Kate Williams is Deputy Director for Operations and Education at Remembering Srebrenica. Her current role at Remembering Srebrenica involves creating and supporting the creation of educational programmes surrounding the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, including access to online learning, digital technologies, as well as developing resources for transformative education. These views are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wiener Holocaust Library.
Fifty years after the world said ‘Never Again’ to the horrors of the Holocaust, another genocide took place on European soil. The name Srebrenica has become synonymous with those dark days in July 1995 when, in the first-ever United Nations declared safe area, thousands of men and boys were systematically murdered and buried in mass graves. The victims, who were Muslim, were selected for death based on their identity. This was the worst atrocity in Europe since the Second World War.
When the COVID-19 pandemic meant the entire country went into lockdown, Remembering Srebrenica faced a tough challenge. The 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina (11 July) was mere months away. Traditionally we would bring survivor speakers and activists from Bosnia to the United Kingdom to share their testimony and to help raise the profile of the genocide. Filming survivor testimony was also out of the question, with restrictions preventing us from sending our usual film crews to the country to produce video testimonies. And yet, as many genocide education organisations know, sharing survivor testimony and recording it is one of the most important aspects of genocide commemoration and education.
While we ran live Zoom events with survivors, and collected pre-recorded videos of testimony where we could, the fact remained that many of those we worked with simply did not have the technology, training, or internet connection, to create high-quality testimony.
It was at this time that Remembering Srebrenica’s team began to think outside the box. Recreating our traditional testimony collections, or our live events, was perfectly fine, and we had some amazing testimonies and events this way. But how could we go deeper than this? How could we embrace technology and a changing media landscape to bring the testimonies and stories of survivors to English speakers in a way that would engage them?
We began the project to create what would become the Untold Killing podcast. A few members of the team were avid podcast listeners, and our survivors, when approached about the idea of a podcast, fully supported the idea.
“There are a lot of traffic jams in London,” Munira Subasic, President of the Mothers of Srebrenica and Zepa Enclaves Association, told our Bosnian Director. “It’ll be good if they can learn about Srebrenica while they are sitting in their cars.”
Support of survivors, and understanding of what a ‘podcast’ was, became vital to the project. For many of our survivors we had to explain podcasting was like the radio, only people could download it and listen on their phones or computers. All were excited. A new documentary – like radio – only accessible to people all over the world and not just in one region!
It became obvious early on to us that we would need expert guidance and advice on podcast making. While Remembering Srebrenica had the expertise in survivor testimony collection, the sensitivities and historical context needed to produce the content, what we needed was someone who could elevate what we were doing to ensure that what we produced was the highest quality.
This was where the importance of a great partnership came into play. Our partners, Message Heard, were incredible. They immediately understood what it was we were trying to produce – a respectful, historically accurate, but ultimately survivor-led project that would detail the important aspects of the genocide in Bosnia for an audience who may be completely new to the story. Without Message Heard’s direction, from music choices, voice dubbing for our Bosnian speakers, working with the host to create narration and scripts, and of course the long edition process, Untold Killing simply could not have happened. Although many think of podcasting as something that anyone can do with a good microphone and some time can do, seeing behind the curtain at the studios of Message Heard really showed us what a large scale undertaking such a project could be from a technical standpoint.
We also realised that some things we had previously not consider would be vital to making an audio-only survivor testimony interview a success. The survivors involved were all experienced in giving their testimonies, many of them activists for decades since the genocide, but the level of detail needed when recording audio-only raised some issues. For the podcast to work, we had to build a picture of the events with words. We had to ask survivors what they remembered, about the weather, about the scenery, the sounds. Bringing these senses into the format was important for listeners to understand and to try and imagine what it was like in Srebrenica during those terrible days in July. But this process of remembering caused a strain on the survivors we spoke to. Care had to be taken, with constant contact before and after the interviews. We sent information and questions to some survivors in order to help prepare them, arranged research calls to ensure that they knew what to expect, and gave examples of the level of detail that would be required. Although it was touch, especially on some of the Mothers of Srebrenica, it ultimately led to powerful testimonies. However, without one-to-one survivor support before, during, and after these testimony collections, such an intense interview process could have been far too much for the survivors.
After the interviews were collected there was still a lot to do – script creation, fact-checking, audio editing, dubbing. At one point, I counted that between both organisations there fourteen people at least working on one episode. The result, however, was incredible. When the first episode landed in my inbox, I took a walk to listen to it. I was blown away. The music, the voice of the host, the testimony that was woven throughout, and the care that had been taken with each interview.
I also identified something that I’m sure Message Heard had understood all along, but I had not. Listening to the testimony of genocide survivors in this manner was incredibly intimate. As I walked around my local park and listened to survivors and experts paint the picture of the Bosnian War, it sent a chill down my spine. Despite having worked in this field for years, the effect was chilling and emotional. At points, I was moved to tears. Later, others would say the same. “It feels closer,” one supporter told me. “Without video distraction, I could imagine everything.”
We knew then that what we had created was special, something momentous had been achieved. That we would have an incredibly powerful resource to share with the world that honoured our survivors.
Untold Killing was released on 22 October 2020, and ran for six weeks.
- It accrued over 95,000 listeners.
- Won a silver ARIA for Best Commercial Partnership, a bronze ARIA for the Impact Award, and a platinum AVIA Digital Award.
- 80% of listeners said that having listened to the podcast they were more likely to challenge hatred or bigotry, and also more likely to bring people together from across different faiths and backgrounds in their communities.
- 91% said they now understood the importance of learning about Srebrenica and commemorating the genocide outside Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- It has been incorporated into academic reading lists across the world.
As a resource it appeals to both the general public, the academic community, but also promotes community cohesion and action, Untold Killing has been an unmitigated success.
Production of Season 2 of Untold Killing, detailing the stories of the concentration camps in the region of Prijedor, has begun this summer with a release expected in early 2022. A special episode to mark 11 July will be released this month.
Visit Remembering Srebrenica’s website to find out how you can take in part this Srebrenica Memorial Day on Sunday 11 July 2021.
Suggested further reading
- Surviving the Bosnian genocide: the women of Srebrenica speak by Selma Leydesdorff
- The last refuge: a true story of war, survival and life under siege in Srebrenica by Hasan Nuhanović
- Investigating Srebrenica: institutions, facts, responsibilities by Isabelle Delpla, Xavier Bougarel and Jean-Louis Fournel
- Endgame: the betrayal and fall of Srebrenica, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II by David Rohde
- All the missing souls: a personal history of the war crimes tribunals by David Scheffer
For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Srebrenica; Yugoslavia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; mass killings; war crimes; genocide; survivors; personal narratives; war crime trials; International Criminal Court.