Judith Armatta

Excerpt from the Book

“My Mama Would Never Know Where I Am"

[Excerpted from Chapter 11: Genocide]

B-1401 was a seventeen-year-old refugee when he and his family were caught in the maelstrom of war, ethnic cleansing, and mass executions that became known to the world as "Srebrenica." When the Bosnian Serbs attacked the UN safe area on 6 July 1995, B-1401, along with other able-bodied Muslim men and boys, was faced with the decision to seek shelter at the UNPROFOR base in Potocari among the women and young children or flee into the woods. Understandably lacking confidence that UNPROFOR would protect them, B-1401, his father, uncle, and other male relatives headed for the woods.

They joined a column of fifteen thousand men led by one to three thousand Bosnian army troops, heading toward Bosnian-controlled territory. In fierce fighting the Bosnian soldiers broke through enemy lines, leaving civilians and some of the soldiers behind. When Milošević questioned the witness about the army's abandonment of civilians, he responded, "They had to save themselves. If they'd taken us, no one would have survived." The remaining civilians spent the night in the woods under heavy shellfire. B-1401 described a scene of extraordinary chaos. Men were wounded and dying. Some were hallucinating and a few killed themselves rather than surrender. They did not know where they were. The witness lost contact with his father and never saw him again.

Next day the shelling let up and Serb forces demanded the column surrender. While some men headed deeper into the woods, many thousands walked toward Serbian forces with their hands raised. B-1401 described walking over corpses, seeing men with their faces and hands blown off from shells. He estimated about five hundred men were killed in the woods. After demanding that the men throw down their weapons, valuables, and German marks, their Serb captors crowded them onto trucks, where they spent the night without food or water. The following morning, the men were crammed into a school building in Petkovci under even worse conditions and forced to repeat, "This is Serb land. It always was and always will be." The men were so thirsty they drank their own urine.

As night fell they were taken out in groups of three to five, followed by the sound of gunfire. None returned. Soldiers later led the remaining men out, tying their hands and loading them onto a truck. The witness described feeling a sticky substance on his foot and seeing a large pile of corpses in front of the school. After a five- to ten-minute ride the truck stopped. Men were unloaded in groups of five. Each time the men remaining heard shots. B-1401 said they tried to avoid getting off the truck, knowing they were going to be executed. Many begged for water. They did not want to die thirsty. The witness said he tried to hide too. "I just wanted to live another minute or two."

When it was his turn, Serb soldiers ordered his group to find a place to lie down among the dead bodies. "Everything happened so fast," he told the court. "I thought I'd die soon and not suffer any more, that my mama would never know where I am." The soldiers opened fire. B-1401 was shot in his right side. When the next group came and the shooting resumed, he was wounded again -- in his left foot. Later he was hit once more. He was suffering so much from his wounds, he testified, that he wanted to cry out and beg to be killed. The moaning of the man next to him elicited a bullet in the head. The killing continued for another hour.

His pain was so excruciating that B-1401would never have tried to escape had it not been for another survivor. The two untied each other's hands with their teeth, crawled on their stomachs across the field of corpses, and reached the top of a hill. Next morning they saw a yellow loader collecting a "very large pile" of dead bodies. Speaking of the trek through the woods with the other survivor, B-1401 testified, "He was the only one who knows how badly I suffered. I couldn't walk. He would leave me, then come back and beseech me to go on. I hurt so badly." After four days of traveling they reached safety.

Milošević questioned the witness about the nature of the column of men -- how many were armed, how many were soldiers, how many in the woods were killed in combat. The accused was seeking support for his defense that a large number of the Srebrenica dead had died while fighting. Yet, if 500 men died fighting in the woods, at least 6,500 more remained to be accounted for. When Milošević questioned the young man about apparent discrepancies in identifying the execution site, B-1401 responded, "It happened during the night. You'll never be able to understand the feeling when one is taken out to be executed." As one of the prosecutors later wrote, “When this boy testified something happened in the courtroom. We were all – judges, prosecutors, amici choking back emotion. It was [as] if his having passed through that experience imparted a quality to him that impacted us all."i


i Dermot Groome, 13 November 2007 correspondence with author.


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