Book Review

      People are beaten and tortured, if not to death, within an inch of their lives. Medical attention is provided by other prisoners, using wet rags on bruises and cuts, pieces of decaying shirts and parts of door frames to set oft-broken bones. Djemo himself is beaten senseless on more than one occasion. When a noted ear, nose and throat specialist finally arrives and begins to care for the injured, he says of the Serbian guards: “These guys could even give Hitler a run for his money.”

      Ironically, the most feared building in the camp is called “the White House.” It is where the prisoners are taken when called out in the middle of the night. It is from here that many do not return. Hukanovic writes: “Dying was easy at Omarska, and living was hard. Not even a glimmer of light could be detected at the end of the tunnel.” Djemo watches people he has lived with all of his life devolve to skin and bones, void of all hope. There are suicide attempts, many failed, which only give those in power more cause for destruction.

      Hukanovic also documents acts of kindness, humanity exhibited by some of the guards, men who are there to do their duty, serve their country, not commit murder. But these men are very few and far between.

      Two months of imprisonment pass, then boys 16 and under and men 65 and older are released. Ari, Djemo’s son, is among those freed. In early August, it is rumored that Omarska is closing down and the men remaining will also be emancipated. In actuality, those remaining are transferred to Manjaca, another camp.

      After a long, terrifying bus journey during which nine men die, the prisoners arrive at Manjaca. The men are first given medical examinations, are finally fed some decent food and are assured by the supervisor of the camp that they will not be beaten if they follow the elementary rules of “head down, hands behind your back” and to “respect work, order, and discipline.” Here, the Red Cross is in attendance and takes record of each man by name and number and supplies them with individual water bottles and shampoos and powders for their lice infestations. The American and European journalists begin making appearances with their television cameras.

      In early November the Red Cross representatives come daily with assurances that Manjaca is on the verge of closing. On November 13, after almost six months of captivity, 740 men are let go — Djemo among them. He sobs with happiness along with his comrades at the nightmare’s ending, but is overcome with anger as he looks off into the distance at his hometown of Prijedor. He vows to return someday, and cries out in agony, “Lord, may you never forgive them!”

      The Tenth Circle of Hell is not an easy book to read; as “enlightened” human beings living in 1998 we are ill-prepared to confront the realities of a virtual Nazi state in the Balkans, of men, women and children slaughtered owing only to their genetic makeup and the manner in which they worship. The former Yugoslavia may seem a million miles away from New York, Los Angeles or Washington, but the pestilence of hatred and injustice can traverse quickly and find its way into the most unlikely cracks. And while Hukanovic’s book is not a light read, it is an important one — for in the Balkans, “Never again” was not enough.

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