Sarajevo is not a city short of interesting back alleys and side lanes holding hidden gems. Wander down any one of them and you might find Bosnian coffee shops, artisan coppersmiths, traditional restaurants, bustling bars, a mosque, a church, a synagogue, and who knows what else.

But a few minutes up the hill from the old town centre is an alley containing something else entirely. It is easy to miss, slipping between parked cars and anonymous, residential buildings, but a single, stark, black-and-white poster confirms that you’re in the right place.

This is where you will find the War Childhood Museum.

Founder Jasminko Halilovic developed the idea while working on a book of the same name. It sets out to give a voice to more than 1000 people who grew up during the wars of 1992 to 1995 and, especially, the Siege of Sarajevo. Each contributor offered a short response to the same question: what was a war childhood for you?

The book itself is an immensely powerful record of the horrors of war, and the museum feels like a natural next step in the attempts to document and share the experiences of those brought up in some of the worst possible circumstances.

From the outside the building is largely anonymous – only the name, in black letters and in both Bosnian and English, and the museum’s logo, a Banksy-esque image of two children holding a balloon shaped like a grenade, give anything away.

Once you step inside, you are guided around the outer wall of the museum space, moving from one exhibit to the next. Each is contained in a glass box on a plain white stand and illuminated from above by a single spotlight, a combination which draws the eye and quietens the mind. On the wall next to each display is a dual-language information page on which the object’s story is provided, in the first person, by its original owner.

The Herald: One of the exhibits in the museum 

In the middle of the room various items are suspended at eye level from the ceiling and the only screen to be found here is a television showing a video of recorded testimony from survivors - with headphones for those who wish to listen as well as read the subtitles.

There are no signs demanding that visitors proceed in silence but there’s something about the place – the name, the layout, the atmosphere – that seems to insist upon it.

Everything here has been donated by people who spent some or all of their childhood in a war zone, and the simple presentation of these precious possessions alongside the deeply personal – and in some cases genuinely harrowing – stories behind them makes the experience all the more powerful.

Lejla, who was born in 1986, has donated the stuffed teddy bear that she found at the bottom of a Red Cross aid package secured by her father. It arrived at a time when life under siege was becoming even more difficult, with families struggling to secure enough food.

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“I never gave him a name,” she explains, “he was always just ‘teddy’ to me. Teddy was by my side when school started and when the war finally ended.”

There is a pack of crayons that remained unused because its 11-year-old recipient, also called Lejla, “did not know how long the war would last” and worried about them running out.

There is a toy aeroplane, donated by Vanesa, whose pilot father was killed flying medical aid to areas such as Srebrenica.

There is Enisa’s violin, stolen from her by enemy soldiers, and then miraculously returned after being rescued by a prisoner.

The Herald:

There are comic book stickers brought here by Sanin, who survived a grenade attack that killed his friend as he collected water for his family; bright red, decorative pom-poms donated by Belma, whose 12-year-old sister Nina was “one of the last children killed during the Siege of Sarajevo”; a pair of jeans worn by Irfan, with his name clearly written in capital letters at the top of the left-hand pocket, whose success in a children’s music festival was announced on the same day that he was buried.

Another display is simply called Dog. Here, a tiny porcelain terrier sits alone, offering a striking contrast to the soft toys and bright colours found throughout the room. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like something a child would even be interested in, never mind something they would treasure and hold on to for decades.

And then you read Maja’s story, and learn that her best friend, Selma Milic, gave her the dog in September 1991 before being killed the following year, “a few days shy” of Maja’s birthday.

But surely the bravest exhibit comes from Ajna. Unlike almost everything else in the museum, her contribution is not a toy or a souvenir or item of clothing: it is a photograph.

The Herald:

In it, a baby in a red romper suit looks back at the camera while a mother, holding the infant on her knee, looks lovingly at her child. Most of us have seen pictures of ourselves in a similar pose, and the photo – a candid amateur snap – feels intensely, overwhelmingly human. You could be looking at anyone’s child, at anyone’s mother, but you’re not.

You’re looking at Ajna.

“My whole life was marked by the name of the person who did harm to my mother. I was marked by a fiend I knew nothing about, and now no longer want to know. I was shunned by society, although I did nothing wrong.

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"I carried the burden of shame, but to this day I do not know what is so shameful about my birth. I carried the burdens imposed by the society which was unable to muster up the courage and look at itself in the mirror. I carried the label of being someone’s brat, just because someone before me chose evil.

"I am not a child of an evil man, I am my mother’s child. I am not a child of hatred, I am a child who grew up with the love of my mother and my stepfather, my family’s love.

"I am not a child of shame, I am a child who saw the future in her mother’s eyes, and is now building that same future. I am my mother’s child.”