James Sunderland recounts his experiences in Sierra Leone and Bosnia and calls for evidence and testimony from current events to be captured so that lessons are learned for the future and those who perpetrate these dreadful crimes are brought to justice.
It is a great privilege to speak on this most important occasion. Between 1935 and 1945, an estimated 16 million people were killed by the Nazi regime. That included 6 million Jews, 7 million Soviet citizens, 3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish civilians, 312,000 Serbian civilians, 250,000 people with disabilities and 250,000 Roma Gypsies. The breadth of depravity was breathtaking. It included legalised social discrimination, involuntary hospitalisation, euthanasia, forced sterilisation, forced labour, sexual slavery, human experimentation and downright murder. I say to those holocaust deniers who may be watching: “You do not speak for me or anybody in this place, and you need to take a look in the mirror.”
Sadly, so few of those who witnessed these appalling events are still with us today, but we must record their testimony while we still can and capture the evidence of that time. My own testimony is limited. When I was based in Germany, we visited Bergen-Belsen and travelled further afield to Auschwitz—dark, scary and eerie places. I heard a number of questions, including, “Daddy, is it true that the birds don’t sing?” to which I replied, “Yes, I think so.” Of course, there is a reason why the birds do not sing.
In 2016, the regiment I was commanding in Germany was tasked to set up a convoy support centre in Altengrabow, just west of Berlin. We discovered very quickly that it was the location for Stalag 11 A, and had also been home to German and Soviet forces throughout recent history. It became obvious that in the woods behind the big, barbed wire fence, there were some strange buildings. I have no idea what those buildings were, but history must be recorded there, too.
I have seen with my own two eyes atrocities in Sierra Leone and in Bosnia—atrocities of Governments, of Serbs, of Croats, Christians against Muslims and vice versa, the Revolutionary United Front against the people in Sierra Leone, and Makeni, Ahmići, Goražde and Srebrenica. More recently, we have seen Rwanda and Yemen, the Uyghurs in China, and Cambodia. This is happening right now—it is happening in our world, today, on our doorstep—and it must be stopped with the full power of the United Nations, NATO, military force, peacekeeping, peace enforcement and sanctions. Most importantly, for now, the evidence and the testimony from these current events must be captured, so that lessons are learned for the future and that those who perpetrate these dreadful crimes are brought to justice.