Recalling Rwanda

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Reflecting on Holocaust Memorial Day's theme this year, Lucy Russell recognises the need for wider resources on the history of genocides

A teacher who contacted me after I wrote an article about a resource for Holocaust studies (Teacher February 21, 2003) said she was creating her own Year 9 resources linking the Holocaust's relevance with more recent events such as those in Rwanda and Bosnia, aware that there is, as yet, limited material available. There is a move towards this kind of approach: taking the subject beyond Hitler into a wider context of crimes against humanity .

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, so it is particularly relevant that the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27 is "From the Holocaust to Rwanda: lessons to be learned and still to learn".

The Genocide Convention passed by the UN General Assembly in 1946 makes member states responsible for preventing genocide wherever it threatens to occur. The Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide have in common that international communities stood by while horrifying history was being made.

In the film shown in the Imperial War Museum's permanent exhibition Crimes Against Humanity, former BBC Southern Africa correspondent Fergal Keane says: "I look at what happened in Nazi Germany and take a straight line through to Rwanda, where radio was again used as a means of convincing people that if they simply went out and dealt with the problem of the minority - in Nazi Germany it was the Jews, in Rwanda it was the Tutsis - then their problems would be over." Nazi propaganda dehumanised the Jews and portrayed them as rats, in Rwanda the Tutsis were portrayed as cockroaches and snakes. The message of what should be done about these "vermin" was clear.

Teaching about Rwanda alongside the Holocaust has merit. It tells students that genocide did not end with the Holocaust and works against the misconception that the Jews "must have done something" to deserve their fate.

However, the Memorial Day theme presents teachers with challenges. The day itself is primarily a citizenship event and is about reflection and remembrance. As such it builds on students' existing knowledge. The Holocaust is part of the national curriculum but the Rwandan genocide is not, and it is unlikely students will know about the events which took place there in 1994.

The nature of the Memorial Day does not lend itself to in-depth study of the two genocides. It is important therefore not to oversimplify the parallels. There are also many differences and one cannot be judged against the other.

Lucy Russell is researching for a PhD on teaching the Holocaust in history at Goldsmiths College, University of London


The permanent Crimes Against Humanity exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, features a film and interactive learning centre.

The exhibition is not recommended for pupils under 16 and pupils younger than 12 are not admitted.

A set of six Rwanda Survivor posters (example right) is available, price pound;12, from the Aegis Trust.

A 14-minute video for schools, which details the genocide and the importance of remembrance, is also available as part of a free fundraising pack.

The Trust aims to raise money to build memorial and education centres at genocide sites in Rwanda. For background to the Rwandan genocide and an introduction to the Aegis Trust fundraising resources see www.rwandafund.orgsectionsaboutgenocide.htm Teachers should preview the site to assess suitability of the pictures for their classes.

A book, Rwanda 10, will be published for the 10th anniversary in April.

Tel: 01623 836627


The Holocaust Educational Trust can arrange for Holocaust survivors to speak in schools. Free. Email:

A Passage to Africa by George Alagiah, Chapter 7, Time Warner pound;7.99 The theme paper and further resources for Holocaust Memorial Day are at

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