5 November 2010 Perfect hell – scratching open wounds – Jean Hatzfeld at Klub pod Jaszczurami

The two-hour meeting with the laureate of the first edition of the Ryszard Kapuściński Award – the French reporter and war correspondent – Jean Hatzfeld, will certainly be remembered by the Festival’s participants for a long time and shall not stop nagging the thoughts. The author of “The Antelope Strategy” reminded us yesterday that genocide in Rwanda in 1994 did not occur without our – the European's – participation. The meeting was dedicated above all to his shocking Rwandan stories. When they were published in Poland, Wojciech Tochamn wrote: “Hatzfeld’s book hurts like an open wound. Because he speaks of an open wound. We don’t know whether it can heal”. The participants of the meeting at Klub Pod Jaszczurami listened, as if hypnotised, to the story about how not far from us, not long ago... the perfect hell was being created.

“I was in the States then. I found out from the TV that there was some sort of genocide happening in Africa. In July 1994 I went to Rwanda; the waves of cruel murders were already ending. In September I returned to Paris. I was then taken over by a very strong feeling, conviction about how we were all mistaken... – we reporters! The main figure of these horrifying events had escaped our attention. We spoke about everything, but not about the survivors of Tutsi. I associated this state with the situation after World War II. I noticed a parallel between the survivors from concentration camps and the victims of the Rwandan slaughter. That is why I returned to Rwanda a few years later” Hatzfeld said in a calm voice. In 1998 he returned to Rwanda and began work; however, complete silence surprises him, the reluctance to talk about the cruel events from only a few years back. He understood then that the lack of reporters’ reactions in 1994 was not the result ill will, but because the survivors didn’t want to talk about it. In Hatzfeld’s opinion “the cause of silence varies”. Those people feel shame for what they experienced, that they took someone’s place. The shame also results from memories of a savage lifestyle, vegetation, which they led. They are also uncomfortable with the picture of the past darkened under the influence of extreme experiences” he finishes. Then he adds: “The survivors prefer to remain silent, because they believe that life has already been broken”. However, the difficulties and resistance of inhabitants did not discourage him. Finally, he meets people and starts to listen to their stories.

During last night’s meeting, he also recalled working with 10 torturers, who were in the seclusion house: “They were decent 20-year-old people, who not too long ago killed tens of people with machetes. I would have preferred they show aggression from time to time, but that wasn’t the case. Before me I saw the normal gobs of decent, cultural people”.

In being asked about the justification of parallels Holocaust-Rwanda, he stated firmly: “There is no taboo here. I believe that such a comparison can be stated. I saw the same feeling of guilt and shame in the eyes of these people”. During the meeting, he said that with each journey, he conducted careful preparations, read materials, analysed and researched. In speaking about the pleasure he gets from work he said: “I feel pleasure when I can take the reader by the hand and lead him to the inside of some world and at its threshold tell him: - “Look, now you have seen what genocide is.” I say goodbye and I don’t know what his future brings and whether it changed him in any way”.

Jacek Giszczak, who translated his book “The Antelope Strategy” into Polish participated in the meeting at Klub Pod Jaszczurami. The publishing house Wydawnictwo “Czarne” foreshadowed the publication of two of the first books from Hatzfeld’s Rwandan cycle for February and March 2011: “Life Laid Bare” and “A Time for Machetes” also translated by Giszczak. We can’t wait!