Srebernica was the site of the largest single act of genocide in Europe since the Holocaust. The Srebernica Massacre occurred over the course of several days in July 1995, when over eight thousand defenseless Bosniaks, predominantly men and boys, were slaughtered by Serbian forces. This photo essay is a humble attempt to honor the memory of those murdered, to express solidarity with the survivors, and to illuminate the evil and folly of religious and ethnic division that persists to this day… (Please take a few minutes to read the captions)
Most of the drive from Sarajevo to Srebernica feels like a relaxing jaunt through farmland nestled amidst the rolling hills and forests…
But these pastoral views are soon interrupted by the sight of so many white pillars, each marking the grave of a victim of the genocide.
Some of these cemeteries are the final resting place for the young and old of entire families…
Take the time to notice the dates on this particular pillar. By the way, the simple green marker in the background is for a soul whose remains were only recently recovered or identified. In fact, more victims, sometimes buried in mass graves, are still being discovered to this day.
On the way into Srebernica, there is a red stop light that serves no obvious purpose except to stop cars entering town long enough for a remote visual inspection using the nearby surveillance cameras. Who exactly is watching and what are they looking for?
The Genocide Memorial at Potočari… to honor the suffering and to preserve the memory of the 8372 confirmed victims of the 1995 genocide… murdered in the sports halls, factories, forests, and fields.
“… I hope the very mention of the name “Srebrenica” will remind every child in the world that pride in our own religious and ethnic heritage does not require or permit us to dehumanize or kill those who are different…”
Entire families destroyed.
Inside the battery factory in Potočari, part of the “safe area” where women and children sought refuge from the advancing Serbian forces.
Potočari was supposed to be a haven for all refugees under UN protection, but it did not happen that way. Here are some screen shots from the film that tells the gut-wrenching and heartbreaking story…
Dževad Hafizović, just one of thousands of innocent and precious human beings exterminated during the genocide…
We visited several mass execution sites… quickly and without leaving the car. Serbian nationalist sentiments are still quite strong here… and it would be imprudent to invite a confrontation… for many reasons.
The Dutch Battalion (Dutchbat) barracks. The walls in the battery factory in Potoćari, which housed several hundred UN “Peacekeepers”, are preserved exactly as they were at the time of the genocide.
Try to imagine how you would feel and what you would do as an eighteen year old Dutch soldier who was thrust into the insanity that occurred here…
Afterwards, Faruk and I sat down at a café, where he recounted more first-hand experiences and stories of intense confrontations that he witnessed even after the war was “over”.
I was particularly moved by the stories of remarkable strength and courage during the war and remarkable wisdom and restraint by the victims in the aftermath.
The most shocking lesson of my visit is that the genocide is not old news. The wounds are still raw, the bodies of victims are still being discovered and identified, and religious and ethnic divisions still persist.
And many perpetrators of the genocide still live in these areas. I wonder what is now in the their hearts and minds… Denial? Hatred? Shame? Fear of being exposed and punished?
It is chilling to realize that there are numerous Serb deniers of the massacre. And even among those who do not deny certain facts, there are sympathizers and even defenders of the massacre, claiming that they have done nothing wrong, that they are heroes and freedom fighters.
That said, we made a short stop to view the luxurious house of a known war criminal who, rumor has it, was soon to be arrested by NATO forces and tried for crimes against humanity.
As a symbol of conquest and disrespect, the Serbs built a Christian orthodox church on the land of a Muslim woman while she was in exile. That is her house partly hidden by the church. My understanding is that she has since returned, but that the disposition of the church is being litigated, still.
Strong nationalistic Serbian and anti-Muslim sentiments remain to this day… “Patko xeroj” (Cyrillic) means “Ratko Hero”, a reference to Ratko Mladic, the Serb commander who ordered the extermination of all the men and boys in Srebernica in 1995. And “CCCC” stands for Само слога Србина спасава (Cyrillic). In Roman letters SSSS (Samo sloga Srbina spasava) — “Only unity saves the Serb”.
Despite the horrific history and unfortunate bigotry to be found here, as we left Srebernica we saw an inspiring and encouraging symbol of courage and hope… a strawberry farm owned by a Muslim Bosniak… a reason for optimism yes, but also for vigilance and active peace-making in each of our lives.