On Tuesday, Oct. 17, Taylor Krauss, journalist and filmmaker, came to St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) as part of the 18th Annual Holocaust and Genocide Colloquium that was introduced by Assistant Professor of French Elizabeth Applegate. He began with talking about our campus and how the pond reminded him of something a Tutsi woman, who had survived the 1994 Genocide, had said about swimming in a lake with all her friends. Krauss started an organization called Voices of Rwanda around 2006 that filmed and preserved first-hand accounts of Rwandans who wanted to tell their stories.
This organization allows Rwandans to tell their oral histories while allowing them to start and end wherever they want to. Before beginning to talk about what these testimonies mean and what it means to be a rescapé (a Kinyarwanda word meaning “one who escapes”), Krauss showed a 35-minute film that included three people’s testimonies. As the journalist pointed out, these testimonies went on for as long as the interviewee felt it should and most went on for upwards of eight hours.
During the 35 minutes, rescapés recounted childhood memories, songs, family history, and the war. As Jessica Blofsky, a sophomore, said about the lecture, “The intimacy of the interviews were striking and you feel like you were there.” While the Rwandan genocide is an extremely difficult topic for various reasons, having the testimonies of real people who lived through it is an amazing opportunity to learn about what was really going on while never forgetting the terrible atrocity that occurred less than twenty years ago. In one testimony, an interviewee said, “I think the reason I have the strength to talk is if I die without telling my story here, my lineage will be sniffed out.”
First-year Robert Shafer said about the talk, “[It was] interesting. It taught me details about the genocide I did not know and gave me context.” During the talk, Krauss reiterated the simple importance of just sitting and listening to the testimonies that Voices for Rwanda has preserved, both to “tell the rest of the world” and to make sure their voices are heard. He also talked about the evolution of his approach to documenting Rwandan voices, from being a passionate just-out-of-college filmmaker who wanted to make a film and move on, to making the transition to preserving and archiving all the stories he and his team could.
In viewing these testimonies, there are five considerations that Taylor Krauss wants people to think about beforehand. One of these is linguistics-based. Because the testimonies are spoken in the Kinyarwanda language, there are subtitles in English that do not capture the multi-layered nature of the language and sometimes are imprecise in the word choice. Anytime you translate something into another language, you are essentially translating it in to a different culture, because in different cultures, different meanings are emphasized.
Cultural consideration is the second point, in which the context behind the language is just as important; if one has a cultural understanding behind the language, he or she will understand so much more. The example that was used for this was the simile “like a tree” in Kinyarwanda. One of the rescapés likened a man who was being tortured to a tree and the cultural context behind this comparison made her words even more powerful.
Historical and biographical considerations are also important when approaching these testimonies because one gets to know the person, as well as gain a deeper understanding of what was going on at the time. The final consideration was audio-visual, in the importance of the visual presentation of the witness the gravitas of using silence as an audio effect. The most striking part of the videos was how raw and emotional the interviews were.
It seemed that all that separated someone and the speaker is a screen, and all one has to do is reach out. Political Science major and sophomore Alexandra Calambokidis thought that “[hearing] the testimonies about their experiences and not so much the recovery” was the most powerful part of the lecture. While the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is a tragic event that still scars the East African country, the Voices of Rwanda organization makes sure their voices will not be silenced and the experiences they had will be preserved for the present and the future.