When Rwandans learnt from the holocaust

In October last year, a group from Rwanda and Israel made a study visit to Germany. The group from Israel was composed of young people from the so called "Third Generation", one person from the "Second Generation" and 2 survivors of the Holocaust.

In October last year, a group from Rwanda and Israel made a study visit to Germany. The group from Israel was composed of young people from the so called "Third Generation", one person from the "Second Generation" and 2 survivors of the Holocaust.

The Rwanda group had one survivour of the 1994 Tutsi genocide and two young people involved in peace and Human Rights education. The aim of the visit was to learn from history in order to shape the future. The visit was organised by the German Development Service (DED)-Rwanda and funded by the Europeans for Peace Foundation.

Rwandans had a number of experiences reminiscent of what happened in their own country.

"It happened, it therefore can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. That is why it is our responsibility to learn from our common heritage for shaping the future", Primo Levi Auschwitz (a survivour), wisely remarked.

Meeting of Israeli and Rwandan delegation in Berlin

The meeting was an opportunity to reflect on both the Tutsi genocide and the Holocaust. The Israeli group had the opportunity to hear stories from eyewitness of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda. A brief historical explanation on the causes of the Tutsi genocide was given by the Rwandan delegation.

The Israelites are very much interested in learning more of the Tutsi genocide; "information on the Tutsi genocide is not enough. Documentation, books, films, study visits in Rwanda, etc, on the Tutsi genocide should be given an upper hand", the group emphasised.

Likewise, Rwanda needs to learn much from genocides that happened in other societies and more particularly the holocaust.

Rwandans talk to the "third generation" in Israel and Germany.

Two eyewitnesses of the Holocaust talked about their terrible years of suffering and forced labour during the Second World War. The audience was composed of a group of young students from Herder Secondary School (in German), who followed testimonies with great interest.

In Germany, some grand parents discuss about the Second World War with their grand children, but shy away from the Jews genocide during that time. And in cases were the holocaust is mentioned only vague ideas are given to the German’s young generation.

What is challenging however is that Third Generations from both Germany and Israel share the past in a positive way. The Third Generation from Israel should not look at Third Generation in Germany, as children of the Holocaust’s perpetrators. This of course represents a similar challenge to young generations in Rwanda as well: how do the children of the victims and the children of the perpetrators, look at each other? Although, in Rwanda, it is still early to talk about "first, second and third" generations after the genocide, the issue of sharing the past in the context of victims and perpetrators should be dealt with.

Meeting with a German eyewitness of the National Socialist era

Rwandans who went for a study visit to German were able to witness the Holocaust and thus got to know the social, economic and political situation of Germany before the Second World War. 5 million people were left without jobs, the German culture was distorted, people were forced to live under dictatorship, the youth was manipulated to embrace the Nazi ideology, etc.

The big lesson from the above German context is that genocide ideologies are built on the same foundation.

The Rwandan pre-genocide period; the social, political, economic and cultural contexts are not different from the Germany one. The Second World War too, helps us to analyse backgrounds on which regimes build genocide ideology and they include: poverty, ignorance, manipulation, reducing people’s capacity to think critically, etc.

The group also learnt a lot from the documentation centre of Reichsparteitagsgelaende, Nurnberg. It shows again the social, economic, political and cultural context of Germany, during the National Socialist Era.

Visit to the Memorial Site in Buchenwald, Weimar

One the most significant moments of the Rwandans study visit in Germany was a visit at the memorial site in Buchenwald, Weimar.

Mr. Haim Drori, who was aged 14 years in 1945, accompanied the Rwandans. He is one of the survivours who were liberated at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp by American Forces. He narrated to them (Rwandans) how he survived in the face of overwhelming odds. The Buchenwald site shows how the killings were systematically organised. What was the "rationale" behind the concentration camps? It is hard to believe that reasonable human beings were behind such killings.

Haus der Wannseekonferenz Memorial Centre, Berlin

The implementation of the killings was coordinated at Haus der Wannseekonferenz. The professionally organised memorial centre, Haus der Wannseekonferenz, shows again that genocides are States’ crimes. It is therefore, important to have a very strong civil society that can oppose regimes, which turn into "killing organisations".

Testimonies from survivours, the children of survivours and the grand children of some perpetrators, attest to this effect. Such testimonies should thus be shared and discussed during youth forums in Rwanda, as we share a common experience.

Genocide is a historical fact that should be documented and taught in schools.

"My study visit in Germany was an opportunity to think about my history lessons. During my Secondary Education, I studied about the Second World War in Europe. I do not remember my history teacher talking about the fate of the Jews of Europe during that period", remarked one Rwandan survivuor.

There have been arguments that if there was a recorded history disseminated to the rest of the world about the holocaust, we would not be witnessing it again. Rwandans knew little about the holocaust and no wonder they were embroiled in the Tutsi genocide.

Our history curricula should include genocide education so that people are able to learn from the past and be able to say ‘never again’, emphatically.

Does history have to repeat itself? How could a ‘Never Again’ wish be a reality, if people do not know what happened or how to avoid it? The issue here is not about teaching history as such, but how it is taught (approach, methodology) and how it can influence people’s feelings. People should be given chance to build on their emotions and thinking capacity, so as to shape the future.

As for Rwanda, there are initiatives to try to learn from our recent history that include; the introduction of genocide topics in civic education curricula, visits to memorial centers, implementation of programmes such as Gacaca courts, Ingando, etc. However, efforts are still needed to make sure that history is taught in such a way that students are able to develop a critical and historical interpretation, which will help them influence the future.

Drawing from the experience the Rwandans got from visit to German, there is need fro some initiatives to help in building unity in Rwanda. These could for example include; History and Peace education and dialogue between generations on the genocide legacy.

Historical issues that seem to be recurring should be given due attention. The link between history and peace education and the challenge of teaching emotionally charged topics to young generations are some of the challenges the Rwandan society still face.

Contact: muhimic@yahoo.fr

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