The Rwandan Genocide - A different Holocaust

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

As I've seen news coverage leading up to this day, I've been reminded that the Holocaust isn't the only holocaust that's happened in our world.

Even though the world said, “Never Again” after the Holocaust, genocides have continued to occur. Today, there are several ongoing genocides happening around the world.

Most of these genocides will never get their own Remembrance Day and so today, on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to talk about one of them: The Rwandan genocide, which began 21 years ago this month.

During the 100-day Rwandan genocide, roughly 800,000 Tutsis were massacred - On the streets, in their homes, and even in churches throughout Rwanda.

Sadly, the world remained largely ignorant of these events. At the time, we in the United States were far more concerned about whether or not OJ Simpson was guilty than we were about the slaughter of thousands of innocent Rwandans.

Hotel Rwanda Movie

It wasn't until a decade later, when the movie Hotel Rwanda was released, that Americans became somewhat aware of the Rwandan Genocide. The movie is billed as “The true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.” I've lost track of how many people I've heard describe it as one of the most impactful movies they've seen.

Having seen the movie, I was excited when, a few days before we left for our first trip to Rwanda in 2011, we had the opportunity to actually meet Paul Rusesabagina, who as it turns out, has been exiled from Rwanda. While at the event, another Rwandan came up and began talking to our group, telling us that the true story of Hotel Rwanda was not the one told by Hollywood.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Although I thought the experience was odd, initially I chalked it up to the musings of a crazy man. Two weeks later, I stood in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, struck by a wall dedicated to the heroes of the genocide – ordinary people who risked their own lives to save others from being killed. Paul Rusesabagina's name was notably absent from this wall.

Hotel Rwanda

A few days later, our team asked if it would be possible for us to visit the famed Hotel Rwanda. Our missionary host, Serge, graciously agreed. As we stood on the grounds of the opulent Hotel Rwanda, Serge told us the other story of Hotel Rwanda - How most Rwandans despise Paul Rusesabagina, someone they believe only saved those who could pay him to do so. They find it disgraceful that such a man would then profit from a movie that makes him out to be one of the few heroes of the genocide.

Truth be told, so do I.

What's more, I find it disheartening that we in America are so quick to assume that when Hollywood bills something as the “true story” it is. Seldom do we take time to actually investigate the bigger story, or hear another's perspective on that same story. This is, in essence, the danger of a single story. In the words of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie, “if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

So it is, I think, with Hotel Rwanda.

So on this day of all days, as we remember the Holocaust as well as other genocides around the world, my hope and prayer is that we will not be satisfied with a single story – especially when that story conflicts with the stories of those who actually lived it. May we, instead, take time to dig deeper; To listen to those most directly impacted by the event in question; And to withhold judgment so that we may instead, better understand other people, places, and cultures. Maybe then we can truly work together to keep the world's promise from nearly 70 years ago: Never Again.


To learn more about the Rwandan Genocide, check out these resources: 

Sometimes in April 


We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda

Left to Tell

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the Minister of Youth and Family at Atonement Lutheran Church in Barrington, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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