Smajo Bëso was seven years old when war broke out in Bosnia Herzegovina in the former Yugoslavia in 1992. His father and several male relatives were tortured in concentration camps, as Bosnian Muslims became targets of genocide. Close family members were also murdered.
In 1994, Mr Bëso and his family came to the UK as refugees and built a new life in the North East. Today, he teaches architecture at Newcastle University and has played a key role in organising Holocaust Memorial Day and Bosnian Genocide commemorations across the country.
In 2020, he founded the Bosnian Genocide Educational Trust, and he was recognised with an OBE for services to genocide education and commemoration in the 2023 New Year Honours List.
Mr Bëso said: “The Bosnian Genocide happened in the heart of Europe just 50 years on from the Holocaust. The lesson from Bosnia is that we must never be complacent or take peace for granted because it exposed how vulnerable and fragile society can be. Learning from the Holocaust, and subsequent genocides like the one in Bosnia, can enhance our understanding of possible warning signs or patterns and, most importantly, it can better equip us to actively work towards preventing future atrocities. Peace isn’t simply the absence of war; it is our everyday actions through which war is made less likely. That is the true nature of peace.”
During his stay in Jersey, he will also be sharing his experiences with secondary school students and appearing at Jersey Arts Centre on the evening of Thursday, 25 January 2024.
Mr Bëso added: “In three and a half years of aggression against Bosnia, more than a 100,000 people were killed, tens of thousands of women and young girls were raped, more than two million people were displaced or became refugees, as well as endless destruction of the built environment and cultural heritage.”
HMD is an international act of remembrance held on 27 January, the day the camps at Auschwitz were liberated. The local commemoration takes place in the Occupation Tapestry Gallery at the
Maritime Museum and at the Lighthouse Memorial – which remembers 21 Islanders who perished in the German camp system – on the New North Quay.
Since 2002, it has been organised by the HMD Committee Jersey, working with Jersey Heritage, which has recently taken over responsibility for the event on behalf of the Office of the Bailiff. Former committee member Paula Thelwell is continuing her role as a member of the newly formed HMD Interim Advisory Panel to Jersey Heritage.
She said: “The purpose of Holocaust Memorial Day is to remember modern acts of genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, as well the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. It also remembers millions of victims of Nazi persecution, including people with physical disabilities or mental illness, gay men, political opponents and resistance fighters. Smajo Bëso is a survivor of a genocide that took place on European soil just 30 years ago. His recollections of his family’s suffering will add great poignancy to the commemoration.”
- Jersey’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration will take place at 2pm on Saturday, 27 January 2024 in the Occupation Tapestry Gallery at the Jersey Maritime Museum and at the Lighthouse Memorial on the New North Quay. Members of the public are welcome to attend.
- ‘An Audience with Smajo Bëso’ is at 8pm on Thursday, 25 January 2024 at Jersey Arts Centre. Tickets will be available from the Jersey Arts Centre Box Office in the New Year.