A loan exhibition from The Museum of Tolerance/Simon Wiesenthal Center, Los Angeles. May-June, 2022.
This powerful exhibition by Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist and documentary photographer Marissa Roth is a photographic essay with a global historical reach that highlights universal themes – life, death, survival, resilience, and the passing of time. It takes an unflinching look at the most underreported aspects of conflicts and warfare, that of the role of women on the home front and as refugees, and how these consequential experiences irrevocably impact their post-wartime lives.
One Person Crying: Women and War represents over three decades of work by Roth. With the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, it is especially timely in its subject matter and broad-based scope. The photographs span generations and geography while revealing how women have managed to brave and overcome the immediate and lingering challenges of war and conflict, for themselves, their families, their cultures, and their countries. The portraits implore the viewer to look straight into their eyes, while the supporting images offer telling perspectives and visual touchstones from which to reckon with the greater wartime story.
Approximately one-third of the world’s countries are presently engaged in some form of warfare, a figure that has held constant since World War II. Women and children account for almost 80% of the casualties, as well as 80% of the 40 million people in the world who are now war refugees. Although entire communities suffer the ramifications of armed conflict, women and girls are particularly vulnerable because of their status in society and gender.
Despite the hardships and devastating losses that women endure during wars and conflicts, they should not be viewed solely as victims, but also as survivors. Women often assume the key role of ensuring family livelihood and well-being within the midst of inevitable chaos and destruction. Even as civilians, they play crucial roles in resisting political oppression, forging conflict resolution, and rebuilding their societies. Their actions include cultivating peace within their own communities, while heralding a new and more hopeful horizon in human rights awareness and activism.
1992–1995: The War in Bosnia
Left, Bok-Dong Kim, World War II “Comfort Woman,” Los Angeles, California, 2013.
Right, Ilse Kleberger, Siege of Berlin Survivor, Berlin, Germany, 2008.
Left, Safeta Ajanovic, Raped Bosnian-Muslim, Tusla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009.
Right, Edina Karic, Bosnian Muslim Rape Victim Who Testified at the War Crimes Tribunal, Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009.
Top row (left to right)
Abandoned Sephardic Synagogue, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009.
Martina Anderson, Former IRA Bomber, Now an Advocate for Peace, Londenderry,
Hoang Thi Tho, Student Activist Tortured During the American War, Hue, Vietnam, 2012.
Bottom row (left to right)
Monica Smith, Anne Frank’s Cousin, Manhattan, New York, 2015.
Mina Wardle, A Protestant Who Started a Women’s Trauma Center, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2006.
Afghan Kite, Los Angeles, California, 2002.
Pham Thi Thuan, My Lai Massacre Survivor, Son My, Vietnam, 2012.
The ethnic discord in Bosnia-Herzegovina dates back to the clashing of two great empires – the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian – and the event that ignited World War I in 1914, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb. In an attempt to create new boundaries based on nationalism after the war, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was formed in 1918 and renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. Starting in 1945, this federation of six republics — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia — was held together for decades under Josip Broz Tito’s Communist rule. After three of the republics declared independence in 1991, Bosnia-Herzegovina followed suit. Its population, a cultural and religious mix of Bosnian Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Serbs, and Roman Catholic Croats, was bitterly divided. This sparked a three-way civil war in which Serbs, backed by the Yugoslav Army, took over about 70 percent of Bosnian territory within a few months, aiming to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnia by killing or forcing out all non-Serbs. Starting in 1992, there were reports of massacres in Bosnian Muslim and Croat villages, torture and mass murder in detention camps, and thousands of civilians killed in attacks on Sarajevo. Bosnian Muslims and Croats stopped fighting each other in 1994.
On July 11, 1995, Serbian troops attacked the Bosnian Muslim “safe area” of Srebrenica. About 15,000 people fled to the Dutch peacekeeping base at Potocari, trying to escape. The Serb military took control of the refugees, and women and children were sent off in buses to Tuzla. More than 7,000 men and teenage boys were executed. Subsequent NATO bombing finally led to a peace settlement. The Dayton Peace Accords, negotiated in late 1995 by American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, created a power-sharing government, split between a Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation and a Bosnian Serb Republic. More than a million people were displaced and 100,000 people died in the war.
Rape as a Weapon of War
An estimated 30,000 women and girls were raped in the Bosnian War. Though rape was committed by all sides, the majority of cases were Serbian men attacking Muslim women. Accounts describe “rape camps” in detention centers, motels, sports halls, and houses, where women were imprisoned, given little food, threatened at gunpoint, and raped and beaten repeatedly. Many Muslim women remained silent about these attacks out of shame and fear of being shunned. But some did testify at the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, which marked the first time that rape was classified as a war crime, a crime against humanity. Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in the New York Times, “Rape is a weapon of war, and to have that recognized was a very big step forward.”
Albania 1999 and Kosovo 2022
In May 1999, Marissa Roth had the opportunity to go to Albania during the war in Kosovo to photograph Kosovar Albanian refugee women and children. She accompanied a medical mission sponsored by the University of California at Los Angeles. It sent a small group of doctors and nurses to work there during her visit. The UCLA group worked in conjunction with the International Medical Corps, a first-responder aid organization that already had teams of local doctors and medical staff who were treating refugees.
Roth specifically wanted to address rape as a weapon of war. Over the course of the week-long trip, she met and interviewed numerous women but found that the topic of rape was one that was not easily discussed or reported given cultural stigmas around it. During that time period, Roth started a fledging personal photographic project about the immediate and long-term impact of war and conflict on women, which ultimately became One Person Crying: Women and War. The trip to Albania was a pivotal journey for her in terms of her commitment to undertaking this multi-decade project, as she was deeply moved by the women she met there and by their harrowing plight.
In preparation for the forum held at Roosevelt House on May 10, 2022, and this specific abbreviated installation of One Person Crying: Women and War, Roth was asked to go to Kosovo in March 2022, to photograph two women: Vasfije Krasniqi-Goodman, a wartime rape survivor and Kosovar Albanian activist and politician serving in the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo; and Saranda Bogujevci, who survived a family massacre and who is Deputy Speaker of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo. Roth also met and photographed Besarta Jashari and several other women, and chose to take supporting images that provide a sense of place as they relate to the war – as a means of giving context from which to regard it, from the past to the present.
Roth feels that these two groups of photographs have become bookends from which to tell the evolving story of the war in Kosovo by showing the passing of time and the changing social norms. Wartime rape is now a topic that is being openly addressed by advocates for justice in their Parliament and legislation has been enacted on behalf of the 20,000 war rape victims.
While I’m in the Parliament, if at least one perpetrator goes behind the bars, to be able to just celebrate the joy with the victims, for me it will be good enough, because I don’t want to die without justice. Even if it’s too late for my case, I just want to be able to see a rape survivor receive justice.
— Vasfije Krasniqi-Goodman
1999: The War in Kosovo
Left, Saranda Bogujevci, Survivor of 1999 massacre by Serbians of Kosovar-Albanians in Podujevo, Kosovo, 2022.
Right, Vasfije Krasniqi-Goodman, Kosovar-Albanian Survivor of 1999 Rape by Serbian Officers in Stanoci I Ulet in Vushtrri, Kosovo, 2022.
Left, Besarta Jashari, Kosovar-Albanian Survivor of Massacre of her Extended Family by Serbian Forces in 1998 in Donji Prekaz, Kosovo, 2022.
Right, Krasniqui-Goodman Rape House, Kosovo, 2022.
Top row (left to right)
Haneen Alawad, 16, Syrian Refugee, Zarqa, Jordan, 2018.
Wesley David’s “In Case of Death…” Good-bye letter, Dublin, Ohio, 2005.
Nuk Nimny, Khmer Rouge Genocide Survivor, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2009.
Setsuko Iwanoto, A-Bomb Survivor, Hiroshima, Japan, 2002.
Bottom row (left to right)
Sara Duvall, with a Photograph of her Son, Aaron Reed, Killed in Iraq, Chillacothe, Ohio, 2005.
Tuol Sleng Prison Torture Room, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2009.
Hatsuko Suzuki, Eternal War Widow, Kamakura, Japan, 2002.
Top, Derisa Hodzic and Her Son Osman, Born During the Siege of Srebrenica, Srebrenica Municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009.
Bottom, Ridge with Abandoned “Ethnically Cleansed” Homes, Srebrenica Municipality, Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2009.
Part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo was a self-governing province of Serbia until 1989, when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic took away its autonomy. Approximately the size of Connecticut, Kosovo holds historical significance for Serbs because in medieval times it was the center of the Serbian Empire. It was also the site of a famous battle in 1389 in which Serbs were defeated by the Ottoman Turks. As Yugoslavia started to break up in the early 1990s, Kosovo’s citizens – 90 percent ethnic Albanians – voted for independence. In 1996, the newly formed Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a pro-independence insurgent group, began attacking Serbian police. When Serbian forces were called in to squash the KLA uprising in 1998, dozens of civilians were killed in skirmishes, including women and children. Subsequently, the Serb military began targeting the general population of Kosovo’s Albanians, who are predominantly Muslim. There were robberies, beatings, and executions as people were forced from their homes. Villagers were tortured and raped, and houses and towns were burned. Passports and identity papers were confiscated as people fled across the border. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 Kosovar Albanians were killed during this time.
After international peace negotiations failed, NATO launched a bombing campaign on Serb targets in Serbia and Kosovo in March, 1999, that lasted for 78 days, killing about 500 civilians. By June, when Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo and the NATO bombings ceased, nearly a million Kosovar Albanians – out of a population of 1.8 million – had escaped to Albania and other neighboring countries. Though a United Nations Interim Administrative Mission took over in Kosovo, ethnic clashes continued. Milosevic was put on trial in The Hague in 2002 for genocide, crimes against humanity and an extensive list of war crimes but he died in 2006 before the trial ended.
The Struggle for Independence
A decade after the war, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, a move that still has not been recognized by Serbia. In July, 2010, the International Court of Justice ruled that Kosovo’s declaration was not a violation of international law. At the same time, the court did not verify that Kosovo was legally independent, leaving the territory in political limbo. Since then, some 91 countries have recognized the Republic of Kosovo, including the United States and the majority of countries in the European Union. Until recently, Serbia would not participate in international meetings in which Kosovo was represented. However, in February of 2012, a compromise was reached: to become a candidate for admission to the European Union, Serbia agreed to allow representation by Kosovo – as long as it is not called the “Republic of Kosovo.”
Left to right
Abandoned Albanian House
Ferdinije Querkezi Kosovarja Lost Her Husband and Four Sons, Killed by Serbian Police in 1999 in Gjakova, Kosovo, 2022.
Top row (left to right)
Sebanate Berisha and a Boy, Kosovar-Albanian Refugees, Tirana, Albania, 1999.
Sabrie Kraniqi, Wounded Albanian Refugee, Tirana, Albania, 1999.
Elheme Veseli, a Kosovar-Albanian Shot Through the Breast, Tirana, Albania, 2009.
Bottom Row (left to right)
Kosovar-Albanian Teenage Refugees, Tirana, Albania, 1999.
The Bread Knife, at a Refugee Camp for Kosovar-Albanians, Tirana, Albania, 1999.
Marissa Roth – Biography
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Marissa Roth is a documentary photographer and photojournalist. Her editorial photo assignments for prestigious publications including The New York Times, have taken her around the world. She was part of The Los Angeles Times staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for Best Spot News, for its coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Roth’s personal global project, One Person Crying: Women and War, spanning more than three decades of her photography, addresses how women have been directly impacted by war and conflict. It debuted as an exhibition at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles in 2012. Other major projects, including images of Tibet, The Philippines, and Hollywood, have been exhibited nationally and internationally. Her photographs are held in public and private collections, including Witness to Truth, a portrait project commissioned by The Museum of Tolerance/Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. It contains 110 of her photographs of Holocaust survivors who volunteered there, and is a permanent exhibition at the museum.
Roth’s published books include Burning Heart: A Portrait of The Philippines (1999); Infinite Light: A Photographic Meditation on Tibet, with a foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (2014); and The Crossing, a poetic photographic study of the Atlantic Ocean (2019). A recent project, Cantata: In Covid-19 Isolation, a photographic memoir about her pandemic experience during 2020, is a forthcoming book.
Roth is also a curator, teacher and lecturer, and a Fellow at both the Royal Photographic Society in England, and the Royal Geographical Society in London. She is the Chair of the Jury Committee and an advisor for Earth Photo, a joint photographic competition between the Royal Geographical Society and Forestry England. She currently lives in London.
A Note on One Person Crying Exhibition at Roosevelt House
The exhibition at Roosevelt House was based on a larger 2012 exhibition at the Museum of Tolerance/The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, originally curated by Howard Spector; this slimmed down version also contains a similar mix of Roth photos documenting the human impact of the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Iraq, and the continuing influence of World War II on its survivors. The text here has been lightly edited by Deborah Gardner, Historian & Curator at Roosevelt House. The exhibition was on display May-June 2022 at Roosevelt House and opened on May 10, 2022 with a forum sponsored by The Simon Wiesenthal Center and Rally for Justice: Violence and Rape as Weapons of War. This is a recording of that event: