Summer, Autumn, WAR, Spring’, the documentary that was inspired by the letter which started with the words: “We wait spring, war is here…”

The rest is history – the TV documentary ‘Summer, Autumn, WAR, Spring’ was broadcast all over the world, and even won some awards.

You can now watch it here for free.

Thank you for participating in our celebration and if you have any questions –

I’ll be happy to answer them and tell you more!

PS –

Where are they now?

The Bosnian teacher found refuge in Canada, together with his wife. They have a happy family there, one daughter, one son, all active in humanitarian causes.

The Bosnian children are scattered all over the globe: a few stayed in Zenica, one is in Austria, one in the US, one in Norway… all married, and all having their own children.

Stichting Rainbow is now headed by a board of three Israelis who live in the Netherlands:

Nir Geva, Gilad Nezer and Yankale Bader, and our activities in the past years focus on Israeli cultural and societal activities for the Israeli, Dutch Jews, and the general Dutch public.

In the coming weeks, I will reveal more background stories of our projects at De Vrijdagavond.

And in the meantime, you can read all about the foundation, its mission, and projects at Stichting Rainbow


cover: detail from the poster Summer, Autumn, WAR, Spring

Over Erga Netz 3 Artikelen
Erga Netz is a cultural entrepreneur, creating and managing cultural events, documentaries, music and theater shows; actress and video-artist; games designer and author.

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