Lynn Resident Faces One Genocide While Remembering His Own

By Sue Ellen Woodcock

Claude Kaitare lives on Washington Street in Lynn now, but he grew up knowing what it meant to live through a genocide. A native of Rwanda, Kaitare recently had the unique experience of meeting a survivor of another genocide on a trip to Bosnia with Salem State University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

The drive and visit to the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial, a couple of hours outside of Sarajevo, brought back memories for Kaitare. As his bus wove its way through the mountains he saw country homes torn apart by mortar shells, abandoned, frozen in a time just over 20 years ago. As the bus made its way through the forest red signs suspended from pine trees warned of mines that had not yet been detonated. Just weeks ago a child camping with his family was killed.

“As we made our way to the memorial I kept thinking of home and I was also wondering what type of prayer might be appropriate,” Kaitare said. “I am not a religious person and I kept wondering, ‘how am I supposed to pray?”

The Rwandan genocide, known officially in Rwanda as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal  mass slaughter of Tutsi people and moderate  Hutu people in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated 500,000–1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994 constituting as many as 70 percent of the Tutsi and 20 percent of Rwanda’s total population.

“Life was not predictable in Rwanda,” Kaitere said. “We came home to a bombed out home. My father decided to stay behind. He was an architect and died a few years ago. The houses (in Bosnia) take me back to the genocide in Rwanda.”

Soon the bus turned the corner and the pillar-like white marble tombstones, all perfectly lined up, of over 6,000 Bosian muslim men and boys appeared across a field and up a hill. An open-air mosque provides a spiritual center for all. There are still over 2,000 individuals remains waiting to be identified and buried.

Getting off the bus Kaitere, 34, met Hasan Hasanovic, 36, a Bosnian Muslim who lost his father and twin brother in the genocide. On July 11, 1995 when Hasanovic was a teenager, the Serbian Army took his town of Srebrenica, a supposed United Nations Safe Area. All males were rounded up and women were sent to refugee camps. Thousands and thousands were marched toward the town of Tuzla. At one point Hasanovic made the decision to run into the woods and leave his father and brother behind.

“They didn’t care that we were unarmed,” Hasanovic said. “Their primary concern was that we were Muslim and they wanted us dead.”

Visiting the cemetery Kaitere said he had mixed emotions.

“You are there with the souls of the dead,” Kaitere said. “I walked away from the group to take it all in.”

Kaitere said talking to a survivor of another genocide they were able to share with each other that none of these atrocities are ever repeated.

“We have to work for a better future,” Kaitere said. “He has a wife and a daughter now and that made me think of moving forward.”

Both men also now speak about the genocides they experienced. Hasanovic is now the curator and interpreter of the Srebrenica-Potocari Cemetery and Memorial Centre. Kaitere is a professional driver. He graduated from Clark University in Worcester and is enrolled at Salem State University working on a degree in genocide. He is also a speaker with the genocide awareness group, “Facing History and Ourselves” in Brookline. He often speaks at schools and hopes to become a teacher after getting a master’s degree in education.

Hasan Hasanovic, left, genocide survivor and guide, meets Claude Kaitare, a Lynn resident and native of Rwanda. The two acknowledged the unique life experiences they have.

Hasan Hasanovic, left, genocide survivor and guide, meets Claude Kaitare, a Lynn resident and native of Rwanda. The two acknowledged the unique life experiences they have.

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