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anti-def01-2-2Bodies were piled in the streets, butchered. Some died from machine-gun fire, others were slaughtered by machetes — and mutilated.

By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers
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Bodies were piled in the streets, butchered. Some died from machine-gun fire, others were slaughtered by machetes — and mutilated.

Soldiers sat on stacks of corpses as they smoked cigarettes. Streams of blood flowed downhill, gathering into small pools of crimson and dust. Sounds of flies and dogs echoed in the air and the stench of death lingered.

“People ask if I have ever been afraid,” Paul Rusesabagina begins.

Rusesabagina is the former manager of the Mille Collines Hotel, in Kigali, Rwanda. He was a savior to nearly 1,300 Rwandans during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and the inspiration of the film, “Hotel Rwanda.”

Rusesabagina remembers his eldest son walking into his neighbor’s home. The day was April 7, 1994 — the second day of the genocide.

Parents whom he sought guidance from were murdered. Children whom he played with struggled through their last breaths.

“Four days without a word,” Rusesabagina says, describing his son’s shock.

The same day his son returned speechless from the neighbor’s home was the same day another neighbor appeared from his home dressed in a blood-soaked militia uniform.

People who lived side-by-side were killing each other,  Hutus against the Tutsis, Rusesabagina says.

“Have I ever been afraid?” he repeats. “The answer is yes.”

Saturday, Jan. 27, Rusesabagina spoke at Northern Arizona University in honor of International Holocaust Day. He arrived after an invitation from NAU’s Martin-Springer Institute, which strives to promote moral courage, altruism and tolerance in lessons learned from the Holocaust.

An audience of hundreds asked how he survived.  They asked what they could do to prevent it from happening again.

“Words can be the best weapon to end lives and words can be

the best weapon to save lives,” he says.

In the 1950s, Tutsi tribal members were leaders and Hutus were farmers. This designation established their social class, he said.

Other designations that established the social class were physical features, such as height and even nose measurement. Most importantly though, ethnicity was determined through paternal bloodline.

Rusesabagina said he remembers when people received identification cards. Because his father was Hutu, he was Hutu.

He said that although the identification cards deemed somebody exclusively as Hutu or Tutsi, it couldn’t be true — mixing generations made it impossible to tell one ethnicity from the next.

“There was never a Hutu culture or a Tutsi culture. We are all of those spread all over the land,” he said.

The mixed generations didn’t matter, though — Hutus revolted against their Tutsi leadership, sparking the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

Rusesabagina spoke openly about the genocide that took more than 900,000 lives in less than 100 days.

The genocide happened because of poor leadership, poverty and lack of education, he said.

He said the departure of over 2,000 United Nations troops was the proverbial green light for the two tribes to begin warring.

“The world never wants to prevent. They want to study the aftermath,” he suggested.

Rusesabagina described horrible conditions where people drank rationed swimming pool water from dust bins. He described using firewood to cook dry beans and corn for over 1,000 people in cramped quarters.

He admitted he was placed several times on a list to evacuate, but chose to remain at the Mille Collines.

“The refugees came to me, ‘If you are leaving tomorrow, please let us know so we can go up to the roof top and jump.’ They were choosing a better death over torture, mutilation. I said, ‘No, I’m not leaving,’” he said.

Radio stations listed names of evacuated refugees and ordered militias to kill them. Those refugees returned each time, bludgeoned but alive — the result of powerful words.

Rusesabagina says he spoke with the mayor of Kigali after such incidents. He wanted to communicate wisdom — use powerful words.

“I believe in dialogue … who never talked to his father, never knew what his grandfather said,” he started.

“When we face history, are you sure this is the answer you want to give?” he asked the mayor.

To answer what people can do to halt such things from

occurring, Rusesabagina answered quickly.

“Petitions. Talk to congressmen. Tell your administration to send a message to dictators that they are not untouchable,” he added.

 In the end, Rusesabagina saved 1,268 people by hiding them inside the Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali.

“Sometimes we pretend a bed is fit for one. I know it can hold five. Wherever there is a will, there is a way,” he said.

Rusesabagina used words to save over a thousand refugees, just as words killed their countrymen. In the end, he proved one person can make a difference.

“Today is the day to stand up and do something for others. What I need from you today is for people to stand by no more,” he concluded.


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