Braes High pupils have been praised by a United Nations forensic investigator for staging a stirring play depicting one of the worst humanitarian atrocities Europe has seen.
Members of the school’s youth theatre were commended for shining a light on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre – as part of Holocaust Memorial Day – by Robert McNeil, who helped to identify the bodies of more than 8000 Muslim men and boys murdered by the Bosnian-Serb army.
The worst genocide witnessed on European soil since the Second World War, the Srebrenica massacre also saw women and young girls raped and abused by Serbian soldiers, while 20,000 civilians were expelled from the region as western forces pressed for a cease-fire to end three years of warfare on Bosnian territory.
Mr McNeil, who described the Lessons from Srebrenica production as “very professional and moving”, admitted some scenes left him misty-eyed.
He said: “It is absolutely fantastic to see young people are learning from the lessons of Srebrenica and putting these lessons across to fellow pupils and their parents.
“During the time of the conflict, many folk in this country, and other countries, felt it was such a complicated war that they didn’t quite understand what was going on.
“Youngsters being able to fully understand what happened there and passing the information on to their peers is absolutely vital when dealing with genocide denial.”
The Braes High pupils drew inspiriation for the February 7 show from the school’s head of humanities, Fiona Malcolm, who became the first teacher in Scotland to travel to the Bosnian mass murder site as part of a Remembering Srebrenica Scotland charity visit last October.
Ms Malcolm then worked closely with the cast and head of drama Emma Taylor to create a production which brought to life a selection of stories, poems and testimonies of the harrowing events.
The teacher relayed her meetings with survivors of the war and general experiences in the area to ensure the performance was as accurate as it could possibly be.
Ms Malcolm said: “It is incredibly important that young people in Scotland learn about what happened in Srebrenica.
“I was the first classroom teacher from Scotland to visit Bosnia with the charity and what I learned and observed there informed this production.
“If I hadn’t have gone, my knowledge of Srebrenica would have continued to have been from sources like books.
“That is no bad thing but nothing replaces the feelings, emotions and understanding that you get from visiting the location of a genocide and meeting survivors.”
Dr Lorna Hood, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, was among those who helped to organised the visit.
She said: “I am delighted that Braes High commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day using materials from Remembering Srebrenica Scotland.
“Genocide doesn’t happen in a vacuum but is the culmination of unchecked racism and intolerance.
“In Srebrenica, people had lived together regardless of their differences.
“If genocide could happen there it can happen anywhere.
“That is why we must ensure that young people have the tools to resist hatred and build stronger, safer communities here in Scotland.”
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day was Power of Words – a challenge Braes High actors and actresses felt fully equipped to take on thanks to Ms Malcolm’s assistance.
S6 pupil Niamh Waddell, Braes High Rights Respecting Schools ambassador, insisted the experiences the teacher was able to impart on to the cast proved invaluable.
She said: “It was a privilege to be involved in the event.
“Ms Malcom’s knowledge of what happened in Srebrenica and passion for teaching the subject is really inspiring.
“I did not know much about what happened there until she shared what she had learned on her trip to Bosnia.
“One of the testimonies we re-enacted is from a 15-year-old girl called Mirsada, who told of how she was repeatedly raped by soldiers.
“I found her story particularly shocking and hard-hitting.
“That was the worst thing for me, how terribly abused the women were as well as the mass murder of men and boys.
“We couldn’t have put on this production without Ms Malcolm and it has really made me want to spread the message as well so lessons can be learned.”
Niamh’s fellow Rights Respecting Schools ambassador, Megan Pullar, was also involved in the performance.
Megan said: “My hope is this production will help pupils understand, that even today, human rights are still not being respected in some parts of the world.”
Kayleigh Graham, Braes High Holocaust ambassador, added: “The genocide in Srebrenica was shocking and I hope that our production makes the point that it is not acceptable to be hateful or prejudiced against someone because of their religion or race.
“It is very disturbing that even after what we all know about the Holocaust, genocides are still happening.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale are among the Scottish politicians who have visited Srebrenica to meet with survivors of the massacre and hear first-hand accounts of how the genocide impacted the men, women and children of the region.