- Hasan Hasanović
- Nedžad Avdić
- Fadila Efendić
- Dr Dautbašić-Klempić
On your visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, you will visit the Srebrenica Memorial Centre and meet with survivors of the genocide.
Click through to read stories from survivors of the Srebrenica genocide.
It was late at night when I heard the men were planning to move. All day, the UN troops said help was coming, but by nightfall, nothing had happened. We were beginning to hear that UN soldiers were abandoning their positions, and retreating without resistance. We were all shocked. They had demilitarised Srebrenica completely; Bosniak soldiers were made to hand over their weapons. But now, the UN themselves were backing down. I was sat with my twin brother, Husein, and my father, and we knew then that if we wanted to survive, we would have to join the column.
We were amidst thousands and thousands of men. As far as my eyes could see, there were men walking — from teenagers, to old withered men. We were all supposed to gather on Buljim Hill, approximately six miles from Srebrenica, and set off from there. We were headed to Tuzla, the nearest Muslim territory. On foot, Tuzla is just over 63 miles from Srebrenica, and you have to pass lots of uneven terrain, mountains, rivers, even minefields. It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, but we had no other option. We wanted to live.
We all gathered on the hill, and began assembling into a column. My uncle, who was with us, said it was best to remain in the middle of The Column. I was only 19 at the time, so I didn’t argue with his decision. As we continued to assemble in line, I heard an onslaught of gunfire. The key hill positions were under the control of the Serb military, so they had a good view of us all lining up. They didn’t care that we were unarmed. Their primary concern was that we were Muslim, and they wanted us dead. In the commotion of the gunfire, people in the column started to push forward in a panic, desperate for shelter from the bullets. Bodies fell to the ground behind us, but no one knew exactly what was happening. The gunfire was relentless, and it felt like it was coming from every angle.
“They didn’t care that we were unarmed. Their primary concern was that we were Muslim, and they wanted us dead.”
I could think of nothing but pushing forward. Forward was freedom; forward was survival, forward was everything. I pushed forward with all my might, until finally from the sea of men ahead, I saw woodland. I realised at that moment that I had lost my family. Husein, my father, and my uncle. As much as I wanted to stop and look for them, I knew if I did, I would be killed. I told myself if I wanted to live, I would have to run and not look back.
So, I ran. I ran with countless others into the woods. If we turned back, we would have to go to Potočari, and we were sure the UN would give us up to the Serb army. They had already given up Srebrenica, and by doing so, sacrificed our lives.
It was now well into the afternoon on 12th July. We had lost complete contact with the front of The Column. We tried to walk faster in an attempt to catch them up, but suddenly we were under fire again. I could see bullets smacking into tree trunks all around me, and I realised how close they were. I held my breath and hid behind a tree. We were all so afraid. At that moment, I felt all my strength drain away. We waited for what felt like hours. As the gunfire subsided, we began to walk again. A man offered me sugar and water, which I graciously accepted and swallowed in seconds.
As night fell, we began to catch up with the front of The Column. When a few hundred of us had gathered, all exhausted, and some wounded, we decided to take a break. We settled in the woodlands, some on the ground, others slumped over rocks. I couldn’t look at anyone. The instinct to survive is a powerful one, but nothing spells death like the face of a helpless man. So, we just looked away from each other.
The next day, we had been walking for hours when we all gathered on Kamenica Hill, approximately 37 miles from Tuzla. I thought we would take some rest here, but once again, the gunfire began. One thousand men were massacred on the spot. Those of us near the front of the column managed to break away, and seek shelter in the forest. Hidden from view, we could hear Serb voices on the loudspeakers for hours. They were promising safety, shelter and food. They said they wouldn’t hurt us, and that we should come out of hiding. Tanks blocked all the roads, so we had two options: stay in the forest, or give in and be killed. Those that gave up were encouraged to call on their relatives to do the same. Men shouted the names of their fathers, sons, brothers; they assured them that there was nothing to fear, and that the Serbs wouldn’t harm them. That day was the bloodiest of them all for The Column. We heard later that thousands of men had been captured, tortured, and subsequently killed on 13th July.
In the early hours of the next day, those of us who had managed to escape reached Konjević Polje, a central intersection on a long road, which goes from Sarajevo Srebrenica. One route of the intersection leads to Bratunac, and the other to Tuzla. Exhausted and in pain, we headed through the forest in the direction of Tuzla. It felt like I was walking and sleeping at the same time. I was never sure if I was in complete consciousness. Just then, a man hit my shoulder from behind. He yelled that a Serb tank was coming. We all fell to the ground, and remained completely still. Luckily, the tank passed by and we went unnoticed. We waited until the road was clear, and continued to run towards Tuzla.
After hours and hours of walking, we came to a river. We all struggled to cross. We weren’t soldiers that had prepared for this kind of journey. We were just ordinary men. I could feel my feet burn as I crossed the river. When I reached the other side, I fell to the ground and kicked off my boots in agony. The skin on the bottom of my feet had peeled off completely. The combination of the rubber boots, the water, and the hours of walking had taken their toll. It was excruciatingly painful. I took off my t-shirt, ripped it in two, and wrapped my feet in it. I fell back to the ground exhausted, and bellowed, “I want to sleep!” A man responded, “If you sleep now, you’ll sleep forever.”
By the time we arrived at the Baljkovica Valley, I was carouseling on the edge of life and death. I had barely drunk any water, and my only sustenance had been a bit of sugar that my father’s friend had given me before he gave himself up. As we arrived at the valley, we were forced to take cover again. I hid in a stream for two hours as the Serb military and the few Bosnian with arms exchanged gunfire. A few hours later, everything fell silent, and we were told to cross the valley quickly.
We finally arrived in the free territory of Zvornik. I couldn’t believe I had survived. The people of Nezuk village welcomed us with food and water. There were lines of busses and trucks, which we were ushered onto. I fell asleep on the bus, and when I awoke, it was dark. We had arrived at a school building. We were told that we would stop here for the night. The school had been ransacked, and there was nothing left but the roof, the walls, and the concrete floors. Exhausted, we all found a spot on the floor and fell asleep.
The next morning, we got up and had some breakfast. We were then ushered onto the busses. I had no idea where we were going, but I didn’t care. I just followed the line ahead. I was consumed with thoughts of my brother and father. And I felt that if following the line ahead had made me survive the Death March, then maybe there was some hope of reuniting with my mother. I fell asleep on the bus, and was awoken by the driver. I had walked five days, and six nights, and finally, I was in Tuzla.
The bus stop was filled with women from Srebrenica. As I stepped off, women began asking me about their loved ones, describing what their fathers, brothers or husbands were wearing, and telling me their names, asking if I had seen them. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to upset them, but the truth was that they were probably all dead. A lady ushered me through the crowd, and asked if I had anywhere to go. I said no. For the next two weeks, she and her family took care of me. They gave me a place to stay, food and clothes. I’ll never forget their generosity.
I later found out that most women and children were being held at Tuzla airport, which had become a makeshift refugee camp. When I arrived there, I saw an endless field of white tents. They went on for miles and miles. I went over to the administration desk, and asked them to make an announcement. People began to flock towards the desk when they heard I had come from Srebrenica. They asked about their loved ones, asked if I knew what had happened to them. I kept apologising, and saying I didn’t know. I said I was praying that they too would return. Then from amidst the crowd, I spotted my mother with my younger brother, and my grandparents. I couldn’t believe it. We gripped each other tightly, and thanked God for reuniting us.
Till this day, I cannot believe I was part of The Column. Everyday, I wonder where I got that strength. When you’re in that kind of situation, where every step is a matter of life and death, your mind just works differently. The experience has stayed with me since then. It follows me everyday; from the moment I get up, to the moment I go to sleep. I just can’t get rid of it. The worst thing is the anguish that comes with thinking about Husein and my father — wondering how they were killed, whether they were tortured or not, and how long it took them to die. That pain is almost unbearable.
I moved back to Srebrenica in 2009, when I started working for the Memorial Center as a curator and translator. Sometimes, it’s painful being here, but it’s my home. It’s where I belong. I’m married now, and I have a beautiful three-year-old daughter. I hope my work at the Center inspires her, and keeps her in touch with the story of her grandfather and her uncle. This experience is also part of her history, her heritage, and I want it to shape her life; the decisions she makes, and eventually the person she becomes. What I do on a daily basis is painful, because I have to recount my story — five, six times a day. But I want to speak to people, and share my story because my heart speaks. And now, finally, someone is listening.
Early in the spring 1992, our house was burnt and destroyed by Serb soldiers. My family, father, mother, three younger sisters and me escaped from being captured and killed. After months of hiding in the woods, we took shelter in Srebrenica in March 1993.
We lived in difficult conditions; in a garage, a school and sometimes in the front of the houses beside the fire with other refugees. It was a period of starvation and often we went to seek food all around Srebrenica in the burnt and destroyed villages.
Meanwhile, UN troops arrived and we saw them as rescuers. Almost every day we played football against the Dutch soldiers; often, we boys watched them eating as we were starving. Anyway, we took them for friends. But, in July 1995, all that changed. When Mladić’s offensive started, the Dutch forgot us, left their check-points and fled. We had no option but to follow them and wait for help but it came from nowhere.
We were afraid of going to Potočari – the Dutch UN soldiers’ base. We feared for our lives. After days of hiding and taking cover in the woods and hills around Srebrenica my father, uncle and I headed in the direction of Tuzla on a long, unknown and uncertain road through the woods and minefields.
Running away we were under constant bombardment by Serb artillery from the hills. On that Death Road, an endless column of men and boys, many were killed and the wounded were crying out for help, in vain. In the chaos, I lost my father and ran through the crowd crying and calling for him.
Then, we could not keep going forward because we were in the back part of the column that was broken. We were lost in the middle of the forest, we did not know where to go. Serb soldiers called by megaphone: “Go out or you will be killed….You will have treatment according to the Geneva Convention”.
Bare-footed, starving, thirsty, exhausted, frightened and carrying our wounded, we got out on the road on July 13. The Serb soldiers behaved correctly until we all gave ourselves up. Some 2,000 men and boys were loaded on lorries and taken to their death. After driving in the covered lorries in different directions, we were taken to a field where we would be shot.
We were tortured and dying for a drop of water. Before execution, we were forced to take off our clothes. One of soldiers tied our hands in the back. At that moment I, a 17-year-old boy, realised it was the end. I was trying to hide on the lorry behind the men wishing to live a few more seconds. The others did the same. Finally, I had to jump out. We were told to find a place and lined up, five by five.
I thought that I would die fast without suffering. Thinking that my mum would never know where I finished they began to shoot us in our backs. I did not know whether I lost consciousness, but I lay on my stomach bleeding and trembling. I was shot in my stomach and right arm. The shooting continued and I watched the lines of people falling down.
I could hear and feel bullets hitting all around me. Shortly after that I was wounded heavily in my left foot. The men were dying around me; I could hear their death-rattles.
I was dying too in terrible pain and had no strength to call them to kill me. I said to myself: “Oh my God, why don’t I die?” The pain was unbearable.
It was midnight and the lorry moved away. Trying to raise my head I noticed a man who was moving. I asked him: “Are you alive?” He answered: “Yes, come to untie me.” We succeeded in untying one another and avoiding the next lorry arriving.
After days of suffering, wandering through the woods, hiding in the streams, sleeping in the grave-yards, crawling with my terrible pain we managed to reach the territory under Bosnian government control. My father, uncle and relatives who sought shelter at the Dutch base in Potočari did not survive. The man who saved me lives today far away from Bosnia. I returned to Srebrenica in 2007.
Although she was born as one of four children into a poor family, struggling to get by in 1950s Yugoslavia, Fadila Efendić was taught the value of education and reading from an early age. But nothing she had read could prepare her for what happened in July 1995: “They cannot put into 100 films what I saw in those two days” she says shaking her head and remembering the horrific ordeal she and thousands of others went through under the watch of UN forces in Potočari.
Her husband, Hamed, and son, Fejzo, were murdered along with over 8,000 other Muslim men and boys trying to escape Srebrenica, but their fates remained unknown to Fadila for many years afterwards. The one thing that gave Fadila the strength to carry on was her drive to ensure that she gave her daughter the opportunity to study and make something of her life.
In the early 1990s, things in Bosnia-Herzegovina started to change, but although she saw problems occurring in other parts of the country, Fadila had no idea how bad the situation would become: “I didn’t feel any intolerance among Muslim and Orthodox people in Srebrenica. At work, I asked my colleagues: “What’s going to happen?” They told me that they didn’t know; one told me: “maybe if somebody owes something to somebody else, they will simply collect their debts, they will fight, nothing else.”
I was so naïve; I thought I didn’t owe anything to anybody, I hadn’t argued with anybody, so nobody would harm me. That’s why I remained here.
My sister and her three children went away, my brothers also. I stayed in Potočari. My mother was very sick, she couldn’t go; someone had to look after her. So, I stayed, with my family, my husband and two children.”
This was a decision that would change her life forever: “You cannot explain it to someone who didn’t live through it, but if I had known what was coming, I wouldn’t have stayed; I would have run away somewhere. A war not only brings killings, many ugly things happen. As the days passed, each became more difficult than the last. I had to endure shelling; I had to endure many adversities of war.”
Fadila’s mother had passed away by 1995, but the rest of the family were still living in their house just outside Srebrenica: “I never believed that this was a “Safe zone”. How could I believe it when Serbian soldiers were firing shells and killing people, whenever they wanted?
“Then the fatal 11th July came. They were saying all the time that we would be protected. NATO’s airplanes were flying over Srebrenica, but they were not acting. I asked my husband: ‘What are they waiting for? Can’t they see that people are panicking, that they are trying to run away through the woods?’ He said: ‘The world will not allow this.’ What world? You can only count on yourself. Do not count on the world to protect you. My daughter and I had to leave our house. My husband and son stayed to try and break through the woods, the next day. I heard that they came to the UN base as well. We were not together, I don’t know why. I never saw them again.”
Instead of a refuge, the UN base turned into a scene from hell, as Fadila recalls: “My daughter and I were at the base for two days and two nights without food and water. I wasn’t hungry, I was only cold and it was July, 30 degrees Celsius. I only felt cold, I was freezing. It was because of fear, it wasn’t really cold, but I was afraid.
You’re watching your death with your own eyes. You are waiting for them to take you out and kill you. You’re talking to a person and suddenly he’s gone. Where is he? They just gave a sign with a finger. They executed him. They took him somewhere.”
“It was terrible. Everybody was lying on the ground in the battery factory: old people, children, women. In one corner a woman is giving a birth, and in another there is a woman dying. What are we going to do with her? Are we going to get her out? It’s not that somebody came to kill her, but she was dying out of fear. One woman gave birth, the child is crying, and in one moment I didn’t know if the child was dead or alive. The woman didn’t have any food to breast-feed the baby. Another woman had given birth two days earlier and she was begging for someone to give her a drop of milk or sugar for the baby. The children were dying, crying all around. t was complete chaos.”
The next day they were taken away on an open topped army truck: “When I came to the free territory, I was searching for my son and husband. They told me that I was crazy. How could they come when so many people were missing? OK, I’m crazy. The next day I went to the International Red Cross to report them missing, and I couldn’t say a single word. I had to drink some water before I could speak.”
Finally, years later, and despite the efforts of Bosnian Serbs forces to hide the bodies in mass graves, her husband and son’s remains were found: “In March 1998, when my husband was identified; he wasn’t complete. His body was found in one grave, his head in another. That realisation was terrible. It was hard four years later as well, when I found out about my son. They only found his two leg bones.”
The pain she feels about the loss of her son is particularly hard to take:
“Every mother is a lioness for her child. When you give birth, then you know. When your child goes to sleep and gets a fever, you’re afraid something’s going to happen, that your child will die. What can you say when you see your child has grown up, but someone takes him from you and kills him.”
Despite the pain and the trauma of her horrific experiences, Fadila returned to Srebrenica and set up a business selling flowers: “I started realising that I must go on. I survived along with my daughter, but she only has me. I must work and earn, so my daughter doesn’t feel that she’s an orphan. She did feel it, without the tenderness and love from her father or brother, but I had to be strong and capable to give her as much as I could. Her job was to study. My job was to work. We made an agreement. You have to learn and to justify all the trust I have in you, and I will work in order to finance your education.”
For survivors like Fadila, denial of the genocide causes further pain. Sitting in her shop opposite the cemetery in Potočari, she has to challenge it: “You’re beating me and I cannot say that it hurts me? And it hurts when you’re getting beaten.
There is no justice. This graveyard and all of these murdered people here fell from the sky? A meteor fell and killed these people? That’s not what happened. It’s well known who killed the people. I didn’t believe that it could happen, but I must speak out so that what happened to us never happens to anyone ever again.”
During the siege things got worse and worse. One day, people were in a big crowd in front of the middle school in Srebrenica and then the shelling starts. It’s impossible to describe how it was after that; dead everywhere, parts of bodies, blood on the buildings around us on the road – everywhere. In that one moment we counted that 56 people were killed.
When the town fell, I was really afraid that if I went to the UN base, I would not survive. I was afraid of being killed or raped, so I decided to go the mountains with the men. Whether or not I survived, I wanted to decide about my own life. My mother was too old to come with us – I cannot remember the moment that we said goodbye outside the hospital without crying. We knew it might be the last time we were together.
The journey was like Russian Roulette. You know when you’re having a dream and you’re trying to run, but you can’t. Your legs are really heavy and it’s that feeling that you will never reach the top of the hill. It became impossible to step on the ground; you were just walking over bodies because so many dead people were lying there.
When we were walking through the mountains, we didn’t know who was alive, dead or captured or what happened to anybody – you could only see a small part of the column. But when we arrived in Tuzla we realised that only about 4,000 people had made it. We still thought that the rest would come, but days and days passed and then we realised that many people had been killed. How is it possible that if 15,000 people left Srebrenica, only 4,000 people reached Tuzla?
I lost 17 people from my father’s family – his brothers, their sons and even some grandsons. My mother lost a brother and his two sons. My three aunts all lost their husbands and sons. That’s over 40 people from our family, but I used to say that I didn’t only lose members of my family, I also lost my friends and my patients.
I now live in Tuzla, but once a month I go back to Srebrenica to do a clinic for new and expectant mothers, because there are no Gynaecologists there. Something inside of me asks me again and again to go there. I feel a lot of emotions for people who went back and are able to live there.
I feel that I want to be in Srebrenica; I belong there, but I can’t because of my family and my children. How can I say to them that they have to move to Srebrenica and live there? I try to teach them that they have to remember and to share our story and they have to teach other people how to live without hatred.
I hope that the day will come when all people will be able to live in peace without hatred of their neighbours; no matter what the name or religion of your neighbour is, we are all human.
Surviving Srebrenica by Hasan Hasanović
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