(3 Jul 2015) Rob Zomer has heard the comments many times over: You’re cowards, killers; How could you stand there and do nothing?
A stream of insults to add to the mental injuries he suffered 20 years ago when he was part of a vastly outgunned and outnumbered Dutch battalion of United Nations peacekeepers who failed to halt the slaughter by Bosnian Serb forces of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia.
“When you hear, for 20 years now, only bad things that you do, that makes you stressed, crazy,” said Zomer.
Zomer quickly acknowledged that the main victims of the worst massacre on European soil since World War II are the mothers, wives and daughters of Srebrenica who lost their menfolk in July 1995.
But the lives of the small contingent of lightly armed Dutch troops who were powerless to intervene also changed forever.
Many of them suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some have taken their own lives.
Instead of running from the phantoms of Srebrenica that haunted him, Zomer went back and confronted them.
He now lives in a house he built himself overlooking the undulating hills and forests of Srebrenica.
He spends his days tending his small herd of goats, cutting the grass with a scythe and making hay.
He still has horrific memories of doing what little he could to help Srebrenica’s terrified population as Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces bore down on the enclave.
Zomer recalls a young mother pressing a baby, more dead than alive, into his arms.
He carried the infant to a Dutch field hospital, but medics there were unable to save the child.
Zomer was forced to bury the baby himself.
Years later, the mother found the remains of her child and buried them in a cemetery in Srebrenica reserved for victims of the genocide.
“I hope that in one time the mother of the baby hears … that … I put her baby with a lot of respect in the ground,” Zomer said.
It was the best he could do in Srebrenica.
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