Clif Hostetler's Reviews > Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza
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Sep 27, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: memoir
Read from April 26 to May 02, 2012

It's sadly ironic that some people see proof that there is no God when they consider the evil manifest in the Rwandan holocaust. This author lived through that holocaust, her family were victims, and she says she discovered God amidst it. The style of this book is that of a religious faith journey. Considering the unbelievably horrible things she experienced, I can't suggest a better approach to the subject.

The terrible things that happened are beyond belief! I suppose it makes little sense to compare various historical holocausts in an effort to determine which was worst. But the unique characteristic of the Rwandan holocaust that shocks me is how up close and personal many of the killings were. The majority of the killing was done with macheties and in many cases the killers and victims knew each other, were neighbors, had grown-up together and gone to school together. The predominate religion in the country was Christianity (see footnote), they spoke the same language and they had similar skin color. We're talking about nearly a million people killed (20% of the population) which leads to the probable conclusion that there may have been about the same number of people guilty of murder.

In the case of Immaculée Ilibagiza, the author of this book, the killers called out her name while searching the house where she was hiding. They had reason to believe she was there but were unable to find her. She recognized their voices. One of the voices was of a man who she later learns killed her mother and brother and a man who's children she had been classmates with in grade school.

Most people assume the holocaust was a Hutu versus Tutsi tribal conflict. But many Hutu's were massacred in the holocaust as well. 10% to 20% of those killed may have been Hutu. It was actually a massacre initiated by a politically extreme group that advocated the ideology of "Hutu Power" that called for killing all Tutsis and moderate Hutus. I found it of interest that there was a Hutu soldier among the RPG (Tutsi) armed fighters who rescued Immaculée and her group of Tutsi survivors. It was the Hutu soldier who recognized Immaculée as a former classmate and saved her and her group from being charged as Hutu spies. They were suspected of being Hutus because the first soldiers they encountered couldn't believe it possible that any real Tutsis could have survived the holocaust in that part of the country.

One story from the book that I think illustrates the predicament of the Hutus is one family that rescued and hid a Tutsi woman who had been left for dead. Even though the family was hiding a Tutsi in their house, their son went out each day during the 90 day killing spree to join with other armed Hutus to look for and kill any Tutsis they could find. He had to participate in these murderous activities to prevent other Hutus from suspecting his family of harboring a Tutsi. So it is very possible that some of the killers were reluctant participants in the killing. Hutu families who were found to be hiding Tutsees were slaughtered along with the Tutsis they were hiding.

Immaculée lost her mother, father and two brothers to the holocaust. One brother survived by being out of the country. After the RPG had occupied the country and brought the killing to an end, Immaculée met and talked to the man who killed her mother and brother. This is the man who called out her name while looking for her to kill her. It is presumed that his interest in making sure all members of the family were killed was because he was interested in claiming their family's property. She was able to look him in the eye and say, "I forgive you." When asked why she said, "Forgiveness is all I have to offer."

Link to Immaculée’s webpage:

As of 2006, Catholics represented 56.5% of the population of Rwanda, Protestants 37.1% (of whom 11.1% were Seventh Day Adventists) and Muslims 4.6%. 1.7% claimed no religious beliefs.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

It's sadly ironic that some people see proof that there is no God when they consider the evil manifest in the Rwandan holocaust. Your review is excellent. I think it is a good idea to flip questions. For instance, if the existence of evil proves that there is no God, why not then does the existence of good prove that there is a God. I am not asserting the truth of this, mind you; I just think that it is fair to consider this as well. It is especially troubling to me that, in the case of Rwanda, so many of the perpetrators/victims were my co-religionists. But then again, just because the killers claim to act as Christians, doesn't mean the Christian God would necessarily be responsible for their conduct. Some would also say that Rwanda proves the Bible, which says that the hearts of human beings are desperately wicked. I find it helpful, when considering issues of theodicy, to recognize that there much that I do not know, but we should at least recognize that it is necessary to not allow our belief/disbelief to fall into automatic grooves of lazy thought. You probably are not in a hurry to revisit the horrors of Rwanda anytime soon, but I was very moved by Philip Gourevitch's book, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. Thank you for reading, writing,and posting this review.

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