Survivors' Voices

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 4:27pm

I participated in an event in April called Survivor Voices. We were six panelists from Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia, two Holocaust survivors and an Armenian-American priest.

Each shared their experience about overcoming genocide including my own personal experience of the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide. Through hearing their testimonies, I learned more about myself and my own story. When, Laura Mc Millin, the survivor from the Cambodia Genocide spoke I was moved by a statement she made about perpetrators.  She said: “My mother was my first perpetrator.”  Her mother suffered from PTSD and transferred her trauma onto her kids. It was a wakeup call for me. Now I know that I have to pay attention and protect my kids from my own trauma.

When it was my turn to speak I looked out at the audience and saw my youngest daughter with tears on her face. When we got home, I asked her why she had been crying and she said it was because of my story, and my mother's story about handing ourselves over to the killers to be executed. We had a long conversation about it. It made me think twice, and now I understand why many survivors choose not to talk about their testimonies. Maybe they want to protect themselves. Maybe they want to protect their families, please do not judge them.

Vazken Movskeu spoke to experiences that hit close to home, through his talk I learned something new about the Rwandan Genocide. During a visit to Rwanda he was told that men who knew they were HIV positive purposely raped as many Tusti women possible in order to contaminate Tutsi men, and kill them in that way. In other words, it was one of their tools. I was saddened by this, and wondered what the thought process was when this approach was strategized.

Not all was sad that day. I also felt greatly empowered to be a part of a panel of such strong people who are now openly speaking about their difficult experiences so that the rest of us can learn. The two survivors of the Holocaust, Renee Firestone and Harry Davids, seem determined to raise awareness about the Holocaust, as well as other genocides, mass atrocities and any kind of hatred.

I look forward to ongoing opportunities to speak my truth. Despite the difficulty in sharing these stories, and in hearing them, I know this is the best tool to keep it from happening again.

Edith’s testimony is preserved in the Visual History Archive.

Edith Umugiraneza