I tried to emotionally prepare myself for what we were about to bear witness to as we drove through the beautiful countryside on our way to Srebrenica. But there is nothing that could have prepared me for the horror that occurred there over those nine days in 1995. Meeting Hassan, Saliha and Ramis (the bone man) and hearing their personal stories brought a human perspective and a realness to the experience that is invaluable, yet even more heartbreaking. There is no way to begin to tell their stories and do them justice in a short blog post, but I will carry them with me and do my best to share their truth.
Between hearing their stories of loss – of how Hassan lost his twin brother and father in the mass executions around the outskirts of the town as they attempted to flee to Tuzla in “the column”; of Saliha burying one son just days before the massacres and losing the other along with her husband in a moment that has become the public image of this grotesque moment in human history; and of Ramis fleeing for his life through the hills of his homeland as hundreds died around him, only to return to spend hours of his later life uncovering their bones in the forests around his home to bring some feeling of peace to their surviving families – I was most struck by the joy with which each lives their life and the selflessness with which each welcomed us into their lives and willingly shared their stories. Again, a world of dichotomy – of heartache and beauty.
I wish I could convey their stories and the emotions I felt on this trip into the mountains with even a small amount of the power it deserves. Their stories must be heard, but it is not the details of their experiences that are important, but their lives and those that have been lost that deserve to be celebrated and remembered. These are sons and husbands and brothers that were lost, lives that were forever cut short in the most painful way imaginable. I am forever changed by the last few days and feel I have new friends and will do my best to honor them by carrying them in my heart and sharing their truths as they have charged us to do.
Let us never forget Srebrenica.