No, not that Holocaust; rather, the one that occurred in Rwanda in 1994. The Rwandan Holocaust lasted only 91 days, but claimed almost a million lives. This is the story of Immaculée Ilibagiza, a young Tutsi woman, who survived the genocide perpetrated by the Hutu tribe by hiding for 91 days in a bathroom with 7 other women. This is one of the most moving stories you’ll ever hear, and one that could have ripple effects throughout the entire world – if only we would listen.
Immaculée was a college student in April 1994 who was home for Easter vacation when the plane carrying the (Hutu) President of Rwanda was shot down. Immediately the Hutus sought revenge against their Tutsi neighbors, most of whom they had lived with and been friends with for years. The Hutus comprised about 80% of the population and the Tutsis about 20%, but the Tutsis were the better educated of the two tribes and had good jobs and standards of living. (This is more likely the real cause of the genocide: envy.) Immaculée’s parents were both teachers, well-respected in their village, and had always been helpful and kind to their Hutu neighbors. But there would be no mercy for them when the Hutus stormed their home.
As Immaculée describes in her book, Left to Tell (read 421 Amazon customer comments, average 5 star rating), when the genocide began, her parents ordered her to run to a minister’s house 3 miles away and ask him for protection. Immaculée’s parents, two brothers, and grandparents were all slaughtered by the Hutus. One brother survived because he was studying outside the country. The minister who sheltered Immaculée (and 7 other Tutsi women) in a 3′ by 4′ bathroom for 91 days was not only a Hutu, but also a Protestant minister (Immaculée and her family are Catholics).
This calls to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan, where we are called to assist our neighbor in trouble, regardless of tribal, religious or ethnic affiliation. If the minister had been caught harboring Tutsis, both he and his family, along with the 8 Tutsi women, would have all been killed.
This is not only a story of survival amidst unspeakable horror, it’s also an inspiring story of faith, love, and forgiveness. In her book, Led by Faith: Rising From the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide, Immaculée describes how she was spiritually transformed during those 91 days of terror by turning to her faith in God and meditating on the words of the Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
For me, this is the most amazing part of the story. Immaculée later sought out the man who had killed her family and offered him her forgiveness. She asked him why he had done it, and he replied that they had all been promised banana plantations and riches if they would slaughter all the Tutsis. Instead, he ended up spending 11 years in prison, and lost everything he had. Immaculée is now married with 2 children, is a motivational speaker, and the author of 4 books on the genocide. She has appeared on CNN, 60 Minutes, EWTN, and many other forums. Always her message is of forgiveness and reconciliation.
This brings to mind other survivors of Holocausts and the very different ways they have reacted. Without mentioning any names, there are those who still live on the bitterness and hatred, and who pass that sentiment onto their descendants. Regardless of whether the most famous Holocaust happened as has been purported, there were human rights abuses committed during World War II, and millions of people were killed – not only those of a certain group. The tens of millions of Russians who were worked, frozen and shot to death by the Communists have never gotten justice. Their story has rarely ever been told and most in the West have no idea it even happened. Some Holocausts are more equal than others.
We have all been victims of injustice, either as individuals or as groups, in one form or another. But perpetuating the hatred only leads to more violence, and on and on it goes. I hope the story of Immaculée’s survival, and her message of forgiveness, will inspire people to forgive those who have trespassed against them – and to work for peace on earth. Forgiveness does not mean no justice, it just means you don’t continue the cycle of violence. Peace.
[Read her blog here.]