An open letter to all young Rwandans commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi.
It’s been written that when a person dies, his or her spirit lives on in those who remember. Tradition is very specific in providing us with ways of remembering our loved ones. In addition, our tradition does not allow us to forget those who have died. Finding an appropriate way of honouring and remembering the dead is one of the goals of the mourning process. For, as Elie Wiesel the Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor said, “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”
Let me tell you a story. A great rabbi said: Once I was on a journey and I encountered a man. We greeted one another. Then he said to me, Rabbi, where are you from? I replied to him: I come from a great city of sages and scribes. He then said: Rabbi, if you are willing to dwell in our place, I will give you a thousand gold dinars and gems and pearls. I replied to him: Were you to give me all the world’s silver and gold and gems and pearls, I would not live save in a place of our Torah.
As David King of Israel wrote in the book of Psalms: Your Torah is better to me than thousands of gold and silver. Moreover, when we die it is neither silver nor gold nor gems nor pearls that accompany us, but Torah and good deeds only.
I ask you, how much is a life worth and who is to say what term is to be put on a life?
None of us have the desire to battle David King of Israel, but I am sure, we all would gladly have given silver or gold, or gems or pearls, for the opportunity to have spent time with our loved ones.
It’s been said that sadness is but a wall between two gardens. May all of those who perished in the genocide be remembered for their beauty and fragrance that grace our gardens.
Next month, May the 5th has a special significance for a Jew. It is our National Memorial Day, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day. It is the day where we pay tribute to all the victims of the Holocaust and ghetto uprisings. Inaugurated over 65 years ago we, even now, and I want to make this very clear, we like you, have no intention of forgetting our loved ones. Therefore, as a Jew, my message to you is not from a stranger, but as a brother and partner. For in commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, your loss, is also my loss.
However, I ask myself what right do I have to write of such experiences of genocide?
Who am I to write of such unthinkable acts of violence and cruelty, unequaled in modern history?
I never witnessed killings, or had my life threatened. I never lost immediate family members, nor witnessed rape or sexual mutilation, or had to hide under corpses.
So, what authority gives me the right to talk about your genocide, to talk about your family and friends who perhaps survived these 22 years, and hopefully have been able to overcome their traumatic experiences and find optimism in the future, as well as those who were murdered?
Well, as one of my dear friends, a Holocaust survivor, once said: “Human nature has its dark side; we can never be complacent.” He added that, “His personal story is a call for the youth of today to be vigilant and be each other’s keeper. For freedom cannot be taken for granted. Rights and liberties can quickly vanish in a hateful society.”
My friend believes “human behaviour is such that we can rise to great heights, but also sink to great depths of evil.”
“For me,” he says, “as a ten-year-old Jewish boy living in my native land, and six years later having survived living in five concentration death camps, my life has given me the ability to know all too well how a normal society can be transformed into a culture where mass murder is tolerated.”
He tells me now as an 87 year old Holocaust survivor, he is still sensitive to verbal attacks and diatribe. He says, “The lie repeated enough times can de facto become what people perceive as truth. For the events of the Holocaust, of all genocides, are extremely significant in our history and they teach us lessons that must be carried forward to future generations.”
You see, what I observe in him is a young man of 87 who still regularly visits schools and universities to tell his personal story. He tells me he, “wants his testimony to uncover the worst in human behaviour, so there is an awareness and hopefully inoculation against the repetition of these most evil and shameful acts, irrespective of one’s religion, race, and colour, ethnic or national origin.”
A few years ago, President Kagame of Rwanda said: “The world chose to watch as one million were being slaughtered. Victims were turned into perpetrators and justice was turned into a political tool. The world has shown us that we cannot afford not to fight. Do not be afraid to stand up for truth, justice and for who we are. The only way to live in this world is to stand up for ourselves, stay true to who we are and define our own destiny.”
Perhaps, more than anything, I believe it is in these words that binds Jews and Rwandans together in a mutual understanding of what intolerance and hate is all about in our society today.
And I would like to believe my friend, the Holocaust survivor and President Kagame have something in common. For if they would ever meet face to face, it would take only four words for them to cement their relationship:
Duhore tuzilikana kirazira kwibagirwa!
We must never forget!
Alan Simons the former Honorary Consul of the Republic of Rwanda to Canada.