OPINION: It’s my duty to tell of Bosnia’s hell

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

OPINION: It’s my duty to tell of Bosnia’s hell

By Rabbi Dr Margaret Jacobi

Rabbi Doctor Margaret Jacobi
Rabbi Doctor Margaret Jacobi

‘Welcome to hell’ says the graffiti. That sums up the situation in Sarajevo and Bosnia from 1992-1995. I was privileged to visit recently in a multi-faith delegation organised by Birmingham City Council and the charity Remembering Srebrenica. It revealed the horror and complexity of a genocide which, 20 years later, remains unresolved.

We arrived in Sarajevo in late afternoon. During the siege, Serb troops on the surrounding mountains sniped at anyone who ventured out. We could see the marks of shells on most buildings.

We visited the Tunnel Museum, based around the one tunnel through which supplies were smuggled for the entire city, and were introduced to the work of the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP), which has the gruesome task of matching human remains with relatives to identify the missing.

We saw more of its work in Tuzla before heading to Potočari, just outside Srebrenica, the site of a UN base. By 1993, 50,000 refugees had fled to Srebrenica, former population 3,000. In March of that year, UN troops arrived and assured the refugees of their protection. It proved illusory. A few hundred troops were far from adequate.

When air strikes began, Serbs threatened to kill Dutch soldiers they had taken hostage if the bombing continued. The UN stopped the bombing and 15,000 men set out on foot to Tuzla, 63 miles away. They were relentlessly pursued by the Serbs and murdered. The men who remained were separated from the women and children and shot – 8,500 men were killed. The women and children were expelled by the UN troops from the centre and piled into buses to be taken to Tuzla.

Similar atrocities throughout Bosnia saw women raped, men and boys forced into concentration camps, beaten, starved, and murdered.

I left Bosnia understanding more about the conflict yet with many more unanswered questions. What does it mean to say ‘never again’ when it has happened again and again? How can you repair a society torn apart by genocide? How can human beings be capable of such evil and what does it say about God who created them?

The questions will remain with me but I know I have a duty to tell of what I have learnt.

Dr Margaret Jacobi is rabbi at Birmingham Progressive Synagogue

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: