Hearing the stories of Bosnian families struck a chord with Lilian Black.
The chair of the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association was reminded of the experiences of her father – a Holocaust survivor.
More than two decades after the Srebrenica genocide, echoes of two of history’s darkest chapters were brought together as Lilian met survivors of the atrocity.
Until recently, she knew very little about the genocide which took place in her own lifetime in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
But travelling on a ‘Lessons from Srebrenica’ delegation with the charity, Remembering Srebrenica, shone a light on the wounds of the past.
“The way the Srebrenica massacre happened was totally reminiscent of the Holocaust,” said Lilian. “The scale and the industrialisation of it occurred across the whole of Europe and the lessons are exactly the same.”
The group learned about the genocide in Srebrenica, which happened almost 22 years ago, when General Ratko Mladić and his Bosnian Serb forces marched into the town of Srebrenica, systematically murdering 8,372 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and raping thousands of women and girls. The delegation heard from survivors of the genocide and relatives of the victims.
Lilian, who met survivors including some of the Mothers of Srebrenica, said: “My grandparents, my father and his two sisters were transported to Auschwitz from Hungary. When they got there, he was separated from his family and he never saw them again. When we went back to Auschwitz in 2004, it was a reflective and sad experience for him. He remembered all of it. Later in his life, when he became ill, his thoughts were very intrusive.
“This is how I know that so many of these Bosnian women will never be able to escape the experience that they had. They can find a way to deal with it, but they can never eradicate it. We met three mothers and I could feel their pain. I couldn’t give them words of comfort and tell them that they’d be OK in about 20 years time, because it doesn’t work like that.
“I hope I was helpful to the Bosnian women and I hope they knew that I understood. The big thing for them was the fact that people were actually learning about it. That meant so much to them because they didn’t feel alone anymore.
“I was struck by the intense agony of those mothers we met and their quiet dignity, strength and grace as they continue to live their lives without their menfolk and sometimes without knowing where they lie,” she said. “Their generosity in sharing their stories is remarkable and reminded me so much of my father’s spirit.”
Lilian and her family moved to Kirkheaton in 1962. She travelled with her father, as he returned to the sites of his own persecution and to discover the fate of his own family in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and is now leading a project to create a new Holocaust Heritage and Learning Centre for the North within Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield.
Lilian said: “Dr Waqar Azmi, chair of Remembering Srebrenica, came to the location of the new centre. There is a sizeable Bosnian Muslim community in Huddersfield. I told him I had heard about Srebrenica, but was ashamed to say that I didn’t know much about it. I joined the delegation and we ended up going to Bosnia. It was just an amazing trip.”
Remembering Srebrenica will be running a programme, Lessons from Srebrenica, at the centre. The programme will contain photographs, stories from survivors and a memorial stone to commemorate all those who were killed.
To find out more about Remembering Srebrenica, visit: www.srebrenica.org.uk