21 February 2017
Each year on 27 January the world marks Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) and the theme for HMD 2017 was How Can Life Go On? Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council adopted this theme for a survivor’s testimonial evening on Tuesday 24 January and for the showing of ‘Sophie’s Choice’ on Friday 27 January, in The Old Courthouse, Antrim.
A heart wrenching testimonial was given by Kemal Pervanic, a survivor of the Bosnian genocide (1992-1995). He described the beauty of his home country, Bosnia-Herzegovina in his talk as a mountainous country about a third of the size of England. It lies next to the Adriatic Sea, to the south of Croatia and west of Serbia with a population of less than half that of London.
Nearly 25 years ago, Kemal, his family and their fellow villagers found themselves under attack, rounded out of their villages and exported to a concentration camp set up by Bosnian Serb forces. Chillingly, some of his fellow school mates and teachers were his jailers and torturers. The rise of sectarianism and nationhood often divided former neighbours and friends. The morning after his talk, Kemal commented: “For this talk taking place in Northern Ireland, it seemed most appropriate to talk extensively about politics and the politics of division. This was something that connected Bosnia, ex-Yugoslavia and Northern Ireland. The audience were fascinated by my story and a couple of them quietly shed a few tears. I quickly realised these were my brothers and sisters.”
Writer, filmmaker, storyteller and human rights activist Kemal told those present how he survived the notorious Omarska concentration camp, its inhumane conditions and the daily torrent of torture and starvation. Today, Kemal is one of the founders of Most Mira (Bridge of Peace) which was set up in 2008 to build a better, more peaceful future for the young people of his home village of Prijedor and the surrounding areas. They provide opportunities and safe spaces for young people to come together today in an attempt to create understanding and prevent future conflict.
Holocaust Memorial Day provides an opportunity for everyone to learn the lessons from the Holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, to apply them in the present day to create a safer, better future. On this day we remember the millions who have been murdered in the atrocities of the past in order to challenge hatred and persecution now. Tragically, over 35 countries are currently deemed at risk of genocide where men, women and children continue to suffer from mass atrocities born of the hatred, fear, ignorance and prejudice of their perpetrators.
For further information on the Most Mira project visit www.mostmiraproject.org
For further information on the Council’s Good Relations Programme visit www.antrimandnewtownabbey.gov.uk/ Good-Relations
This project received financial support from The Executive Office through Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council’s Good Relations Programme.