Voices | Remembering the Srebrenica Genocide

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Ari Mittelman
Ari Mittleman (Tara Brown)

By Ari Mittleman

Twenty-five years ago in Pennsylvania, I was a middle school student enjoying summer vacation.


Twenty-five years ago in Bosnia, boys my age were separated from their mothers, grandmothers, and sisters to be executed in the worst atrocity on European soil since the end of World War II.

This week marks the somber anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of over 8,000 civilians in the waning months of the bloody war that tore apart Yugoslavia.

In school, in shul, and around the Shabbos dinner table, like so many other Jews, I was taught before, during, and after those middle school years — “Never Again.” While my family was not directly affected by the Holocaust, I learned that all Jews are responsible for one another and that we are to be a light unto the nations. It is our place to speak out against injustice and to help repair the world.

The lessons of Holocaust were downplayed and neglected 25 years ago in Bosnia, just as they are today in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China.

Indeed, in November 1992 — when American public opinion was focused on a contentious election — Elie Wiesel traveled to Belgrade, Sarajevo, and elsewhere in the Balkans. When he returned, he spoke out about the moral necessity for immediate action. The Holocaust survivor and author I learned to revere in middle school failed in his pleas.

Eighteen months later, as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated and presidential campaign politics were seemingly in the rearview mirror, the Nobel Peace Prize winner directly urged President Bill Clinton to take decisive action. Again, he was unsuccessful.

The world believed that the April 1993 United Nations Security Council declaration that Srebrenica “should be free from any armed attack or any other hostile act” was sufficient.

This October marks the 75th birthday of the United Nations. The United Nations failed to rally world attention and curtail the killing in Bosnia, and it is failing again to condemn and halt atrocities in XUAR.

Last October, despite incontrovertible evidence, the UN Human Rights Council was publicly divided over Chinese Communist Party activities in XUAR. The Geneva-based council in recent years is laser focused on the actions of the democratically elected government of Israel rather than the systematic destruction of indigenous culture and religious beliefs in northwest China.

While Washington Democrats and Republicans have agreed on little this year, they have joined together to very publicly denounce and sanction Chinese officials and entities perpetrating crimes against humanity. The draconian human rights abuses include torture of men, sterilization and abortions of women, and widespread forced labor. In short, the world is watching genocide.

This week also marks the four-year anniversary of the death of Elie Wiesel. While we should not assume what he would say as week after week news from XUAR leaks out, we know that he knew the teachings of the president of the ancient Sanhedrin, Rabbi Shimon son of Gamliel: “The world is sustained by three things — law, truth, and peace.”

Jewish tradition teaches that the order is very deliberate. There cannot be true peace without the prior two ingredients. The Chinese Communist Party has no independent judiciary enforcing laws or democratically elected parliament enacting laws. When international journalists are forbidden access to XUAR, truth is all but curtailed.

The lessons of the Holocaust were neglected 25 years ago this week in the hills of Bosnia. Regardless of denomination or political affiliation, world Jewry should speak out to prevent history repeating itself.

Ari Mittleman lives in Pikesville. He has lived and worked in the former Yugoslavia with an emphasis on peace building and economic development.

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