A Genocide Forgotten

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A Genocide Forgotten

During his stay at the Crown Hotel’s Sailor Reading Room in Norwich, the mysterious protagonist in W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn was quietly leafing through Independent on Sunday newspaper; he came across an article that stirred his memory. This article dealt with “so-called cleansing operations” undertaken by Croats, Germans and Austrians which took place during WW2 in Bosnia d, where a souvenir photograph taken by the Utashi showed “fellow militiamen in the best of spirits, some of them striking heroic poses, are sawing the head off a Serb” (96). Sebald’s protagonist goes on to reveal more historical information with graphic details and in the process is bewildered by the lack of outrage and knowledge of these atrocities. The culmination of the ignorance was the election of an unnamed “young Viennese lawyer (99)” who was involved in the planning of deportations in the Balkans later became the UN Secretary General and the voice of Voyager II. Consequently, in his novel, Rings of Saturn, W.G. retold the tragedy and horror of the Balkan Holocaust and Kurt Waldheim’s ascension in world politics in order to underscore the ironies inherent in historical amnesia.

In order to fully comprehend the significance of Sebald’s revelations, one must review the historical background surrounding these atrocities. Following, World War One, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles the ended of the rule of the Hapsburg dynasty, the multiethnic Astro-Hungarian Empire crumbled. In its place independent states of Austrian and Hungary, but also another multiethnic kingdom of Yugoslavia, which contained Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Jews were established.1 While Orthodox Serbs were an overall majority, Catholic Croats were in m...

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