“I will never regret getting old. I know too many people who never had that privilege.”
April 6. The day Rwanda commemorates Kwibuka, the annual commemoration of the genocide against the Tutsi. Kwibuka is the Kinyarwanda word for Remembrance. April 6 2020, marks the 26th anniversary of the genocide.
Last year in Rwanda I attended, with my companion, the 25th Commemoration of the Genocide. To say the least, it was an utterly emotional and draining experience for both of us. And now just hours before this year’s homage commences, a new revelation has been reported by Associated Press (AP). A valley dam, located to the east of the capital Kigali, may, according to authorities in Rwanda, contain about 30,000 bodies. AP report 50 bodies have already been exhumed so far.
It’s been said that sadness is but a wall between two gardens. At this solemn time, I express my wish that all of those who perished 26 years ago in the Rwanda genocide against the Tutsi, be remembered for their beauty and fragrance that grace our gardens today.
During our time in Rwanda, meeting the young and old, prosperous and poor, we experienced a bright future full of hope and energy for a peaceful and unified country.
Yet, the stories we heard first-hand from genocide survivors left us deeply moved.
We met one young man, now a policeman, who 26 years ago fled as fast as his young legs could carry him holding the hand of his younger brother from the hordes of genocidaires, some with spears, and others with machetes, whose primary intention was to kill them. His younger brother couldn’t keep up with him resulting in the child’s violent murder, witnessed by his older brother.
A dear Rwandan friend took us to a school where 3,000 Tutsis had taken refuge only to find their genocidaires had succeeded in promising them a safe haven some distance away. It was not to be. Very few Tutsis survived.
We visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial where an estimated 250,000 Tutsis are buried. Freedom cannot be taken for granted. We were told in 2018 a grenade was thrown into the site.
As part of the Commemoration at a theatrical performance held at the Kigali Convention Centre, a heart-rending play with young children brought to life the names and the lives buried behind the one million Tutsis murdered in just 100 days, including 300,000+ children who were also killed.
“We speak life into the names of those no longer with us, so that they may live on forever, in defiance of the attempt to erase their existence through genocide,” were the words declared.
The relationship between the Holocaust and the genocide was felt by many attendees. During the performance we observed an Arab ambassador reaching out to offer the Israeli ambassador some water and some tissues. Never judge a book by its cover.
“Conspicuously absent, in the presence of any public acknowledgement, was a message from the United States.
Canada’s Governor General, Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette, as well as leaders of many countries attended the Commemoration, including those from Belgium, the European Union, Ethiopia, Kenya, Chad, Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Niger and the African Union. Conspicuously absent, in the presence of any public acknowledgement, was a message from the United States.
Later that night, thousands of Rwandans and foreign visitors in a symbolic Walk to Remember walked, including me, from Parliament to Kigali’s Amahoro National Stadium where 30,000 people lit candles out of respect to the genocide victims.
Twenty-six years ago Amahoro National Stadium was the scene where over 5,000 Tutsis, sheltering in fear since the massacres began in Kigali, were shelled by the Presidential Guard.
When I returned to Canada I asked myself what right do I have to write of such experience. Who was I to write of such unthinkable acts of violence and cruelty, unequalled in modern history?
I have never witnessed killings or had my life threatened. As a Jew, I never lost immediate family members in the Holocaust, nor have I witnessed rape or sexual mutilation, or had to hide under corpses.
So, what authority gave me the right to write about this genocide, or to talk about Tutsis who survived after a quarter of a century, and perhaps, perhaps have been able to overcome their traumatic experiences and find hope in the future?
“As Jews, we must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rwanda. For we both understand the meaning of hate, intolerance and genocide denial by our enemies.
For neither the Jew nor the Rwandan must forget. We can never be complacent. Deniers abound in countless societies, including many in Canada. These insignificant bunch of mostly exiled educated misfit individuals, who band together like the Merry Men of Robin Hood’s day, continue to pronounce their zeal, their hate and intolerance of Rwandan’s current political and strong economic growth.
As Jews, we must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Rwanda. For we both understand the meaning of hate, intolerance and genocide denial by our enemies. We must never forget our Rwandan brothers and sisters, nor the 95,000 children + who were orphaned, many of whom were so young that today they can’t remember the face of their mother or know their family name.
To quote Niyomufasha Deborah, an 84-year-old Rwandan widow: “When we were alone after our families were killed, we had lost hope. But today we live in good conditions. Just having a good home in our old age, people who care for us, gives me hope that the future is bright. Dear young ones, you are all we have, we wish you everlasting peace.”
Yes, everlasting peace, coupled with our health, is what we all wish for at this time.