‘Disgusting murders are still happening. Will we never learn lessons?’
Holocaust and Bosnian genocide survivors speak of horrors past and present
31 January, 2020 — By Calum Fraser
Mevlida Lazibi and Hana Kleiner
HARROWING accounts of living through genocide and mass slaughter were given in Islington by survivors on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the largest Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Hana Kleiner and Mevlida Lazibi stood up in front of an audience that included both Islington MPs, Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, and told how they have coped with losing their parents, siblings and friends in two different mass murders in the 20th century – the Holocaust and the Bosnian genocides.
Both survivors spoke of their horror at witnessing a rise in racist rhetoric in the 21st century and said it was “disgusting” that genocides are still happening around the world today.
Ms Kleiner, 93, was put on one of the last trains out of Czechoslovakia with her sister as the Nazis invaded in 1939.
The girls were taken in by a family in England. They later found out that their parents had been taken to Auschwitz and killed along with roughly six million other Jews during the Second World War. She said: “I have lived in a multifaith society, mostly among Christians, and have been close to many of them. But I am Jewish and remain a Jew.
“My parents and family were murdered because they were Jews and I will die a Jew.”
She added: “It [the Holocaust] should stand as a terrible warning of what could happen when prejudice and bigotry become the policy of dictators or religious fanatics to justify the elimination of others.
Ms Kleiner talks to Jeremy Corbyn
“At first after the enormity of what happened, one had some hope that such things could never be done again, but sadly the horror that was the Holocaust has not stopped other genocides.
“As for me, what grieves and depresses me is the present rise of anti-semitism.”
Ms Lazibi, 53, lived through the Bosnian War, which lasted between 1992 to 1995 claiming about 100,000 lives including the genocide of Muslim Bosnians known as Bosniaks.
She had been smuggled to Srebrenica because the United Nations had declared it a “safe area”. She was pregnant at the time and had to give birth in a forest where her daughter died.
Ms Lazibi, who now lives in Avenell Road, Highbury, was one of thousands of women who were evacuated from Srebrenica in 1993 on UN trucks as Serbian forces closed in.
She said that women and children were packed into the trucks “like animals” and when one person died there was not enough room for the body to fall to the ground.
She added: “We were stopped by the Serbian army and they were taking any women they wanted to take.
“We had to take any dust or dirt we could find to put on ourselves to make us unattractive and unwanted. They were taking young girls.”
She added: “We were innocent, we didn’t want anything, just a right to live.”
In July 1995 about 8,000 boys and men, including Ms Lazibi’s brothers, father, uncles and grandfather, were rounded up by Serbian soldiers and butchered.
After settling in the UK Ms Lazibi returned to Srebrenica to find her family.
She said: “When the soldiers murdered them they put them in big graves. My younger brother, we found his body in three different parts of the graves.”
Speaking to the Tribune, she said: “These disgusting murders are still happening. Will we never learn any lessons?”
Mr Corbyn also spoke at the event in Islington Assembly Hall in Upper Street on Monday.
“Genocide is a real and evil thing that exists in the world today,” he said. “If we want to live in a world of peace and justice, that means challenging prejudice, racism and injustice wherever it arises.
“That surely is something we can all take away from today.”
Ceremonies were held around the world to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.