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Updated 1:00 PM October 4, 2005




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“Hotel Rwanda” hero to receive Wallenberg Medal

Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotel manager credited with saving the lives of 1,268 people sought by a rampaging militia, will be awarded the 15th Wallenberg Medal as one of the people he helped rescue looks on.

Photo by Louie Favorite/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The ceremony is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 11 in the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Rusesabagina was portrayed by actor Don Cheadle in the 2004 film about the incident, “Hotel Rwanda,” which earned three Oscar nominations.

A current Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow has a unique view of Rusesabagina’s courageous act. Thomas Kamilindi, who has worked for the French Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation as a freelance radio reporter, was among those saved by Rusesabagina’s actions.

“He had no force to protect us, he was not armed,” Kamilindi says. “I think he could protect us because he’s a very good negotiator, he’s a patient man, and he has big courage. We are safe now.”

Kamilindi says he brought his wife and daughter to the Mille Collines Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, in April 1994 in hopes of keeping them from the insurgent militia. His father and first-born daughter already had been killed as Hudu militia pursued a genocidal program against the Tutsi residents of Rwanda.

During the 100-day siege, nearly 1 million people died in Rwanda. None of the people who took shelter at the hotel was killed during the genocide.

“The Wallenberg award is for people who have risked much on behalf of human rights,” says John Godfrey, assistant dean of international education in the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and chairman of the Wallenberg Committee. “He embodies the personal courage and the moral courage of Wallenberg. He put himself physically between the people he was sheltering and the people who meant to do them harm.”

The siege began April 7, 1994, when hundreds threatened by Hutu Power supporters took shelter at the luxury hotel in central Kigali. On April 23, a lieutenant of the Department of Military Intelligence arrived at the hotel and ordered Rusesabagina to turn out everyone who had sought shelter there, and said he had a half-hour to comply.

Rusesabagina went to the roof and saw military and militia surrounding the building. He and several occupants began telephoning influential persons abroad to seek help. Before the half-hour was up, a colonel from the National Police arrived to end the siege and to order the lieutenant to leave.

On May 13 of that year, a captain came to the hotel in the morning to warn that there would be an attack at 4 p.m. After an appeal to the French government, the French Foreign Ministry directed its representative at the United Nations to inform the secretariat of the threat. The attack didn’t come.

The strategies Rusesabagina employed to keep the murderers at bay are similar to those Raoul Wallenberg used to save Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
Wallenberg was a Swedish citizen and U-M alumnus who graduated from the College of Architecture in 1935. In 1944, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent him on a rescue mission to Budapest, where his courage and ingenuity saved 100,000 Jewish lives.

Wallenberg was arrested by Soviet authorities in 1945 and never was heard from again.
The Wallenberg Endowment was established at U-M in 1985 to commemorate Wallenberg and to recognize others whose courageous actions exemplify his extraordinary humanitarian accomplishments and values.

The award presentation and Wallenberg Lecture are free and open to the public. A reception in the Michigan League Ballroom will follow. While at U-M, Rusesabagina also is scheduled to attend a luncheon and discussion with Knight-Wallace Fellows and graduate students from noon-2 p.m. at the Wallace House, 620 Oxford Road.

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