Sunday, July 25, 2010

July 22

The Holocaust and England

Yesterday we went to Aegis Trust, an organization in Nottingham, England dedicated to education and memorialization about genocide from Armenia to Darfur and an action agenda of political action to ‘close the impunity gap,’ as director Dr. James Smith says.

Aegis has created major memorial sites in Rwanda, including one I visited in Kigali in 2005. That center, in the heart of the Rwanda’s capital city, is also a burial place for 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide. Aegis also has a Holocaust Education Centre in Nottingham that is visited by hundreds of people every week.
The staff sets up and supports student chapters in universities throughout England, offers programs and workshops to educators, police officers, and city officials, and is working on legislation to enable prosecution of perpetrators of genocides who are living in the UK.

Today I went to the Imperial War Museum. One of the major exhibits is the history of the Holocaust, with a particular focus on Britain’s role during the war. There is also a very compelling display about the children of the Kindertransport.

In 1938, with awareness of the atrocities happening in Europe, the British government agreed to let 10,000 Jewish children under the age of 17 to enter the country. This was to be temporary, with the commitment that the children would be returned and reunited with their families when conditions returned to normal. A further stipulation was that private individuals or organizations had to agree to pay for the children’s support and care and to return the children to their countries of origin.

No adults were allowed entry. Infants and very young children had to be looked after by other children on the transports.

Jews, Christians, and Quakers worked to arrange the exits. There were many brave individuals involved in making these arrangements. One of the most remarkable stories is that of Sir Nicholas Winton, an Englishman who arranged for nearly 700 children to escape from occupied Prague.

His story is documented in our new version of Upstanders, “Ten Who Dared.” For a copy of this play, contact us at

The children, about 10,000 in total, crossed the ocean alone, without parents or guardians.

This photo is of the children aboard one of the ships.

Kindertransport children. It’s impossible to imagine the heartache of parents who parted with their children, hoping to keep them safe, while knowing that they might never be together again.

The children arrived in London and were dispersed to private homes throughout the British Isles, to boarding schools, or for those old enough, they went to work in agriculture or domestic service. Many joined the British armed services when they became old enough and fought against the Nazis.

In 1988 Bertha Leverton, who had been on the Kindertransport and lived in London, planned a 50th anniversary reunion of the Kindertransport children and in June 1989, over 1,200 people attended from the United States, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.

There is a very touching statue, “Children of the Kindertransport,” outside of the Liverpool Street train station in Hope Square, a memorial to the children who arrived there alone with only their suitcases and their hopes for eventual reunion with their families.

The sculptor, Frank Meisler, is himself a child of the Kindertransports. This poignant sculpture, five children alone without adults, train tracks in the background and names of the European cities from which the children fled around the base, is heart-wrenching. Notice the young boy’s violin case and the little girl’s teddy bear; in spite of these iconic symbols of childhood, they lost their youth and innocence.

Of the 10,000 children who found a safe haven in the UK between 1938 and 1939, the year the transports were forced to end, nearly all became orphans of the war. Their parents, almost without exception, perished in the Holocaust.

The Museum also features a brilliant exhibit about British children during World War II. In parallel to the story of the kindertransports, the exhibit highlights the removal of more than a million children from urban areas targeted in the bombing blitz to safety in the countryside and to Canada, and the deaths of innocent children who remained behind.

There was also an outstanding film on genocide and crimes against humanity, addressing conflicts from Armenia to Darfur, as well as an exhibit of conflicts around the world since 1945. There has rarely been a day without war somewhere since that time. And unlike World War I, when 90 percent of wartime casualties were soldiers, in today’s wars 90 percent of all casualties are civilians.

Theatre and War

London theatre is unparalleled in both quantity and quality, with productions ranging from Shakespeare’s plays at the Globe Theatre to the newest and most innovative in contemporary drama.

The tragedy of war is often the subject of great theatre. I saw “War Horse,” about the brutal trench warfare of World War I (a subject also examined at the Imperial War Museum), “Danton’s Death,” dealing with the brutality following the French Revolution; and “All My Sons,” Arthur Miller’s brilliant play set immediately after World War II. When Joe Keller, the main character, finally faces up to his culpability in the deaths of 21 American pilots during the war, he says that ‘they are all my sons.’ This is the climactic moment in the play, the assertion that we all bear responsibility for others.

Concluding thoughts

I’ll be back in the US tomorrow. This trip has been a ‘trial run,’ of sorts, for a trip that World Without Genocide will sponsor in June 2011 called “A Journey To Witness and Remember: The Holocaust.” We explored some locations for that trip over the past few weeks and planned the itinerary of study and travel.

We hope you’ll consider joining us. The tentative locations are Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; Krakow, Poland; and Vilnius, Lithuania. The trip will combine the historical and the contemporary as we look at the legacy of the Holocaust and World War II in these locations and the challenges facing Jews and other communities today. We also will enjoy the vibrant art and music in these beautiful European cities, each of them exciting places to visit.

Please be sure to sign up at our website to receive updates on events and programs.

Thank you for sharing these past few weeks in Croatia, Bosnia, Austria, and England with me!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 20

Bosnia: Communism, Genocide, and Fundamentalism

It’s been 15 years since the genocide in Srebrenica, the NATO bombings that helped to end the four-year brutal war, the end of the siege of Sarajevo, and the signing of the Dayton peace accord.

What does the future look like for Bosnia?
During my visit I was able to meet with many people who shared their experiences, hopes, frustrations, and thoughts about the years ahead. We heard from a wide range of people including the following:

Haris Sklajdic, President of Bosnia
Senad Pecanin, editor of Dani, a Bosnian investigative newspaper
Dr. Demaris Wehr, human rights activist and documentarian
Elma Softic-Kaunitz and Eli Weber, Jewish Community of Sarajevo
Anisa Suceska Vekic, Director, Balkan Investigative Reporting Network
Klaudia Kuljuh, Coordinator, Balkans Political Unit, International Commission on Missing Persons
Davorin Brdanovic, Community Gardens Association
Velma Saric, Centre for Justice and Reconciliation
Midheta Oruli and Admir Musegic, Association of Concentration Camp Survivors
Women from The Mothers of Srebrenica Association
Ed Vuillamy, journalist, The Guardian and The Observer
and many other survivors, witnesses, scholars, and members of civil society

These conversations gave me a glimpse into many different facets of life, from that of ordinary people to the country’s leaders, from the people in power to those who feel that they have no voice. Like a prism, there are always many facets to any situation and place, but also like a prism, the facets can be brought into a single focus.

What I observed and heard seems to crystallize around three issues. Bosnia is a post-Communist society struggling to create a market-driven democracy; the scars of the genocide from fifteen years ago seem to be festering and perhaps even growing worse in the light of politics driven by ultra-nationalist parties; and increasing religious fundamentalism is polarizing people and creating ever-widening divides.

I’ve seen the legacy of Communism in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, places where I was fortunate to teach. That legacy, here in Bosnia as well, continues a culture that devalues success, personal efficacy, hard work, and honesty, while valuing, instead, a climate in which nobody achieves more than the next person, corruption is endemic, nepotism means more than ability, and distrust and suspicion are everywhere.

We heard of a brilliant man who trained to be a social worker – but chose, instead, to be a laborer because there was so much corruption in the social welfare system. We heard of money given for computers to go to key workers – but instead that money wound up in directors’ pockets. We heard of people unable to get into college because they didn’t know the right people and didn’t have enough money to pay the right bribes. We heard of a cancer sufferer who wasn’t able to get treatment until money was passed under the table to the right doctors. Education, social welfare, politics, business, health care – we heard about corruption, waste, and incompetence in every sector.

Tragically, we also heard of no measures to combat these problems. People feel incapable of changing the prevailing system. A few key political parties and their leaders are perceived as having an unbreakable lock on social governance and control. These parties use nationalist concerns specific to Bosnians, Serbs, or Croats to manipulate and polarize people, keeping crucial issues of rights, opportunities, and development in the background in favor of identity-based politics.

The legacy of the genocide is a deep and horrible wound in the body politic of the country. Some critical steps towards transitional justice have not been taken or are moving forward at a glacial pace. For example, more than 55,000 concentration camp survivors have provided documentation about their experiences. They want to have their day in court and to seek official governmental redress. Yet to date only one case has been heard and only 18 more are on the docket. The obstacle is an infrastructure riddled with incompetency, corruption, and inefficiency, a system almost impossible to fix. But without opportunities to adjudicate their cases, there is no chance for these survivors to move forward.

The government’s actions to locate grave sites of those who were murdered have been notoriously slow. Of the 8,000 people exterminated at Srebrenica, for example, there are still more than 3,500 whose remains have not been identified. The recent burial on Sunday, July 11 of another 775 bodies, although providing some relief, recognition, and memorialization to the victims’ families, took place a decade and a half after the murders.

Without various forms of due process, the wounds, both literal and metaphorical, will not heal, and neighbor will continue to feel pitted against neighbor. These divisions are palpable. In a residential neighborhood on the border between Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia, for example, nobody fixes the potholes in the street or cleans a rat-infested open area. Each ‘side’ blames the other and refuses to take responsibility for making the repairs, even though everyone is troubled by living with these problems . At a very micro level, this illustrates the divisionism that permeates the country.

Yet another form of polarization is the spread of religious fundamentalism. Radical rhetoric, increasingly conservative lifestyles, and isolation from those who don’t share the same views hamper democratic participation in the sense of ‘universal’ participation in the life of the nation. An ideology of push-back against a perception of European anti-Islam divides ‘Muslim’ and ‘other’ and has resulted in rhetoric of victimization and aggression. This alienates the Serb Orthodox and Croat Catholic communities, of course, and provides yet more ground for dissent and separation.

These challenges exist in a country with an unemployment rate of 45 percent. The economic challenges, coupled with the social unrest, the post-Communist culture, the unresolved issues surrounding the genocide, and the religious differences suggest an extremely volatile and perhaps dangerous future.

July 19


Yesterday we went to an exhibit at Liverpool’s International Slavery Musem. The exhibit explores the story of transatlantic slavery, the tragedy of more than 12 million Africans forcibly taken from their countries to support the tea, sugar, tobacco, rice, and cotton industries in the Americas.

The “middle passage” triangle, as it’s called, involved the forced removal of people from their locations throughout Africa, with their purchase paid for by goods from Europe; their transport on ships across the Atlantic to places throughout the Americas; the trip back across the Atlantic with the raw materials to sell in Europe; and the investment of huge sums of money from the sale of these raw materials. Three continents were involved: Africa, with the labor; the Americas, with the development of raw materials; and Europe, with the capital investment in ships and human resources to sustain this trade.

For more than 400 years, human slave labor developed and sustained the economies of many countries.

Liverpool was a hub in this slave trade because of its dominance in trans-Atlantic shipping.

The exhibit also highlights the slave trade today, the thousands and thousands of men, women, and children who are trafficked for labor or sexual exploitation here in England, in the US, and throughout the world. Slavery didn’t end in the UK with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 or in the US with the Civil War. The estimates are that more than 100,000 people are trafficked into the US every year and similar numbers into the UK. This is the world’s fastest-growing form of organized crime and one of the most lucrative.

World Without Genocide has offered several programs about human trafficking. Check our website for similar events this fall.

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 17

Liverpool, England

Next week we have a meeting in London with Dr. James Smith, co-founder and Chief Executive of Aegis Trust. Aegis runs the Holocaust and Memorial Centre in the UK and the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda. The organization advocates for peace in Sudan, promotes education about genocides, and has projects to bring suspected war criminals to justice. We look forward to hearing about current Aegis initiatives and to sharing information about World Without Genocide programs.

Before we go to London, we’re in Liverpool for the weekend to visit my cousin, Keith Levin, and his family. Keith is a judge who specializes in hearing asylum cases.

There are various classifications for people who have left their locations of origin. Those who move voluntarily are called immigrants. If people are displaced from their homes due to mass atrocities or natural disasters but remain in their home countries, they are called Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs. Examples include the more than 1.2 million people from Darfur who remain within Sudan but have fled from the violence in their villages and communities; people displaced in Thailand’s tsunami; and those displaced in the U.S. because of Hurricane Katrina.

People who cross an international border in their flight from human rights abuses are called refugees. For those who enter another country with legal documentation to do so, they have refugee status in that new destination, giving them certain rights and protections. Often, however, people cannot wait for legal permission to leave their country because they are in grave danger. They flee and hope to get legal status after they have found safety. These people are called asylees, and they seek asylum in that new location. These are the cases that Keith hears: the stories of people who have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their places of origin. He is involved in adjudicating their requests for legal sanctuary.

Asylees are often escaping from genocides and other mass atrocities; the work that Keith does is directly related to the mission of World Without Genocide.

We met many of Keith’s friends and, as happens everywhere, heard about Holocaust survivors and their descendants here in Liverpool. One man, an Israeli, is the son of a German Jew who escaped from the Nazis by walking across the Pyrenees Mountains, finding refuge in France, and eventually arriving in Palestine. There is a legacy of genocide virtually everywhere in the world.

We saw a remarkable exhibit at the Liverpool Tate Museum: “Picasso: Peace and Freedom.” This huge exhibit chronicles Picasso’s anti-war work as both an artist and an activist from 1937 forward, after he painted the shattering mural Guernica. The exhibition focuses on Picasso as a ‘history painter,’ examining the themes of war and peace in his art in parallel with world events: the Spanish Civil War, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the Algerian war of independence, and the Cuban missile crisis.

Picasso said, “… artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at risk.”

Many of the works shown in this exhibit are based on Picasso’s experiences during the Holocaust, when he lived in Paris during the German occupation. He visited Auschwitz in 1948 and some of the paintings are harrowing echoes of extermination and brutality.

Some of the most powerful works included The Charnel House, about a family of Spanish Republicans killed in France during the Holocaust; drawings and studies for his murals War and Peace; a series called The Women of Algiers, examining the impact of the 8-year-long brutal war for independence from France; and the series The Rape of the Sabines, reflecting the devastating effect of war on women and children.

The hope for the future is represented in Picasso’s symbol of the dove of peace, now an icon used around the world by advocates for justice, equality, and peace.
Outside of the exhibit children gathered in a large tent and created their own doves of peace. See the photo of the little boy hard at work!

World Without Genocide currently participates with the Holocaust Center in Houston, Texas to create 1.5 million paper butterflies, memorializing each of the Jewish children murdered during the Holocaust. Students and adults in high schools, colleges, and at our events throughout Minnesota this past spring have made hundreds and hundreds of butterflies that we’ve sent on to Houston. We’ll include opportunities to make doves of peace at our fall programs and will use them in a permanent installation.

Tomorrow we’ll visit the Museum of Slavery here in Liverpool which has exhibits examining both historical and contemporary slavery. Liverpool was one of the major English port cities from which Africans were shipped across the Atlantic.

Adam Hochschild’s brilliant book, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves, chronicles the antislavery movement in the British Empire; much of it deals with efforts to raise awareness and abolitionist action in Liverpool.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 15

Vienna and the Holocaust

Vienna is a stunning city, with beautiful architecture at every turn, city parks and plazas filled with people enjoying the summer days – and a horrific history during World War II of the extermination of Jews, Roma and Sinti (gypsies), and homosexuals.

Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, happened in Vienna in coordination with similar violence in Germany. Of Vienna’s 43 synagogues, only one was not set on fire and devastated. At the same time that the synagogues were set ablaze, hundreds of stores were looted, apartments destroyed, and goods confiscated. Nearly 7,000 of Vienna’s Jews were arrested and 3,700 were deported to Dachau concentration camp.

We visited that one remaining synagogue, Stattemple. It survived because, from the street, it doesn’t look like a synagogue. Also, many non-Jews lived directly across the narrow street and their homes would have been in danger of fire had the synagogue been in flames. But perhaps the most compelling explanation for why it survived is also the most chilling. The synagogue had served as the community center for Vienna’s Jews and contained a registry of everyone who identified as Jews. The Nazi SS set up an office directly down the street and built an underground tunnel to go right to the synagogue. This gave them direct and safe access, away from Allied bombs, to the names of all the Jews in Vienna. These records were used for deportation and extermination.

In 1938, there were 180,000 Jews living in Vienna, about ten percent of the city’s total population. During the early years of the Third Reich, the Nazis encouraged emigration. About 130,000 Jews left from all over Austria; 30,000 came to the United States and many thousands went to Palestine, which became the state of Israel in 1948. Of those who couldn’t flee, at least 65,000 of Vienna’s Jews were sent to extermination camps; only 2,000 survived. Of those who remained hidden in the city, only 800 survived.

The story of Nazism in Austria is indeed a terrible one. But there are good people everywhere who refuse to stand idly by while their neighbors are being targeted. We visited the Documentation Center of the Austrian Resistance, which provides information about both resistance and persecution.

The Center opened only in 1978, illustrating the difficult time Austrians have had in facing the complicity and responsibility of their past. The mission is not only to document the past but also to decry extreme right-wing and neo-Nazi dangers.
The exhibit at the Center examines not only the events of the war but also of post-war de-Nazification and the story of incomplete prosecution of Nazi criminals, insufficient efforts towards restitution, and examples of current right-wing extremism. Heinz Fischer, President of Austria, says, “The most important task of the Center is to make a contribution in the 21st century against intolerance, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-democratic tendencies. This we owe to the victims of persecution and to the women and men of the Austrian resistance.”

We also saw the Monument to the Victims of the Holocaust, a stark and striking tribute to the 65,000 Viennese Jews who perished. The memorial is located in a square where remains of a medieval synagogue have been found. This rare archaeological find is on exhibit to the public in Judenplatz.

The Memorial was unveiled in October 2000, with Simon Wiesenthal, the late Nazi hunter who lived and worked in Vienna, present for the ceremony. The Memorial is a concrete structure that looks like a library but with all the books facing inwards. The symbolism reflects the untold stories and unfinished lives of the 65,000 who perished, and also evokes the characterization of Jews as ‘people of the Book.’ The names of the concentration and extermination camps where the Jews perished are engraved along the base of the monument.

When we were there this afternoon, there were some yahrzeit (memorial) candles and flowers, small tributes that were poignant testimony to the link between the past and the importance to remember and honor those whose lives and cultures have been destroyed.

July 13

Today we visited the International Commission of Missing Persons. This organization was established at the initiative of former President Bill Clinton following the 1997 G-7 summit (the G-7 nations are France, Germany, US, UK, Canada, Japan, and Italy). Funding comes from countries and foundations around the world.

The purpose was to get governments’ cooperation in locating and identifying people who disappeared during armed conflict or as a result of human rights violations. In recent years, ICMP has extended its work to include disaster victim identification.
ICMP works in Bosnia to identify the exhumed remains of those who were killed during the 1990s war. Their techniques and methods are now being used for bodies found in Argentina, Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

In addition, ICMP provided DNA analysis after the September 11th tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami, and to identify victims of the ferry disaster in the Philippines.

What does ICMP do in Bosnia?
One of the necessary steps to post-conflict justice is the identification of those who disappeared or who were murdered. Until this step is taken, uncertainty about the fate of these missing persons obstructs the path to peace, weakens the rule of law, and leads to a lack of confidence in a country’s political institutions.

I wrote about visiting Srebrenica and the burial of 775 genocide victims on July 11. This was possible only because of the work of ICMP.

In a very over-simplified explanation, the process works as follows.

1- Remains are exhumed and coded for identification. In photos I posted from Srebrenica, you’ll see a large mass grave. Bones and other remains from this site, like at many, many others throughout the country, will be uncovered, detritus from the surface will be removed through a scientific process, and DNA samples will be drawn.

2- A registry of missing persons has to be created. The ICMP staff works with family associations throughout the region to collect the names of the missing people. This means going out into the villages, creating trust, and getting the names of loved ones who have not returned since the conflict ended 15 years ago. ICMP is non-ethnic; that is, it is a mix of Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, and internationals, which makes it possible for them to be received in all communities.

3- DNA samples have to be collected from the family members. ICMP staff travels widely throughout the country, meeting with families and local organizations, to gather names, explain what they're doing, explain the DNA testing procedure, and get informed consent to draw blood from the relatives to determine if there is a match with the DNA in any of the exhumed remains.

4- The DNA blood samples are tested against the DNA drawn from the exhumed remains to determine identification.
The results have been astounding in this region since ICMP went online in 2001. The first match was made for a 15-year-old boy from Srebrenica.
Some of the numbers:
88,185 number of blood samples drawn and put into the ICMP database
29,020 number of missing persons represented by the blood samples
33,404 number of bone samples for which ICMP has been able to draw DNA profiles
13,124 number of accurate identifications made throughout Bosnia
At Srebrenica alone, ICMP has made positive identifications of 6,481 people missing since July 1995. Of this number, 775 of them were buried last Sunday.

ICMP’s director said, “The lack of information on clandestine mass graves remains a huge problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I call on authorities to make more efforts to locate these sites so more families could give their missing loved ones a dignified burial.” Her statement illustrates the link between the government, families and communities, and reconciliation through transitional justice.

ICMP has created a state-level office in Tuzla, north of Sarajevo. Much of the work will be turned over to this office in a process of creating capacity-building on a more local level.

After this meeting we went to see something much different but also a step in the crucial process of transitional justice – a gardening project. The Community Gardens Association was formed in 2007 by a small group of individuals who believed that Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats cannot truly reconcile only through talk; they must work together in meaningful and shared efforts that will improve their own lives and the lives of their communities.

And so the gardens began! There are more than 300 people, of all ethnic backgrounds, who are growing vegetables in seven of Bosnia’s major cities. As the director says, these gardens “are a space for recovery and restoration of trust into other human beings as well as a space for learning new skills and meeting new aspects of life.”

Faculty from the University of Washington, Seattle and the American Friends Service Committee have provided financial and educational support. The first garden was planted on what had been one of the most contentious and violent divides during the war – and now there are tomatoes, cucumbers, and every other type of vegetable one can imagine. More than growing vegetables, however, is the fact that these gardens grow friendships across divides that had once created only enmity.

In a wonderful extension of this work, the Association has developed garden projects for those who struggle with mental disabilities such as autism, schizophrenia, etc. Those who have these challenges are shunned in this society and are hidden away. The director realized that gardening, essentially horticultural therapy, can open these lives that had been closed. Remarkable changes have occurred in people who were essentially closeted away.

There is one final extension of this work. Landmines were planted throughout the country, and of course there are thousands of people who lost limbs because of the mines. Although these people can’t move easily on land, they can move freely in the water. The Association has a small program for SCUBA activities on the coast, designed for landmine victims.

Again, a small group of people are making a difference.

July 12

Sarajevo Tunnel
Today I went to see the tunnel.

A brutal battle for control of Sarajevo began in 1992 when Serb militias surrounded the city and created a state of siege. This siege lasted for four years, the longest siege in the history of the modern world. Sarajevo’s citizens were cut off from food, water, and medical supplies in an effort to force their capitulation and control of the city to the Serbs.

In addition to the threats of starvation and disease, the city was under constant grenade, bomb, and sniper attack. The UN had placed an arms embargo on Bosnia. This meant that, in the face of unrelenting weapons attacks from the Serb militias, the Bosnians were not only unable to get vital supplies but they were also at a significant disadvantage in their ability to defend themselves.

It’s chilling to travel through the city with Bosnians and Serbs who lived here during the siege. They talk about the dangers on nearly every street, from nearly every hillside, and their own perilous struggles with four long years of no electricity, no gasoline, and no food.

In 1992 the UN took control of the airport and began to fly in limited humanitarian aid. But there were many times when the airport was closed because of Serb shelling or because of inhospitable weather conditions.
More than 11,000 people died during the siege; 1,500 of them were children. But this is a big city, and the question is – how did most of the population survive?
Part of the answer: the tunnel.

In January 1993, under a home owned by the Kolar family (see below), Bosnians began to dig an 800-meter tunnel that went under the airport and came out in free territory on the other side.

The process took months, under perilous conditions and with no certainty that it could be completed. The work was done manually, with picks and axes, and the debris was taken out in wheelbarrows.

While the work was under way, conflict began between the Bosnians and Croats, who had formerly been allies. The situation clearly became more difficult – and the tunnel’s completion more important.

Word of the tunnel leaked to the Serbs and they targeted the work areas with constant shelling.

The tunnel was finally completed in July 1993, six months after it started. Food, electricity, fuel, newspapers, medicine, telephone lines, and weapons began going into the tunnel – and people came out, those who were important enough to get an opportunity to leave, or those who could pay enough to leave.

People say that the goods that entered the city through the tunnel saved thousands of lives.

Parts of the tunnel remain intact today and are open to the public. There are artifacts on exhibit– uniforms, shell casings, empty food sacks - and photos of the human and material traffic. It’s quite inspiring to see how the courage of the people prevailed at a most difficult time.

It’s also utterly discouraging. The tunnel flooded many times and people had to travel those 800 meters in cold, miserable water, either to go out to safety or to bring in relief to those who couldn’t leave. I was reminded of Jews in the 1940s who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto through the sewers. Fifty years later, a similar flight was happening once again in Europe.

We spent the evening with a Serbian friend who recently graduated from an American university. She has set up several remarkable projects to bring Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats together - a day care center, a soccer program, a summer workshop. These people who believe that everyone can live together have a hope for a peaceful future. However, the entire structure of the country following the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords is based on ethnicity, on specific representation of Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs in every aspect of society.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

July 11


There were 50,000 people at the funeral. There were 775 people being buried. The coffins were small, draped in green cloth, and with numbers at the end: numbers like 386, 413, 125. The coffins held remains of men and boys who were killed 15 years ago. The coffins were passed overhead through the crowd, the 775 coffins carried by thousands of men to the waiting graves.

Fifteen years ago, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered by Serb militia outside the town of Srebrenica, the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. In 1995, fifty years after ‘never again’ was uttered following the Holocaust, fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons were slaughtered because they were Muslim.

This was another genocide in Europe.

There are 3,749 grave sites at Srebrenica already. Yesterday’s funeral brings the total to about 4,500. There are 3,500 bodies that are not yet accounted for.

At the funeral site, there are huge open pits with remains that are being exhumed and identified by the International Commission for Missing Persons. It takes a long time to conduct identifications, to determine whose body it is when only a few fragments are found. Sometimes the living family members wait until more remains can be identified so their loved one can be buried more whole, more complete. Other survivors fear that they, too, might soon be gone and they dare not wait any longer before having a funeral, and so they bury only a fragment.

The names of each of the 775 were read aloud. The names of the thousands and thousands who were killed are written on a circular marble memorial that goes on for what seems like forever. The birthdates of those who perished are given – some were born in the 1930s, some in the 1970s.

World leaders, including those from each of the former Yugoslav republics, attended the funeral. Everyone said “never again.”

Former President Bill Clinton, on whose watch this genocide happened, opened the first memorial ceremony in 2003.

Memorials are painful to everyone. To those who suffered loss, a memorial brings grief into sharp focus, especially on such a huge scale. To those who stood by and did nothing to stop the carnage, it brings guilt. And to those who were perpetrators, it can make the divisions and hatreds that caused the tragedy even greater. We hope, of course, that memorials will bring people together to find justice, to work for peace, to envision a peaceful and productive nation.

In 2005, two bombs were found at the memorial site just days before the ceremony was to take place. In 2007, the day after the July 11 commemoration, men dressed in the uniforms of the military units that perpetrated the murders marched through the streets of Srebrenica. And last year, there were several ethnically-related incidents, including defacement of the Bosnian flag and threatening graffiti scrawled on a mosque.

Yet we must memorialize and remember.

Imagine this funeral of 50,000 people memorializing and burying 775 victims of genocide. And another one next year. And the year after that, until all 8,000 bodies have been identified and properly buried. We all have a responsibility and an obligation to create a world without genocide.

July 10


Today we went to the beautiful town of Mostar, about a two-hour drive from Sarajevo. This old and very scenic town is located on the Neretva River, and it is this location that played a tragic role in the 1990s war.

Mostar had a beautiful stone bridge, built in 1566 by Suleyman the Magnificent, and this Old Bridge, or Stari Most, was a World Heritage Site.

In 1993 the Croats blew up this world-famous bridge. This bridge, which had been standing for 497 years, was turned into rubble in one of the most pointless incidents of the war. The entire town was reduced to nothing, almost a 1990s version of Dresden after the bombings in World War II.

There are three major ethnic groups in this region, as I’ve mentioned before. They combined in every combination to fight against one another in almost every part of this country during the war: Serbs fought Bosnians; Croats fought Bosnians; Croats fought Serbs. In Mostar, the Croats and Bosnians had initially fought together against Serbs in 1992. A year later, the two former allies became enemies as the Croats expelled Bosnians from their homes, interned people in detention camps, and tried to obliterate the town. The bridge was blown up and the town was destroyed.

Of the 27 beautiful old mosques, only one remained.
Today, the town is divided, with the western half Croat and the eastern half Bosnian. The schools are separate, the services are separate, and it’s only the police force, trained by the UN after the war, that serves both ‘sides’ of the city.
Although much of the town has been rebuilt, there are still shocking reminders: gutted houses, pieces of rubble from the bridge, and trees growing inside once-busy offices and apartment buildings. The holes from shells and bombs are evident in nearly every block.

The rebuilt Old Town is charming, with lovely little cafes alongside the river, shops selling beautiful ceramics depicting the bridge, watercolors of the town, and handmade fabrics and jewelry. But there is still almost no industry, fifteen years after the war, and a city that is divided – within a country that is divided.
The bridge was rebuilt with support from donors around the world. Engineers attempted to reconstruct it using the materials and techniques of the 16th century.

But of course it’s not the same. The story is tragic. Tourists walk on the bridge in the sun, pausing to take pictures of young boys diving recklessly into the river below, but it’s not the carefree moment that it appears on the surface. The bridge had stood for nearly half a millennium - only to be destroyed because of ethnic conflict.

July 9

Today we met with people from Sarajevo’s Jewish community. There are only a few hundred Jews remaining here. Most were annihilated during the Holocaust, largely at the hands of Ustase, a Croatian Nazi/fascist organization.

Yet there is a story of great heroism and bravery here as well. Eli Tauber, head of the Jewish Community organization, gave us a copy of a book he wrote called Bosnia and Herzegovina: Righteous Among the Nations. This book is the story of 47 Bosnians – Muslims, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats – who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. These 47 people have been designated “Righteous Among the Nations,” the highest recognition given by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.

Bosnians saved Jews during the Holocaust – and Jews saved Bosnians during the genocide. Jews in Sarajevo provided medicines and meals to hundreds of people daily for several years. And Jews organized convoys to rescue Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats and to take them safely out of the country.

This small Jewish community continues to provide support wherever they can, delivering meals to elderly shut-ins, Jews and non-Jews alike, and hosting events to bring people together.

We visited the Jewish cemetery, a site high on the Sarajevo hills. Tragically, this cemetery was used during Sarajevo’s four-year-long siege as a place for launching attacks on the Bosnians in the bowl-like area below the hills. The cemetery was almost totally destroyed, including being filled with landmines that were finally removed in 1998.

The beautiful Jewish synagogue, in the Moorish tradition of this largely Sephardic community, has regular services, led by a lay person most of the year but by a Bosnian rabbi who comes from Jerusalem for Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur. And for the past two years, that rabbi has conducted extraordinary services. In 2008 and 2009, the first bar and bat mitzvah ceremonies since the Holocaust were held in Sarajevo!

Jewish education and traditional celebrations have been revitalized since the fall of Communism. Spiritual and communal life is flourishing.

July 8

Today Randi Markusen and I met with leaders of three important organizations. We spoke with the staff at the Concentration Camp Survivors’ Association, which has gathered testimony from 55,000 survivors. The goal is to create laws to provide restitution for these survivors as one form of transitional justice. The Association helps survivors prepare their testimonies for court and works to insure their safety as they speak out against those who perpetrated crimes against them.

At the Association of the Mothers of Srebrenica, we met with women who lost husbands, fathers, and sons at the massacre. These mothers, most of whom are from small villages, have developed a powerful network and a political presence. They created the annual ceremony of remembrance at Srebrenica, pressed for ongoing exhumation and identification of remains, and advocated for government support for the widows and children of the men who perished. We heard heartbreaking stories of loss and grief – but also of hope, of love for neighbors with whom lives were shared regardless of ethnicity and religion, and of a vision for a peaceful and prosperous Bosnia.

We had a very inspiring meeting with Anisa Suceska Vekic, Director of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). Much of the journalism in Bosnia following the war was what we would call ‘yellow journalism,’ the use of opinion instead of fact, emotion and sensationalism instead of objectivity. This was very problematic because media reports of genocide trials were inaccurate and misleading. These distortions of the truth kept people from understanding the past and moving towards a better future. Through BIRN’s work, courtrooms for genocide trials are now open and transparent and evidence-based journalism has become the norm. BIRN’s reports are available online, with more than a million regular readers, and they now produce radio and television news as well. BIRN is also creating the next generation of investigative journalists through outreach to students in the area’s universities.

This organization’s remarkable work is done by a small, young, and dedicated staff. The director will share this story at a conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. next week.
We were inspired and encouraged by great work being done by people who believe in Bosnia.

July 7

The second day of the conference began with introductory remarks by Dr. Charles English, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Dr. English, shown shaking hands with Kennedy, began by asking how the crime of genocide could have happened again in Europe, fifty years after the Holocaust. He spoke about the need for justice and reconciliation and the importance of remembering those who lost their lives during the conflict.

Dr. Edina Becirevic, professor, analyzed transcripts from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the court in The Hague, Netherlands, operating since 1993 to prosecute perpetrators of genocide.

In my remarks, I examined the question of how people can do evil things, and I discussed the manipulation of situational factors that can influence ordinary people to engage in acts that lead to dehumanization, torture, and extermination.

The conference concluded with Hasan Nuhanovic, a Srebrenica survivor who shared his story of witness, loss, and ongoing efforts for justice from the United Nations and the government of the Netherlands; and Dr. Fikret Karcic, professor, with an analysis of Bosnia’s failure to pass a law prohibiting genocide denial.

The conference was publicized widely in all Sarajevo media; I also gave an interview for Radio Free Europe. We hope that the messages of remembrance and ‘never again’ will engage students and ordinary citizens here in Bosnia and elsewhere.

Friday, July 9, 2010

July 6

This year is the 15th anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, the killing of 8,000 Bosnian men and boys by Serb militants. This horrific massacre occurred in the context of country-wide violence between Croats, Bosnians, and Serbs in a bitter battle over territory and control. More than 200,000 people perished in fighting between 1991 and 1995.

In recognition of this date, and as one of many programs to promote understanding and healing, the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in Sarajevo sponsored two days of conferences on the topic “Remembrance and Forgiveness: Steps Toward a Bright Future.” Both Randi Markusen and I were invited to be presenters.

Organized by Velma Saric and Alison Sluiter, the conference attendees included both Serb and Bosnian university students, a first-ever gathering of both groups at this kind of event, and survivors, human rights advocates, public officials, scholars, and community representatives.

Ed Vulliamy was one of the featured speakers. A journalist from the UK, he broke the story about the Omarska and Trnopolje concentration camps in Bosnia; his articles and photographs, including one that appeared on the cover of Time magazine, provoked horror and outrage in the world community. He has received many awards for his outstanding reporting that ultimately led to a NATO bombing campaign that helped end the war.

One of the prisoners at Trnopolje concentration camp was Fikret Alic. Vulliamy’s picture of Alic, shown below, was shocking in its resemblance to photographs from the Holocaust. Alic spoke at the conference about his experience at Trnopole and also at Keraterm concentration camp.

Dr. Gregory Stanton, director of Genocide Watch, talked about the dangers of genocide denial, one of the eventual outcomes of every genocide.

Randi Markusen, Chair of the Board of Directors of World Without Genocide, presented information about the Rwandan genocide, highlighting testimonies given by survivors.

Other speakers included Murat Tahirovic, president of the Association of Concentration Camp Detainees; Munira Hadzic, the director of BOSFAM, an organization that has created memorial quilts to commemorate those who perished at Srebrenica; and Peter Lippman, a human rights activist who works for refugee return and recovery.

In the picture: Ambassador English, Dr. Stanton and Dr. Kennedy.

Dinner with the President

Randi Markusen and I had the remarkable opportunity to have dinner with President Haris Silajdic, along with Dr. Greg Stanton; Dr. Edina Becirevic, professor, University of Sarajevo; Velma Saric, conference convener; Ed Vulliamy; and the editor of the renowned Bosnian newspaper Dani. President Silajdic was optimistic about the country’s future, speaking about possibilities for business and economic development, education, and trade opportunities.

Photo of dinner guests: President Silajdic is fourth from left, with Kennedy and Markusen on his left.

Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4

Today we traveled by train to Zagreb, Croatia.

The politics of this region are very complicated. The decades, indeed the past century, of turmoil occurred in some measure because of changing political control over the region – the Ottoman Empire, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Communists. Each time governments change, there is always the likelihood of economic, political, and social upheaval, and that’s certainly the situation here.

During World War II, the Ustase in Croatia, in alliance with the Nazis and fascists, was involved in extermination of the region’s Jews, Serbs, and Roma. The legacy of the brutality created some enduring problems over land, power, and retribution, a situation that played itself out, in part, with terrible conflict between Serbs and Croats again in the 1990s.

The Jasenovec concentration camp, a multi-facility site a few hours outside of Zagreb, was used during World War II as both a transit location for prisoners en route to Auschwitz and as an extermination site.

Throughout the war, Fascist Croatia participated with the Nazis in perpetrating genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma (gypsies). Above is the entrance into Jasenovac death camp number 3, with the sign presenting it as a “Labor Service of the Ustasha Defense – Concentration Camp No. III.” The coat of arms above is inscribed: “Everything For the Fuhrer, Ustasha Defense.”

On the site is a memorial to the thousands and thousands of victims.

As we travel ed to Zagreb en route to Sarajevo, it’s hard to reconcile the horrors that have happened in this part of Europe with the scenery outside the train windows: fields of grain, bright sunshine reflecting off the farmhouses, and a sense of timeless tranquility. But we know that even today, the legacy of these conflicts, both the Holocaust and the 1990s war, endure.

July 3

I’m sitting in de Gaulle airport in Paris waiting for my connection to Vienna. For nearly the entire flight across the Atlantic, I re-read Samantha Power’s chapters about Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Although I’ve read these words many times, the immediacy of the horrors was palpable because I’ll be in Sarajevo on Monday morning.

Sarajevo is a place sacred to memory and an outrage to our conscience.

William Proxmire said, “The most lethal pair of foes to human rights are ignorance and indifference.” World Without Genocide has a commitment to education and action, the only tools we can use to combat ignorance and indifference.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bosnia and Herzegovina

I leave for Bosnia on Friday, July 2. This year is the 15th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, the deaths of more than 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at the hands of Serb militias and ordinary individuals.

We know that the world said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust. Yet 50 years after that genocide, Europe was once again the place of unimaginable brutality, of neighbor against neighbor, of indescribable acts of violence.

Randi Markusen, Chair of the Board of World Without Genocide, was in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 during this tragedy. She has organized our trip for this important memorial year.

Randi and I will speak at a two-day conference on genocide that highlights these events. The conference is coordinated by the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Other conference participants include: Janine di Giovanni (journalist and writer), Dr. Edina Becirevic (co-founder of CJR and Faculty of Criminal Justice professor at the University of Sarajevo), Hasan Nuhanovic (Srebrenica survivor, activist and author), and Sonia Biserko (Chairwoman, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Serbia).

The proceedings will be opened by the U. S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Charles English, and will be closed by Dr. Haris Silajdzic, current member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency.

We will travel throughout the region for two weeks, learning about the challenges people face 15 years later - of rebuilding families, communities, and lives.

I'll try to post often during my trip.