Survivors Of The Rwandan Genocide Describe What They Experienced

In only 100 horrific days in 1994, 800,000 Rwandan people were killed by Hutu extremists. The minority Tutsi community was targeted in addition to the Hutu people's political opponents. The Tutsi had dominated the country until 1959 when the monarchy was overthrown and they were believed to be extremely rebellious. So when the Hutu Rwandan president's plane was shot down in April 1994, a Tutsi rebel group was immediately blamed. Thus began an organized murder campaign against them, one of the worst genocides in history.

This was a world-acknowledged genocide that implicated even regular Rwandan citizens. The Hutu government youth wing, Interahamwe, was turned into a militia and weapons were given to locals so that hundreds of Tutsi people could be exterminated at once. Extremists broadcasted hate propaganda urging common folk to kill their Tutsi neighbors and as a result, nearly two million people were tried for their role in the atrocity.

Over the following years, many survivors of the genocide have spoken out about what they endured in the hopes that it will never happen again. As they move forward in their lives, they continue to deal with the aftermath of those 100 days.

The Survivors Fund raises awareness about these Rwandans' experiences and proceeds from their collections help support those affected.

  • "We Heard Them Blowing Whistles While They Were Coming To Attack Us"

    "We Heard Them Blowing Whistles While They Were Coming To Attack Us"
    Photo: Fanny Schertzer / Wikimedia Commons

    Jacqueline Hagenimana was nine-years-old at the time of the genocide. She and her family were Tutsi and tried to seek refuge in a church in Mukingi. Hagenimana  says:

    "In this church, all the people [who] had come to seek refuge were all locked inside the church. However, all the children including myself were taken and locked inside the vesting room that was inside church. Old women were left in the main part of the church and when the attackers came and found the old women inside the church, they killed all of them.

    "The killers never managed to enter the vesting room where we were hiding. However, they later came to know that we were inside the church and they came to attack us in church that evening. When we heard them blowing whistles while they were coming to attack us, some members of that church's choir who knew that we were hiding in the vesting room, came and took us away and went to hide us in the bush. These choir members refused to take us to their homes for fear that the killer gangs would come to kill us. At the time, I did not know where my family members were and I had a feeling that they had all been killed."

  • "We Thought No One Would Kill Anyone In A Church"

    "We Thought No One Would Kill Anyone In A Church"
    Photo: Dave Proffer / Wikimedia Commons

    Jason Nshimye was a 15-year-old Tutsi high school sophomore when he and his family took refuge in the Mugonero Church. Nshimye  shares:

    "We thought no one would kill anyone in a church. We started hearing rumors that people were dying around the country, so my family and I decided to run away.

    "[When Tutsi leaders asked the president of the church to appeal for the refugees' lives, the president declined because] he was Hutu. He was one of the criminals. He told us, no matter what we tried to do, we would be killed anyway.

    "The Hutu killers came from every direction. They surrounded the church. They had hand grenades, guns, and machetes People were dying in every corner, everywhere I looked, hundreds, every minute. I witnessed many of my family members and closest friends die that day."

  • "I Never Been So Scared In my Life"

    "I Never Been So Scared In my Life"
    Photo: Dave Proffer / Wikimedia Commons

    Immaculee Illibagiza was 13-years-old when she and six other Tutsi women hid in a small bathroom for 91 days. Illibagiza says:

    "There's a little window in the bathroom. I went up and I looked through the curtains. And I saw like people running, running, running... inside the house. And we heard them. I can see the spears. So they come inside. I never been so scared in my life. I remember it was like, life swept out of your body in a second. I became dry instantly. I couldn't even find saliva to swallow.

    "I was completely a skeleton. I remember me myself thinking, looking at my hands. And I was like, 'This is what the biologists [told us about]. We really... have a skeleton like this.' It was completely like I [could] see every bone."

    When the killers swarmed the house, Illibagiza remembers:

    "I heard somebody calling my name. He said, actually that, 'I have killed 399 cockroaches' and he wanted me to be the 400th... I was so scared that he knows where I am. He's so sure. It was like dying alive, really when I remember the pain of that place. It was like everyday you are like something [that] is dying, slowly dying thousands of times."

  • "I Couldn't Believe The Things I Heard"

    "I Couldn't Believe The Things I Heard"
    Photo: Dylan Walters / Wikimedia Commons

    Consolee Nishimwe was 14-years-old when the genocide started, and she hid in the homes of friends and neighbors in her small town. When hiding in a neighbor's ceiling, Nishimwe overheard some of the killers talking. She notes:

    “I couldn't believe the things I heard while I was up there. I remember when the killers were describing the people they had murdered. I couldn't even believe what they said. They mentioned my dad’s name, that they have murdered him and how they had tortured and killed him.”

    When she and her family arrived at another friend's house, a group of Hutu killers was waiting for them. Nishimwe continues:

    “They decided to kill my brothers first. They were nine, seven, and the youngest was 18-months-old. We were begging to be taken together but they refused.”

  • "The Interahamwe Took Us To A Pit By A Roadside To Be Killed"

    "The Interahamwe Took Us To A Pit By A Roadside To Be Killed"
    Photo: Adam Jones / Wikimedia Commons

    Clare was a married mother of two, living in Muhima during the genocide. Clare remembers: 

    "When the genocide began my daughter was away working in Kibungo. We waited for her to come home, but we ourselves were in danger. I found out later that my daughter had been killed at her grandfather’s home... 

    "On 3 May, with my son, the Interahamwe took us to a pit by a roadside to be killed. We were pushed in alive. Then a grenade was thrown in. I lost consciousness. After a while I came to. It felt like I was in a dream, but then I was sure I heard someone passing by. I called out for help.  Someone answered, whispering to me to stop calling.  He said if the killers heard me they were sure to come back to finish me off. He told me to keep silent and promised he would return when darkness came to rescue me if I was still alive."

  • "I Heard My Parents Scream As They Were Hacked Down With Machetes"

    "I Heard My Parents Scream As They Were Hacked Down With Machetes"
    Photo: Dave Proffer / Wikimedia Commons

    Philippe was six-years-old at the time of the genocide. He was part of a large extended family. He says,

    "The killers came and first killed my parents and an uncle. Another uncle of mine threw me over the hedge into the neighbor's yard and that is how I survived the first encounter with the killers. I heard my parents scream as they were hacked down with machetes and udufuni (small hoes).

    "I escaped and hid for some time with neighboring kids, but the Interahamwe chased us out of hiding. Together we requested to pray before they killed us. In the middle of the prayer, I ran for my life and the killers took off after me. Since I had a clear lead on them, I fell into a deep ditch that had been dug specifically to throw the bodies of the slain Tutsis; I was out of their sight. They did not know where I was so they decided to leave. One of my younger uncles had seen me falling into the pit and he came to my rescue. His entire family had been killed."