Yugolavia's Mark of Cain


Is the history of this bloody century going to run from Sarajevo to Sarajevo? For a while we thought that this name belonged to World War I, not to the present. Could it be that the signs are there that the life called civilized consists of constant new beginnings?

The tragedy that is ravaging ex-Yugoslavia is a reminder. Thus, as before, at whatever place on the planet, men kill and get themselves killed, for reasons as varied as they are mad, and the society called cultured lets it happen.

How can we express, to whom can we express the outrage that we feel? Will the great rulers of our countries continue indefinitely to play with grandiloquent but diluted words instead of acting to prevent death from striking the innocent?

As a Jew, one of those who got no help when we needed it, I address myself to the same degree to my own community. We aren't doing enough. We ought to make our voices heard, we should protest more and more strongly than anyone else.

As a member of the human family, I turn toward all those for whom humanity is not an empty idea. Not to try to help the victims, of all sides, in all the camps, is to dishonor oneself. I know well: Often one feels impotent. People say to themselves: Bosnia is far away; so is Belgrade. And then, what can an individual do to change the course of history that is smack in the middle of Central Europe?

Yes, I know. There is also the danger of repetition and numbness. We see the emaciated faces of the prisoners; we see the corpses that clutter the roads, and there are so many that we get used to it all. It is perhaps the worst that can happen to us. We are informed, but the information does not transform itself into knowledge. We know, but we are not concerned. We do not realize that indifference engenders guilt.

During the London conference (to seek peace in the former Yugoslavia), I had the opportunity of meeting the presidents of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Serbia as well as the chief of the Serbs in Bosnia. At my request, all gave me their word of honor that there were not, or there were no longer, any camps on their territories. Or more precisely, that no one committed atrocities there.

Invited by them to go there to investigate the situation, I accepted. Technical and political difficulties have prevented me from going there. I hope that we will be able to brush them aside.

It is certain that disgraceful conditions exist everywhere to a certain extent. All the leaders I met in London admitted that no one is entirely innocent. Journalists and representatives of humanitarian agencies reported awful facts. Here, Serbs massacred Muslims; there, Muslims avenged themselves upon the Serbs. And everywhere, civilians paid the price. Razed homes, burned apartment houses, entire families suffering from hunger and thirst, the cries of wounded orphans, the tears of overburdened widows. How can one remain insensitive to so much human suffering?

Let us applaud the unanimous decision of the Security Council to establish an international commission to investigate and judge the war crimes in Yugoslavia. The message will be understood in the field. Ethically, this measure works. Those responsible for the massacres will know that their crimes will be neither erased nor forgotten. The "war criminals," bearing the mark of Cain, judged and condemned for crimes against humanity, will be pursued everywhere and treated as enemies of humanity. Who knows -- it might make them fearful. But it has to be done quickly.

Let us not forget: Every day that passes means losses of human lives.

Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and author, won the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize.

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