Tutsis who survived the genocide meet 'brothers and sisters' in Israel

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The Independent Online

Hilary Mukamazibaka uses the not quite translatable French word enchanté to describe her feelings on meeting a group of Jewish survivors during an eight-day seminar visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum which ended yesterday. "This was because they made their lives over again. They picked themselves up and that gives me hope."

For this 37-year-old lawyer from Rwanda, part of a 20-strong group who visited Israel, it was no academic judgement. Instead, it bears directly on her experience of the genocide inflicted by Hutus on her fellow Tutsis in 1994. Her parents and seven of her brothers and sisters were killed.

She only survived by feigning death beneath a heap of bodies of the massacred - including that of her husband of less than a year - on open ground next to a main road in the south of the country. "They cut heads off. Then they brought the trucks to take the bodies away and dump them in a common grave," she recalled.

The Holocaust survivors whom the group met during the seminar - jointly organised by the Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies and Nyamirambo, a Tutsi non-governmental organisation based in Belgium and Rwanda - were, she says, "like brothers and sisters for us because they had had a similar experience."

Another survivor from Rwanda, Freddy Muhanga, a teacher, also said the group had learnt a great deal by seeing that the Holocaust survivors had been able to "come back into life" - but also by hearing their warnings that more than 20 or 30 years of silence, which many Holocaust survivors maintained after coming to Israel, had been lost time. "You have to talk about your experiences," he said.

The seminar's significance for Yad Vashem is that it is the first time it has hosted a visit of this importance by victims of another genocide. While the new museum, which opened this year has been a great success, it has faced occasional muted criticism for not referring as much to other genocides in the way that, for example, the US Holocaust Museum in Washington has done.

Ehud Loeb, 71, a Jewish survivor whose parents died in Auschwitz and who was among those meeting the Tutsi group, said last night that the experience had been surprising. He said the guide who showed the visitors round the museum, Shlomo Balsam, had told him he had been amazed at their reaction.

"It was just unbelievable that people who had come from so far geographically, some of whom broke down into tears, were saying: 'That's what happened to us. That's exactly the same.'"

Mr Loeb said that beside giving horrific accounts of their experiences, the Rwandan survivors revealed a feeling - familiar to Holocaust survivors - of being "abandoned both during and after the genocide". He said the seminar had been a reminder not only of the Rwandan massacres but indirectly of genocides in Cambodia, Yugoslavia and now Sudan. "And the world stands by. It is not only that they happen but the world allows them to happen."

Edward Bizumuremyi, 42, a Rwandan editor, said he did not believe the need to commemorate and testify to the genocide conflicted with the equally paramount task of national reconciliation. Pointing out, like others at the seminar, that not all Hutus took part, he said the genocide had been fomented by a "small group of extremists" legitimised by state power and historically aggravated by the colonial power's use of Tutsis to help run the country. Similarities with the Holocaust included a genocidal ideology, a highly centralised state, and the use of death squads comparable to the Nazi SS.

Like several of the Rwandan participants, Mr Bizumuremyi, who is doing a PhD thesis on the 1994 genocide, was impressed by their journey to see the educational work done with and by children on the Holocaust and Jewish resistance at the Ghetto Fighters' Museum in Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot in Galilee.

For all the talk since the Second World War that "never again" would such genocide occur, he said, "it happened again and it may even happen yet again. That is why we have to talk about it more and more, to show the magnitude of what happened."

* Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has suffered a stinging parliamentary defeat by members of his Likud party. Hardline Likud lawmakers bent on punishing Mr Sharon voted against three key cabinet appointments, including Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as finance minister. Warning there would be "consequences", Mr Sharon immediately convened a cabinet meeting to consider a revised proposal to be brought quickly to another parliamentary vote.