Rwandan educators wandered the halls of Israel's Holocaust memorial and spoke with elderly survivors of the Nazi slaughter, hoping to learn how to cope with and memorialize their own genocide, which ravaged their east African nation 11 years ago.
The Tutsi survivors said that despite the cultural distance, they found kindred spirits during their weeklong seminar at the Yad Vashem memorial that ended Monday.
More than half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by the Hutu militia during the 100-day massacre in 1994 orchestrated by the extremist Hutu government then in power. The genocide ended when Tutsi rebels toppled the Hutu government.
In a story similar to that of many survivors of the Nazi Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews in Europe, Mutanguha, 29, was betrayed by people he once trusted. He hid in a succession of houses of friends and relatives to evade the Hutu death squads. For three weeks, he and a sister pretended to be Hutus and lived in armed camps among militants who were murdering his friends and neighbors.
His mother once came to a hideout to bring him fruit and vegetables. "It was the last time I ever saw her, and that was the last food she ever gave me," he said softly, his eyes cast downward with pain, the AP reports.
The next day, Hutu militiamen killed his mother, father and two of his three sisters, he said.
As a survivor of the massacres he wanted to educate his people, but he struggled to find meaning in the monumental loss of life, and he grappled with life in a Rwanda that is itself struggling to deal with lingering ethnic turmoil.
After the genocide, schoolteacher Marie-Dominique Nyagahene searched for a way to explain a tragedy that she found "beyond understanding" herself.
Not a single Tutsi in the village where Nyagahene was born survived. For a week, the Tutsi survivors attended classes with educators from Yad Vashem's school for Holocaust studies. They heard testimony from other Tutsis, explored the Holocaust museum and met with Holocaust survivors.
Loeb, 71, said he hoped that talking with Holocaust survivors would encourage Tutsis to tell their stories to the world.
Hearing Holocaust survivors talk of rebuilding their lives after World War II showed Nyagahene, Mutanguha and the other Tutsi survivors they could rise again. A.M.