It was his connection to the Holocaust that led Taylor Krauss to live halfway around the world in Rwanda. As a film student at Yale University, Krauss had visited the Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies, which started collecting survivor testimonies in 1982, and remembered the stories he’d heard later when he was in Rwanda working on a documentary.
In Rwanda, Krauss was shocked that the government wasn’t recording testimonies and that there were no psychosocial services for survivors, and worried that the mistakes of the Holocaust, of not listening to survivors for more than a generation, would be repeated. "We silenced a generation, didn’t allow for that space," says Krauss.
So he founded Voices of Rwanda, an organization dedicated to recording survivors’ testimonies,
not only about the destruction of their families during the genocide, but of the vivacious lives they lived before.
Unlike the Holocaust, after which survivors mostly fled Europe for Israel or the United States, in Rwanda "you’re living next to the killer who killed your family. There’s no space to tell stories," Krauss says of the hundreds of thousands of survivors.
Krauss, who grew up in a Reform household in Arizona and helps plan Passover seders and High Holiday services in Rwanda, says his Judaism is central to his compassion for Rwandan survivors and their stories.
"My Jewish identity informs the way I exist in the world," he says, adding that as an outsider in Rwanda it is sometimes easier for subjects to trust him. "We as Jews are always informed by our history."
Krauss and his colleagues sit for as long as each story takes, sometimes more than 12 hours, and they have collected hundreds of hours of testimonies. But numbers don’t matter, he says. "Even one testimony is priceless."
"The more people share their testimonies the more I realize the importance of being there. The act of listening is the most important thing."
And he knows that, even if his work is never completed, his affection for the country will remain. "Rwanda’s part of my life," he says. "I’ll be going back in 50 years. I don’t know what state the country will be in, or what state I’ll be in, but I’ll always go back."
Multi-lingual: Krauss speaks French, Spanish, Chinese, and Portuguese, and is learning Kinyarwanda, the Bantu language spoken in Rwanda.
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