Jewish community leaders have spoken of their visit to Srebrenica, Sarajevo and Tuzla after joining an interfaith delegation to the sites of the 1995 Bosnian genocide.
The four-day trip, which returned on Wednesday, included heart-wrenching tours of where 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered by Serbs in the space of a week.
Interfaith activists joined hundreds of other participants from around the world as guides for the ‘Remembering Srebrenica’ programme explained that 20 years on, hundreds of new bodies are still being found and identified from the mass graves.
Among those making the visit were Leonie Lewis from Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN), Neil Martin from Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade (JLGB) and Josh Cass from Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine (FODIP).
“What struck me was how integrated the Bosnian Muslims had been,” said Lewis, who is also the co-chair of Faith Forum for London.
“Just like the Jews in Europe in the 1930s, they were fully immersed in society, even in terms of names and looks. The parallels were there for all to see.”
After the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, nationalist forces rose to prominence across the region, particularly in Serbia, sparking the bloodiest war in Europe in over a generation.
For four years (1992-1996) the city of Sarajevo was besieged, with 15,000 people killed. In 1995 the city of Tuzla was also attacked, with hundreds dead, while in Srebrenica 8,372 Muslim men and boys were killed by forces loyal to Gen. Ratko Mladić in a matter of days, in what is now widely accepted as genocide.
Communities Minister Stephen Williams, who led a UK delegation, said: “The 20th anniversary serves as a prompt that we must not only strive to remember the past but also learn lessons from it, and prevent repeats of its atrocities.”
Ifath Nawaz, vice president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, said the visit was “an opportunity for current and future generations to understand and witness the magnitudes of hatred and xenophobia particularly in the current climate when far-right extremism is on the increase”.
Meanwhile Lewis expressed sadness that “the lessons from the Holocaust have still not been learned,” adding that Srebrenica was “virtually on our doorsteps”.