Genocide-such a heavy word, something that cannot ever be rationalized, an atrocity no reasoning can defend. I have not lived through war; I do not understand what it means to live through that magnitude of suffering, to live day to day in complete fear. No, war and genocide are things I do not understand, and I pray I will never have to.
I haven’t been able to fully process the events of our incredibly packed weekend, but there are moments that vividly stand out to me.
What I remember affecting me the most was the overwhelming, heavy silence everywhere we went-of Srebrenica, the Potoćari memorial site, and the old Dutch base. How can silence hold so much pain? As we walked the red brick path to and from the old spa up through the mountains, I couldn’t stand the clacking sound of my shoes-I felt like an intruder, disturbing memories and ghosts wandering the forest paths. To preserve the silence, I walked far ahead of the rest of the group and took my shoes off, the soft padding of my feet on the bricks barely making a sound.
From the windows of our van I stared into vacant, blown out buildings, red bricks crumbling and walls pocketed with holes from bullets and grenades. Srebrenica is such a narrow town squished in between two mountains that it was unbearable to imagine how 60,000 refugees had survived in those streets for three years.
What I felt at the old Dutch base at Potoćari is difficult to describe, and in fact I don’t think I can accurately describe it. Never have I been in a place that felt more haunted. I walked the dark, eerie halls of the old battery factory, examining the Dutch graffiti on the walls while getting lost in the endless labyrinth of tiled rooms. Looking out the broken windows was the worst part; I could almost see the thousands of people swarming the base, desperately seeking refuge only to be handed over to the Bosnian-Serb army. I could almost hear the scared voices of a horde of doomed people, rising and swelling like waves. It was too much; I couldn’t stand by those windows. I hated being in that building, the old memories crowding the walls were too claustrophobic.
How is it possible that one can travel to the other side of the world to a completely foreign place, visit a genocide memorial erected years and years ago, and still feel somehow connected to those laying beneath the tombstones? Fields of spotless white tombstones against a bright green landscape, rolling hills of buried dead. I couldn’t even imagine how an event like this could happen; how could the international community stand by when thousands and thousands of people where brutally massacred in the course of a few days? How can we allow that to happen? We should be ashamed when we had the resources to intervene and protect civilians. One statement I remember from our guide this weekend, a survivor of Srebrenica, was how he thought Judgment Day would look very similar to what happened at Srebrenica.
As I weaved between the fields of tombstones, out of the thousands of graves I happened upon the graves of three brothers, all in their early twenties. The graves were set very close, laid side by side, and I imagined it was to allow the brothers to ascend into the afterlife together. Perhaps it was because I thought of my own sisters at the moment, or because I couldn’t imagine the loss of an entire family, but I cried when I saw those three graves together, the three brothers keeping each other comfort.
Srebrenica is not something that can be easily processed, and at this point I don’t believe I have really processed anything, but just remember a stream of vivid, contrasting images from this weekend. Dark hallways, flashbacks to events I have never witnessed, crumbling bricks, fields of white and green and the overbearing silence. I simply cannot understand how the international community can ever witness genocide and do absolutely nothing to stop it.