On Wednesday, I watched on the news channels the reburial of human remains from the Srebrenica Massacre, when 8,000 men and boys were killed after the town was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. Not all the bodies could be located, but those that were have come to represent all who died. It was a poignant moment for the families and survivors who have lived under the shadow of a murder, which has lefts its scars and then revisited them countless times in the form of political, national, and religious posturing. These bones were once real people. But even as bones they were more than once before dug up and reburied in efforts to erase the crime from the annals of history. Their own murder has outlived them. For the mourners, the tragedy is that the violent act carried out against their families and friends overshadows what the dead once achieved for themselves in life.
“It is the pain, an endless pain, and when 11 July arrives, every year, this pain becomes unbearable,” Sevdija Halilovic, whose father’s remains will be laid to rest, told the AFP news agency. “My two brothers were also killed in the massacre but have not been found yet,” she added.
By coincidence, July 11th is also the anniversary of my grandfather’s arrest. He was murdered soon afterwards. Seventy-one years after his life was snuffed out, his remains have not been found. In fact, they will never knowingly be found. In my grandfather’s city, old massacres were often later cleaned up. The bodies were brought to the edge of town. There a furnace awaited them. What remained from the furnace was ground to dust in a gravel grinder, and sprayed out over the forest. Time and subterfuge once stole their final moments but they are nonetheless remembered as living people today.