‘It Is Never The End Until It Is The End’
Hero Depicted In ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Talks At BC
Posted: November 8, 2012
Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero depicted in the award-winning 2004 film "Hotel Rwanda,” speaks at Bridgewater College on Wednesday. Rusesabagina saved the lives of more than 1,200 people during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. (Photos by Stephen Mitchell)
Paul Rusesabagina, the real-life hero depicted in the award-winning 2004 film "Hotel Rwanda,” speaks at Bridgewater College on Wednesday.
Moments earlier, he was woken up with a gun to his head and was ordered to clear more than 1,200 refugees out the Mille Collines hotel within 30 minutes.
Rusesabagina bought some time, and after checking out the scene on the roof, he began calling in favors and pleading for help with influential people as he had done so many times during the Rwandan genocide.
He ultimately succeeded, once again, in staving off the threat of violence the morning of April 23, 1994, and ensuring for the time being the refugees would be protected from the massacre.
The episode demonstrates one of the lessons Rusesabagina learned during the 100 days of ethnic unrest that left up to 1 million people dead in the central African nation.
“It is never the end until it is the end,” he said Wednesday to about 600 people packed into Bridgewater College’s Cole Hall.
Rusesabagina, the hero depicted in the 2004 film “Hotel Rwanda,” helped protect 1,268 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus from the Interahamwe militia during the spring 1994 massacre.
His talk at Bridgewater College was sponsored by the Harry and Ina Shank Educational Fund.
Rwanda’s civil war unraveled into the genocidal massacre in April 1994 following the assassination of the Rwandan and Burundi presidents.
In the three months that followed, Hutu rebels engaged in mass killings, mostly of ethnic Tutsis.
The Hutus and Tutsis have a history of deep-rooted tensions going back decades as they’ve jockeyed for power.
Rusesabagina was at dinner on April 6, 1994, when his wife called warning him to come home as the violence began.
He was eating with his brother-in-law and sister-in-law when he got the call, and they all left immediately.
“I just shook their hands and told [them], ‘Listen. You guys go home and I will see you tomorrow,’” he recalled. “Tomorrow never came. They were both killed and their bodies never found.”
Rusesabagina returned home to find 26 neighbors had holed up in his residence for safety.
A few days later, soldiers showed up at his home, demanding he return to the hotel he managed because militia were staying there.
Rusesabagina said he could not go without his “family,” to which he argued his neighbors belonged. The leader of the soldiers agreed to let them go, and Rusesabagina’s group, in hotel vans, was escorted to the hotel between military vehicles.
Along the way, the caravan stopped on the road, littered with bodies, and Rusesabagina was threatened at gunpoint, told he was lucky the soldiers weren’t killing him that day.
“That was the scariest time of my life,” he said.
Rusesabagina said he began to negotiate with the soldiers, saying they were tired and thirsty and needed him to run the hotel for them.
Eventually, the group arrived at his hotel, more than 30 people spared from violence.
“This was not the end,” he said, “but the beginning.”
Once the military had left, Rusesabagina and his group went to another hotel affiliated with his company, which he took over as general manager, and began caring for hundreds more refugees.
Rusesabagina helped to secure food and water, and refugees even drank swimming pool water to keep from dehydrating.
Through the hardships and close calls, not a single refugee under his watch was harmed, and all eventually evacuated in June 1994.
Rusesabagina later founded the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that assists people affected by the genocide.
Rwanda still faces challenges today, with human rights abuses and no political freedom, Rusesabagina said.
In response to a question at BC Wednesday, he said he believes the key to resolving the ethnic tensions between Hutus and Tutsis is through dialogue.
“We have tried to solve our conflicts with guns,” he said. “Let us set aside our guns. … I believe in words.”
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or email@example.com