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Kwibuka28 in Utah, USA: A Reflection on Empathy

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The first time I cried listening to a genocide survivor was on July 10, 2008. I was then attending a seminar on teaching about the Holocaust at The Olga Lengyel Institute for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights (TOLI) in New York City. Gisela Glaser, a Holocaust survivor, was sharing her story of surviving Auschwitz and other concentration and extermination camps in Poland. An anecdote from her testimony that tested my stoicism was when she talked about her desperate need to hydrate. A friend of hers, also a concentration camp inmate, urinated in a container and handed it to her to drink. There is a saying in Kinyarwanda, my mother tongue, that goes, “Amarira y’umugabo atemba ajya munda,” which translates to “a man’s tears flow into his belly.” That day, the proverbial tears did not flow into my belly; they ran down my cheeks, to my embarrassment. I had been programmed by patriarchy to hold back tears, even in the saddest of moments. During the ensuing years, I was able to listen to genocide survivors’ testimonies without crying. That was to change on May 28, 2022.

I was in Salt Lake City, Utah, where I had been invited to speak at the 28th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The three-day event from May 27 to May 29, dubbed Kwibuka28, was also the first reunion of the genocide’s survivors residing in the United States. (Kwibuka is Kinyarwanda for remember or remembrance.) Daphine Batamuriza, perhaps the youngest of the survivors who had gathered, shared a story that was wrenchingly sad, but one with a good ending. She was only 2 years old when the genocide took place, so her story was not from recollections; it had been recounted to her by her older sister, who during the genocide........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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