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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Echoes in Bosnia-Herezegovina

Column by Daniel Stevenson
staff reporter

April 20 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto. For 20 days, several thousand Jews put up a doomed fight against their oppressors. The facts of their struggle were broadcast around the world to no avail; their plight was not considered important or worthwhile by the great Allied powers. On May 8, 1943, the last of the defending Jews took their own lives, surrounded by the victorious SS troops. A few days later, the German commander reported, "The former Jewish section of Warsaw no longer exists . . . . The total number of identified and exterminated Jews is 56,065." In total, some 6 million Jews lost their lives to the Nazis before delayed and slow-paced Allied intervention put an end to Hitler's genocidal regime.

"Never again, never again," the great powers promised in their post-World War II idealism: never again would a people be driven to near extermination; never again would apathy, appeasement, and isolationism result in such death; never again would millions of men, women, and children, guilty only of being born in a certain ethnic group, be brutally "cleansed" off the face of this earth.

Despite these promises, the plight of the Jews 50 years ago is being eerily repeated today in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Serbian and Croatian forces are violently destroying the region's Muslim population. New reports of mass killing, systematic rape, torture of prisoners, and destruction of entire towns surface each day. The world collectively drags its feet, however, wasting time with dead-end negotiations, toothless threats, and half-hearted sanctions. The time lost with fruitless negotiation and diplomatic posturing is not measured in days and weeks, but in murdered civilians, raped women, and burnt down villages.

During his presidential campaign speeches in July 1992, Bill Clinton said, "The continuing bloodshed in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia demands urgent international action . . . It is time for real leadership to stop the continuing tragedy in the former Yugoslav republics." Now is the time to provide that leadership in the form of united intervention. Now is the time to fight for freedom and to insure the survival of an entire ethnic population. Now is the time to stop the genocide in the Balkans.

We have seen what blind appeasement and ignorance have wrought; we must avoid those results at all costs. Srebenica and Sarajevo must not be allowed to join the ranks of Treblinka, Auschwitz, Sobibor, and the Warsaw ghetto as infamous places of genocidal death. Six million more must not be allowed to die because of a foolish lack of foresight.

Today, as in the 1940s, an entire ethnic group is in danger of vanishing or of being negotiated out of a homeland, and despite well-publicized reports of atrocities and anguished pleas for assistance, nothing is being done to avoid the inevitable consequences. As President Clinton once said, "If the horrors of the Holocaust taught us anything, it is the high cost of remaining silent and paralyzed in the face of genocide."

Strong, forceful global intervention is necessary in Bosnia-Herzegovina immediately, so that 50 years from now we will not be grieving the doomed struggle of an ignored people against savage oppressors, but instead we will be celebrating the triumph of a swift, united response to ruthless aggression.