Introduction to the book "Left to Tell"
By Immacul e Ilibagiza
we are challenged to change ourselves."
--Viktor Frankl, psychologist and Nazi holocaust survivor
I heard the killers call my name.
They were on the other side of the wall, and less than an inch of plaster and wood separated us. Their voices were cold, hard, and determined. "She's here ... we know she's here somewhere. Find her - find Immacul e."
There were many voices, many killers. I could see them in my mind: my former friends and neighbors, who had always greeted me with love and kindness, moving through the house carrying spears and machetes and calling my name.
"I have killed 399 cockroaches," said one of the killers. "Immacul e will make 400. It's a good number to kill."
I cowered in the corner of our tiny secret bathroom without moving a muscle. Like the seven other women hiding for their lives with me, I held my breath so that the killers wouldn't hear me breathing.
Their voices clawed at my flesh. I felt as if I were lying on a bed of burning coals, like I'd been set on fire. A sweeping wind of pain engulfed my body; a thousand invisible needles ripped into me. I never dreamed that fear could cause such agonizing physical anguish.
I tried to swallow, but my throat closed up. I had no saliva, and my mouth was drier than sand. I closed my eyes and tried to make myself disappear, but their voices grew louder. I knew that they would show no mercy, and my mind echoed with one thought: If they catch me, they will kill me. If they catch me, they will kill me. If they catch me, they will kill me ....
The killers were just outside the door, and I knew that at any second they were going to find me. I wondered what it would feel like when the machete slashed through my skin and cut deep into my bones. I thought of my brothers and my dear parents, wondering if they were dead or alive and if we would soon be together in heaven.
I put my hands together, clasped my father's rosary, and silently began to pray: Oh, please, God, please help me. Don't let me die like this, not like this. Don't let these killers find me. You tell us in the Bible that if we ask, we shall receive ... well God, I am asking. Please make these killers go away. Please don't let me die in this bathroom. Please, God, please, please, please save me! Save me!
The killers moved from the house, and we all began to breathe again. They were gone, but they would be back many times over the next three months. I believe that God had spared my life, but I'd learn during the 91 days I spent trembling in fear with seven others in a closet-sized bathroom that being spared is much different from being saved ... and this lesson forever changed me. It is a lesson that, in the midst of mass murder, taught me how to love those who hated and hunted me - and how to forgive those who slaughtered my family.
My name is Immacul e Ilibagiza. This is the story of how I discovered God during one of history's bloodiest holocausts.
P.S. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Immacul e's book "Left to Tell" will be donated to the Left to Tell Charitable Fund. Remembering the many orphaned children left behind from the Rwandan tragedy, Immacul e recently established this fund to help the children of Africa build new lives.