On Holocaust Memorial Day I found myself driving through West Yorkshire listening to kids doing a Q&A with teachers and local councillors in Bradford regarding the holocaust: what caused it, what will stop another one and “other holocausts”. Natch the panel, playing to a local audience, utterly rewrote history as they downplayed what happened to the Jews, equating it to the “holocaust at Srebrenica” where the victims were all Muslims. Rewriting history is the order of the day as I noted earlier.
We were told how all holocausts started with hate speech, then “othering” and that unless folks spoke out that head to genocide. I am not sure that the panel can show how tweets today will lead to genocide but they seemed somewhat ambiguous about free speech on the internet. But time and again they referenced Srebrenica as another holocaust and boasted of how that is what they taught the kids.
What happened in 1995 at Srebrenica was awful. 8,372 Muslim men and boys were rounded up by Serb troops, marched to the woods and murdered. Words fail me as I think of it. It was a war crime and it was an act of ethnic cleansing but was it a “holocaust” which should be equated to the murder of six million Jews? As ever, the history is ignored by those who try to equate the two events.
I refer to the history of what was Yugoslavia. Between world war one and two this country was dominated by the Serbs and minorities ( Croats in the North and the Muslims and Albanians of Bosnia and Kosovo) were not treated fairly. In World War two the Serbs were on our side but many Croats and Muslims saw their chance for freedom and were not. In the case of the Muslims they formed almost an entire 20,000 division of the SS (13th Waffen Mountain Division of the SS Handschar) and thousands of others served in other units. Most of what the 13th did was fighting Tito’s partisans (Tito was a Croat, most of his men Serbs) and latterly the Russians.
However, they also found an awful lot of time for killing a stack of Jews and getting tens of thousands more packed off to Auschwitz. And also, for numerous atrocities against Serb civilians in which many thousands died. The Balkans is the area of the blood feud. Memories last. The hate that many Serbian nationalists in Bosnia felt for their Muslim neighbours was in large part driven by the memories of what the Bosnians had done fifty years previously. No doubt those Bosnians would have pointed, with some justification, to how they were treated badly by the Serbs before World War Two. Those who committed the massacre at Srebrenica were not Serbs from Serbia but Bosnian Serbs.
That is the context of Srebrenica. It is not – as the teachers and local officials said – a holocaust. It is a war crime and an atrocity, and I would happily have seen those responsible suffer the same, terminal, fate as Tito arranged (after trial) for leading lights in the 13th. But it was not caused by hate speech or by “othering”. It is just one of those acts of reprisal which stains history, especially in that part of the world.
Why rewrite history or rather ignore it? Why fail to put events in context? Why label the murder of 8,372 males in the same way as you label the murder of 6 million men, women, children, babies? If we are to learn from history so that we can say “Never again” we need to learn from what actually happened, learn the facts and to put things in context. In Bradford yesterday and I suspect in many schools that is just not happening.