Rabbi Arthur Schneier delivers keynote speech at the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial Center in Potocari

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, founder and President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and the Senior Rabbi at Park East Synagogue in New York delivered the keynote address at the seventeenth annual memorial at Bosnia’s Potocari Memorial Park to commemorate the Srebenica Genocide, Europe’s largest massacre since World War II. It was the first time that a non-Muslim has ever taken part in this annual memorial. 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed on July 11, 1995. The massacre is considered the most brutal chapter of the Bosnian War.

Rabbi Schneier, who also delivered a personal message from President Barack Obama, spoke at the request of Grand Mufti Ceric of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The two have worked closely together for more than 20 years. In 1992 in Berne, Switzerland, The Appeal of Conscience Foundation led by Rabbi Schneier brought together for the first time top religious leaders of former Yugoslavia including Cardinal Vinko Puljic, Archbishop of Sarajevo, formally of Zagreb, Patriarch Pavle of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Grand Mufti Jakub efendi Selimoski of Sarajevo calling for an end to the bloodshed and joined in “the Berne Declaration” proclaiming “a crime in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion”.

Rabbi Schneier a Holocaust survivor told the more than 50,000 who attended the commemoration, “My entire family was murdered in Auschwitz and in Terezin. I know the anguish and despair that you feel when those dearest to you are brutally murdered for no other reason than their religion or ethnicity. Although the devastating pain of this crime belongs uniquely to the people of Bosnia and Srebrenica, and most particularly to the family members of its victims, you are not alone. I grieve with you, I feel your anguish, I hear your cry and I feel your pain. The brutality of what took place here can never be forgotten. And the totality of this crime must be remembered, not denied. The testimony of those who survived cannot be refuted and the historical fact cannot be altered.”

The Rabbi read a message from President Obama a portion of which stated, “The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th century. A measure of justice is finally being served for the victims in courts in The Hague and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the perpetrators of this atrocity, including Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are now being called to account for their actions. We know that Srebrenica’s future, and that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will not be held back by its painful recent history. The United States rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalize the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide. The United States stands with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and grieves again for the loss of so many loved ones. Our hearts and deepest sympathies are with them, and we pledge our enduring commitment to support their aspirations for a better tomorrow.” 

Rabbi Schneier underscored that while remembering those slain is vital, so too is bringing those responsible to justice. “For those who committed this crime, there can be no absolution. They bear a mark of Cain, which no man can wash away. No matter how long it may take, justice has a relentless memory and justice will be done.”

The Rabbi was also critical of the world’s indifference at the time that these horrors were taking place. “Even as we condemn the unique and inescapable guilt of the perpetrators, we must acknowledge that for the rest of the world, we too share in its shame. For just as this was a crime committed against all humanity, it was a crime allowed by all humanity.”

In comments directed at the survivors Rabbi Schneier said, “Today we remember the horrors of the past but vow not to be paralyzed by the past. Today’s commemoration is also about the future: mankind’s future and your future. You and I survived our tragedies. And despite the excruciating pain, it is our obligation to those who did not survive that we continue to participate in society and in perfecting this world.”

A Holocaust survivor, New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier (L), delivers a keynote address during a mass burial ceremony at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Cemetery in Potocari on July 11, 2012, next to Bosnian top Islamic cleric Mustafa Ceric, with whom he has been working closely for more than 20 years within the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF). (Photo by Elvis Barukcic) A Holocaust survivor, New York Rabbi Arthur Schneier (L), delivers a keynote address during a mass burial ceremony at the Srebrenica-Potocari Memorial Cemetery in Potocari on July 11, 2012, next to Bosnian top Islamic cleric Mustafa Ceric, with whom he has been working closely for more than 20 years within the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (ACF). (Photo by Elvis Barukcic) 

Commemoration Address

Rabbi Arthur Schneier

President, Appeal of Conscience Foundation
Senior Rabbi, Park East Synagogue
New York

July 11, 2012

Srebrenica-Potočari, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Salaam, Shalom, Peace Be upon You.

Your Eminence, Reis Ul-Lema, Mufta of Tuzla, Acting Mayor of Srebrenica, Your Excellencies, and Brothers and Sisters.

I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean to stand here in solidarity with you as you remember your loved ones who were massacred and to recall another ugly chapter of man’s inhumanity to man.

Although the devastating pain of this crime belongs uniquely to the people of Srebrenica and all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and most particularly to the family members of its victims— you are not alone.

I grieve with you.
I feel your anguish.
I hear your cry and feel your pain.

I personally know the pain that you have endured and that you continue to suffer. I am a survivor of the Holocaust. My entire family was murdered in Auschwitz and in Terezin. I know the anguish and despair that you feel when those dearest to you are brutally murdered for no other reason than their religion or ethnicity.

But as a survivor I neither turned against man or God. Instead, in memory of my family and the many millions exterminated like them, I devoted my life to help build bridges between all of God’s children in pursuit of peace and justice.

That is why when the war in the Balkans began, the foundation that I lead, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, brought together for the first time in Switzerland the Grand Mufti of Sarajevo, the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Cardinal of Zagreb, to condemn the use of religion as a justification for war.

On November 26, 1992, we signed the Berne Declaration stating that “A crime in the name of religion is the greatest crime against religion”.

The brutality of what took place here can never be forgotten not just in our generation, but also for all time. The totality of this crime must be remembered—not denied. The testimony of those who survived cannot be refuted and the historical fact cannot be altered.

This was a crime committed, first and foremost, against more than 8,000 human beings – more than 500 of whom we bury today – men and boys alike were massacred in an act of genocide. The victims’ only sin was to have existed— their only offense was to have been born, to have dreamed, and to have loved as humans.

As President Obama observed in the statement he issued for today’s commemoration:

“The name Srebrenica will forever be associated with some of the darkest acts of the 20th century.

“We know that Srebrenica’s future, and that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, will not be held back by its painful recent history. The United States rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalize the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide.

“We all desire continued reconciliation and peaceful coexistence for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans…

“The United States stands with the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and grieves again for the loss of so many loved ones. Our hearts and deepest sympathies are with them, and we pledge our enduring commitment to support their aspirations for a better tomorrow.”

The crime we remember today was also committed against the victims’ families and the many survivors who are thankfully with us today, many of whom still bear its scars and all of whom still bear its pain.

It was a crime committed against Europe and against religion and the natural order — from whom the victims and their progeny have been forever taken.

This was a crime against humanity— and against God.

We say ”never again” and we mean “never again”.

For those who committed this crime, there can be no absolution. They bear a mark of Cain, which no man can wash away. But no matter how long it may take, justice will be done.

Yet, even as we condemn the unique and inescapable guilt of the perpetrators, we must acknowledge that for the rest of the world, we too share in its shame. For just as this was a crime committed against all humanity, it was a crime allowed by all humanity.

It was allowed by a world that remained silent in the face of suffering for too long, and that did not lift its strong hand to stop the evil or help the weak. “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor”, the Torah teaches us. (Leviticus, 19:16.)

Mankind must not remain silent or helpless in the face of grave injustice. Silence is not a solution; it merely encourages the perpetrators and ultimately it pays a heavy price in blood.

It is a lesson that the world must learn again today as we witness the massacres being perpetrated by the regime in Syria against its own people. It is time again for humanity to say with one clear voice: these crimes must end!

The Responsibility to Protect adopted by the United Nations in 2005, obligates the community of nations to protect the innocent from mass atrocities.

Today we remember the horrors of the past but vow not to be paralyzed by the past. Today’s commemoration is also about the future: mankind’s future and your future. You and I survived our tragedies. And despite the excruciating pain, it is our obligation to those who did not survive that we continue to participate in society and in
perfecting this world.

Let us all resolve – for the sake of our children – to build a better world together so that they never come to know the kind of pain and loss we have known.

Let us resolve, in this country and around the world, to work together to build understanding among all faiths, particularly among the children of Abraham.

In memory of our massacred loved ones, for the sake of future generations, let us resolve to banish hatred from our hearts and lips and to strive for a world of coexistence, peace and tolerance.

In our own communities let us “live and let live” as neighbors who
respect “the Other”.

As is stated in the Koran:

“What is after will be better
Than what came before
To you the Lord will be giving
You will be content
Did he not find you orphaned
And give you shelter
Find you lost
And guide you
Find you in hunger
And provide for you”

Take these words to heart. Make them your own.

Today and tomorrow are the “after”. The “before” cannot be changed, it can only be remembered and should be remembered. But the future is ours to change: the future of your country, the future of your family, your own future. May God give you strength and bless you with peace.

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Post originally published on danieltoljaga.wordpress.com.