Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Genocide Memorials

Monday was a very intense day for us: we took in both the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the Nyamata Memorial. These were incredibly powerful Memorials about the 1994 Genocide, and are important symbols of Rwanda’s dedication against genocide and genocide ideology.
I’ve been to Dachau (a concentration camp in Germany), the Holocaust Museum in DC and a slave fort in Cape Coast, Ghana. Both of the Rwandan Memorials, being so much more recent and taken in one day, affected me more.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is done in a similar style to the Holocaust Museum. It chronicles the factors that led up to the violence, as well as the violence itself and the aftermath. It included pictures and video footage, and vivid descriptions of killings. Near the start I noticed that the displays often used the word “we” rather than “they” to describe the victims, which made it even more personal and effective. The Memorial also featured a section on other recent genocides, portraying the Armenians, German Namibia, Nazi Germany, Cambodia and Serbia/Kosovo. Each section features information on how justice has or has not been served, emphasizing the importance of attaining justice here in Rwanda.

Nyamata is a town about 45 min outside of Kigali, and in 1994, as the violence was starting, people began to gather at the local church, thinking it a refuge. This was not the case. In a short period of time, 10,000 people were killed in and around the church. There were only 5 survivors, all of them children. The killers found the church an easy target, they threw grenades inside, they cut and shot and burned and buried alive.

Since the end of the Genocide, the church in Nyamata has been turned in to a memorial and a burial site, with over 41,000 people interred there. The mass graves at the back have stairs down into them, where you can see row after row of coffins, skulls and other bones. If enough bones could be identified as belonging to the same person, they would be given a coffin; otherwise they are lined up in rows on shelves. By the description, some might compare it to the Paris Catacombs, but I can’t stress how different it is. These people were deliberately and brutally tortured, raped and murdered, and it happened less than 15 years ago. I cannot describe how powerful and how sad the graves are. However, inside the church is even more moving. On all the pews and all over the front and back, virtually everywhere except the aisle, were piled what looked like rags. They weren’t rags though; they were the clothing of the people who were murdered there. Hats, shoes, shirts, pants, everything.

These Memorials are extremely important. It’s probably cliché to write that people need to see this most brutal of human undertakings, but it’s also true. We need to remember our solemn promise after the Holocaust: Never Again.

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