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In 'I Lived to Tell the World,' journalist Elizabeth Mehren tells stories of surviving inhumane acts

The cover of "I Lived to Tell the World" and author Elizabeth Mehren. (Courtesy)
The cover of "I Lived to Tell the World" and author Elizabeth Mehren. (Courtesy)

Host Deepa Fernandes speaks with journalist Elizabeth Mehren about her new book new book, “I Lived to Tell the World: Stories from the Holocaust, Genocide, and the Atrocities of War.

Mehren interviewed survivors of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, and other acts of inhumanity who managed to make new lives in Oregon.

Book excerpt: ‘I Lived to Tell the World: Stories from the Holocaust, Genocide, and the Atrocities of War’

By Elizabeth Mehren

From Chapter Five:

Broken Bodies, Damaged Psyches and an Elusive Search for Justice in Rwanda:

“The mass killings of 1994 began in early April. On the eighth day of the month, machete-armed guerrillas arrived in Turaturanye’s region. The Tutsi population was in shock, wondering what to do. No one could have expected such brutality, so quickly. “There was not enough time to flee,” Turaturanye said. If you did manage to escape, “wherever you would go, someone would find you.”

Many of the people in his father’s congregation were Hutus. “The people he had preached to, they turned against him,” his son said.  A crowd of maybe 10 people surrounded his family’s home. They carried guns and machetes. “Machetes were for the poor. You had to pay to be shot,” Turaturanye said. “Can you imagine? Paying someone to shoot you?”

By sheer happenstance, 16-year-old Emmanuel Turaturanye was outside when the attack began. Cooking duties rotated among the children, and it was his day to prepare meals for the family. His five-year-old sister, Amena, was with him. Amena adored her big brother, and she loved to sit next to him while he cooked.

A group, he said, “maybe 10 people” began surrounding the family home. “They had guns and machetes.” Turaturanye saw them, “and my heart started to race, the way you feel when something bad is about to happen.” His body began to spasm with chills of fear. “And then my gut told me: Run!”

He scooped up his baby sister and took off as fast as his long, lean legs could carry him. The guerrillas chased them, but Emmanuel and Amena outran them. All these years later, a sense of amazement remains in his voice as he remembers, “My little sister, God, she was so fast.”

Inside the family home, the Hutu warriors killed his 95-year-old grandmother, his mother and his brother Steven. His cousins–Asman, Amina and Ayat–all were killed the same day. His father, who had been at a neighbor’s home when the carnage started, also perished. An older brother, Samuel, somehow had managed to run to another village.

As the massacre continued, Turaturanye said he lost too many members of his family to count–certainly too many to make any sense. “Oh my God,” he said. “More than one hundred.”

The loss of his family and the callous nature of the violence seemed impossible to absorb. There was no time to grieve. Turaturanye knew only that he had to flee, to find a place of safety for him and his sister. “All I felt was numbness,” he said. “I was in desperation mode. You don’t think of anything else, just how to survive.”

Adapted from “I Lived to Tell the World” by Elizabeth Mehren. Copyright © 2024 by Elizabeth Mehren. Used with permission of Oregon State University Press in cooperation with The Immigrant Story. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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