The world had seen the same thing happen many times before. After it happened in Nazi Germany, all the big, powerful countries swore, “Never again!” But here we were, six harmless females huddled in darkness, marked for execution because we were born Tutsi. How had history managed to repeat itself? How had this evil managed to surface once again? Why had the devil been allowed to walk among us unchallenged, poisoning hearts and minds until it was too late?
The pastor must have known that we could hear this conversation because he scolded his son: “You are a stupid, stupid boy, Sembeba. There is never an excuse to shed blood without a very good reason. Now get out of my room. I’m sick of listening to you speak.”
“You think I’m stupid for hating Tutsis, Father? Don’t you think it’s more stupid to hide them? I hope you know that that’s what people say you’re doing. Is it true? Are you hiding Tutsis in the house?” My heart jumped into my mouth. My anger vanished, and once again, all I felt was fear.
“I’ve had enough of your foolishness, Sembeba. I’m not hiding any Tutsis. And it pains me to hear your vindictive words—your own mother was a Tutsi! I hope you know that your aunts, uncles, and all of your cousins are being hunted and killed. Now get out of my room and don’t come back. Get out!”
We hadn’t recovered from Sembeba’s awful visit when we suddenly heard grenades exploding nearby. There was a series of terrific crashes that sounded like buildings collapsing. After each crash, we heard singing: “Kill them big, kill them small, kill them, kill them, kill them all!” There was gunfire near the house, and the singing got so loud that we knew the killers were moving in our direction. I said a silent prayer, and moments later, we heard a clap of thunder, followed by a heavy downpour of rain. I can only guess that the killers ran back to their homes to stay dry, because all we heard for the rest of the night was the rain pounding against the metal roof.
That night the pastor came to us. His face was pale, and his eyes were bloodshot and weary. I thought that he was worried about Sembeba’s suspicions, but it was much worse. He’d been walking about outside and had witnessed the depth of the horror unfolding around us. He told us that Interahamwe militiamen, soldiers, and Hutu civilians were destroying every Tutsi home they came across.
“It is very bad outside,” he said, “very, very bad. I saw the killings in 1959 and 1973, and they were nothing compared to this. You have to understand that everything else has stopped—the schools and markets are closed, and people aren’t going to work. The country has been shut down until the job is done.”
“What do you mean ‘until the job is done’? Until what job is done?” I asked.
The pastor paused. “Killing Tutsis. The job won’t be done until all the Tutsis are dead. That’s the government’s main goal, and they’re making everyone work very hard to achieve it. I have seen things today that I wish I had never seen.”
My stomach twisted in a knot. I thought of my family, and I wanted to plug my ears and block out the pastor’s voice.
“They have killed thousands of people,” he continued, “tens of thousands . . . maybe hundreds of thousands, who knows? So many Tutsis ran into the churches for protection that the doors wouldn’t close. Churches have always been off-limits for killing, but not this time. The killers burned the churches with the people still inside, and they shot anyone who tried to escape.”
“Oh, God, no,” I said. “On the radio they told everyone to go to the churches and stadiums for
“They might have said that, but it wasn’t to protect anyone. The killers were sent there with machine guns and grenades. The bodies are piled up as high as my house . . . the stench is unbearable.”
“Please, Pastor, enough! Don’t say any more,” I begged.
I wanted to ask him for news of my family, but I didn’t want to hear what he might say. I couldn’t bear to hear another word.
–Excerpt from Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza