Students in the United States read about genocide and ethnic cleansing, especially during World War II, but we see that as being in the past and as a reminder not to let it happen again. Yet, less than twenty years ago it did happen again here in Bosnia. It is still happening in other countries that are at war. It is easy to go through life in the states and never know or understand what is going on outside of our little bubbles. Or maybe knowing about it but not really understanding the impact of what these people are going through.
I have been given so many opportunities to travel outside of my bubble and to experience different cultures but nothing like our trip to Srebrenica. We not only were able to tour a memorial site and watch a video like most tourists but we were able to speak with survivors. We heard real life stories and asked questions from people who experienced and witnessed the effects of genocide first hand. Their friends and family members were murdered while they ran for their lives for days through the woods trying to escape to free territory. This was years after they were forced from their homes to live as refugees in a town under siege with barely enough food to survive.
Now, almost 20 years later, they push on and only want to share their stories with others in order to prevent this from happening to anyone else. One woman talked about how she testified in court, across from the military leader who ordered the men and boys to be killed, including her husband and son. One man told us how he was separated from his twin brother and father in the woods, never to see him again. Another told us how he fell asleep in his father’s lap after being captured. When he awoke, his father and group were gone and he had been hidden, propped up behind a tree, also never to see his father again. These survivors’ strength in telling us their stories, in standing up to those who committed these crimes, and in living their lives in honor of those who they lost is beyond incredible.
They experienced things we, as Americans, only read about in books and in newspapers. They are amazing and inspirational. As a few of the other students have stated, this past weekend has been a lot to process and I am still processing but I will never forget their stories.