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Growing up as a first generation American-Serb, I was the recipient of many wonderful treasures. A rich ethnic culture, unique food, a beautiful language, and colorful and interesting people whose passion for life was matched only by their desire for freedom. And, most importantly, I gained the heritage of the Serbian Orthodox faith. These were treasures that I would not fully come to appreciate until I became an adult.
I was born in the late '30s - when World War II was only a whisper in conversation - but, by the time I entered grade school, I was very aware that the Axis powers were killing my relatives somewhere on the other side of the world. I remember the adults speaking so quietly and seriously about these things. When conversations turned serious, I vividly recall how certain names would bring tears to their eyes, smiles on their faces, and joy to their recollections. Names would inevitably lead into stories and stories led into songs.
Even today, certain songs immediately bring back a rush of memories of folk heroes and how my relatives and the Serbian people have preserved their memory: Kraljevic Marko, Prince Lazar, Milos Obilic, Jug Bogdan, Karadjordje, and Njegos.
This past year the Serbians lost another of its heroes: Michael Lees. Michael Lees's name was not very Serbian, but he had a Serbian soul. No non-Serbian cared more about the Serbian people than did this courageous man from Great Britain. In defiance of his own Roman Catholic Church, he defended the honor of the Serbian people for the majority of his life.
Michael Lees was recognized around the world as an author with impeccable credentials. His books on Yugoslavia are highly insightful, and his last book, The Rape of Serbia, inspired the Serbian people and reawakened their belief in themselves. His all-consuming quest for truth and justice "and the manner in which he pursued it" illustrates the depth of his integrity.
In the months prior to his death, and in poor health, he managed to make several trips to the Krajina region of Yugoslavia to experience the civil war first-hand. On his return to England he spoke before the British Parliament, providing intimate details on the Serbian side of the conflict and demanded that the British government not abandon the Serbs as they did in World War II.
In Birmingham, England in October 1991, Michael participated in the dedication of a memorial plaque to Draza Mihailovic, a task he waited 46 years to accomplish. Michael served under General Mihailovic as a British liaison officer with the special forces in 1943. His witnessing of the change of support by the British allies in 1943 anguished and disturbed Michael for many years until 1980, when a cache of secret service files was mistakenly declassified. These files, examined in light of his own wartime experience, enabled him to complete The Rape Of Serbia and to vindicate the memory of Draza Mihailovic, whom he considered a great patriot, a hero, and a dear friend.
I met Michael Lees by accident over a year ago while preparing the publication Serbian Genocide 1941-45 for the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Serbian holocaust. Michael was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this project. He encouraged me to continue writing about the Serbian people. He explained: "... Always remember the facts surrounding these events. Historical revisionists are always at work." He also reminded me that "...a lie told 100 times becomes the truth."
For many months my fax machine hummed through the night, as Michael made copy revisions and suggestions for the genocide book and provided me with well-needed encouragement. He made valuable contacts for me and then personally made sure that I was in contact with Serbs in various parts of the world with whom he had ongoing political dialogue. Through Michael I met the author David Martin and many new friends in Ireland, England, Australia, and New Zealand. In the year prior to his death he sent me articles he had written, speeches he made, and copies of dozens of personal letters he wrote to many leading world figures. Michael worked tirelessly for the Serbian cause, and I will personally cherish these documents.
The readers of this book will surely discover the rich aspects of the Serbian culture and our historical past and will also come to realize how Michael Lees's spirit and courage emulated the Kosovo ethics like Thomas Jefferson, Michael Lees swore eternal hostility to every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
History will be rewritten because of his efforts and perhaps future generations will tell stories and sing songs about Michael Lees, another Serbian hero. His radiant star illuminated our darkness.
To his wife Gwen, who also sacrificed in behalf of the Serbian people, and in the memory of her husband and our fallen brother, we were inspired to produce this book.
"Vjecnaja Pamjat" - "Memory Eternal!"
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