By SABINA NIKSIC (Associated Press)
SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Jews and Muslims from Bosnia and abroad gathered in Srebrenica on Saturday to jointly observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to promote compassion and dialogue amid the Israel-Hamas war.
The gathering was organized by the center preserving memory of Europe’s only acknowledged genocide since the Holocaust — the massacre in the closing months of Bosnia’s 1992-95 interethnic war of more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks in Srebrenica.
The event on Saturday underscored the message that the two communities share the experience of persecution and must stay united in their commitment to peace.
“Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Jews are one body, our ties are intricate, forged in hard times and times of prosperity and interaction,” said Husein Kavazović, the head of Bosnia’s Islamic Community, in his address to a group of survivors and descendants of victims of the Holocaust and the Srebrenica genocide who took part in the commemoration.
“Both our peoples have suffered and had experienced attempts to destroy and eradicate them (and) at the present moment, when the evils of antisemitism and Islamophobia are gaining ground around Europe and the world, we must renew our vow to be good neighbors and care for one another,” he added.
Menachem Rosensaft, a child of Holocaust survivors and until last summer the general counsel for the World Jewish Congress, was also in attendance. Rosensaft had repeatedly led delegations of Jewish scholars and young diplomats at ceremonies to commemorate the Srebrenica massacre that are held every July in the eastern Bosnian town.
“Today, we remember. Today, we mourn. We join together in sorrow, and our tears become prayers — prayers of remembrance, but also prayers of hope,” Rosensaft told the gathering.
“This commemoration is the place for us to jointly commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to prevent the horrors we remember here today from being repeated,” he added.
Rosensaft recalled in his speech the stories of Bosnian Muslims who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis and, about 50 years later, Bosnian Jews saving and caring for their Muslim neighbors during the country’s internecine war.
Jews settled in Bosnia in the 15th century after fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Their thriving community was decimated by the Holocaust and today numbers around 1,000 people.
“We must do all in our collective power to change the future, to prevent further destruction and violence, and to reject all manifestations of antisemitism, of Islamophobia, of bigotry, of xenophobia, and of hatred. And we must do so together,” Rosensaft said.
The commemoration was followed by the launch of the Srebrenica Muslim-Jewish Peace and Remembrance Initiative devised and signed by Rosensaft and Kavazović. The signing of the initiative was witnessed by a Srebrenica massacre survivor, Munira Subašić, and the leader of Bosnia’s Jewish community, Jakob Finci, who was born in a concentration camp in 1943.
Kavazović and Rosensaft committed to collaborate in times of crisis, maintain consistent and compassionate channels of communication, remember and commemorate the victims of past genocides and repudiate all forms of bigotry.