HOTEL RWANDADirected by Terry George
And Writing credits Keir Pearson & Terry George
The true-life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsis refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.
I had no intention initially to see this film because the subject matter distressed me when I saw the trailer. But after hearing what a superb film it is, and hearing about the magnificent performance of Don Cheadle, I decided to give it a chance. Don Cheadle is one of my favorite actors whom I first saw in the film ROSEW00D , another story about a massacre of blacks, this time in Florida of the early 20th century.   [Click HERE to see my review of Rosewood]
This film is not easy to watch. It presents, in vivid imagery, one of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind which took place in the country of Rwanda. That it was allowed to take place at the end of the 20th century is a blot on the civilized world.
When Rwanda received its independence from Belgium, the colonists left behind them a seething hatred between two of the largest tribes, - the Hutu and the Tutsis. The Hutus felt that the Belgians had favored the Tutsis and had given them an inordinate amount of power wherein the Hutus claimed that there had been an abuse of their tribe perpetrated by the Tutsis.
By 1994, when a Hutu militia had gained control of the army and then of the government, they began a systematic hunting down and slaughter of Tutsis. As the Hutu army advanced across the country, capturing, torturing, and finally killing thousands of Tutsi men, women, and children, one brave man, Paul Rusesabagina, a Hutu manager of a five star hotel managed to give shelter to and ultimately save thousands more Tutsis from death, leading them out of the major area controlled by the Hutus and into territory held by the Tutsi rebel army - the army which ultimately drove back the Hutu militia and gained control of the country after years of fierce fighting.
Rusesabagina can be called the Schindler of Rwanda.
I do not like it usually when people compare the Holocaust of the Jews to other massacres. But here, the situation parallels completely the events of the 1940s.
In the 1940s, the allies at least had an excuse that they did not know what was going on in Europe in the concentration camps, even though there were enough rumors to indicate that something was going on, and President Roosevelt had been asked, begged, to have the air force bomb the railroads leading to the camps, which he refused to do.
In the case of Rwanda, there were news reporters from all over the world witnessing and taping the killings. UN military was there but they had been given orders not to shoot or interfere. One wonders why they were there at all. No western country, - no country at all threatened the Hutu to abandon the slaughter.
We also learn that Rusesabagina's own wife is a Tutsi, and some of his Hutu acquaintances encourage him to leave her to her fate. He refuses, preferring to stay with her and their children, and suffer whatever fate befalls them.
There are startling parallels to the Nazi vis-à-vis the Jews. The Hutus constantly refer to the Tutsis as cockroaches as the Nazis referred to the Jews as vermin. Such comparisons make it easy for human beings to exterminate other human beings. In one scene Rusesabagina says to his hotel supplier, a Hutu sympathizer with the militia, "Surely they don't intend to kill every last Tutsi?" "Why not?", asks the supplier. "We already have a pretty good start on killing them all."
This is an amazing correspondence to what happened in Germany when surprisingly many gentile Germans refused to abandon their Jewish spouses and live-in lovers, especially in Berlin where over 200 Jews were hidden by German gentiles until the war was over in 1945. Amazing but true.
The acting is superb. Even the child actors are incredibly believable.
Before the UN pulls out, the commanding officer, Colonel Oliver, tells Rusesabagina, "You ought to spit in our faces for this betrayal. You are a fine man and could even be the owner of this hotel. But you have one problem, - you're black. You are not even a nigger. You are African and as far as the Europeans and Americans go, you are not worth the trouble of defending."
But it is Colonel Oliver himself, who finally disobeys UN orders and helps to save Rusesbagina and the refugees to escape the final destruction.
I can recommend that you see this film but it is not for the faint-hearted.
Scarsdale,NY March 4, 2005
Don Cheadle .... Paul Rusesabagina
Sophie Okonedo .... Tatiana Rusesabagina
Nick Nolte .... Colonel Oliver
Joaquin Phoenix .... Jack
Desmond Dube .... Dube
David O'Hara .... David
Cara Seymour .... Pat Archer
Fana Mokoena .... General Augustin Bizimungo
Hakeem Kae-Kazim .... George
Tony Kgoroge .... Gregoire
Mosa Kaiser .... Paul's Daughter
Mathabo Pieterson .... Paul's Daughter
Ofentse Modiselle .... Roger Rusesabagina
Xolani Mali .... Policeman
Rosie Montene .... Receptionist
MPAA: Rated PG-13 on appeal for violence, disturbing images and brief strong language.
Runtime: 121 min
Countries: Canada / UK / Italy / South Africa
THE JEWISH WEEK
United By Horror
Two survivors — one from the Holocaust and one from the Rwandan genocide — have struck up an unusual friendship.
Gabrielle Birkner - Staff Writer
In 1994, while 9-year-old Jacqueline Murekatete was waiting to die at the hands of Hutu rebels in a Rwandan orphanage, David Gewirtzman was reading newspaper articles, often buried deep inside the dailies, about the mass murder taking place in Murekatete’s homeland.
“Seeing pictures of bodies floating down the river affects me in a different way,” said Gewirtzman, a Holocaust survivor from Losice, Poland, referring to media images of the Rwandan massacre. “I stared at the television for hours, and felt like I was killed all over again.”
Seven years later, Gewirtzman recounted the story of his survival, hidden through the war in a lice-infested pigsty, to a 10th grade class at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens. Among the students listening to his account was Murekatete, who immigrated to the United States after surviving the genocide that decimated her family.
“I felt like he was telling my story,” said Murekatete, now 20 and a sophomore at New York University.
Stirred by the lecture, Murekatete penned Gewirtzman a note. “At one time I, like you, had a feeling of guilt for being alive,” she wrote. “Now I’m thankful I was left.”
Gewirtzman regularly received correspondence from students, which his wife, Lillian, read to him on their way home from the Nassau Holocaust Memorial Center, where he is on the board of directors and she is a volunteer. The couple, equally moved by Murekatete’s letter as the young girl was by Gewirtzman’s harrowing tale, cried as they read how she escaped the grasps of her machete-wielding neighbors who killed her parents, six siblings and grandmother.
The elderly Holocaust survivor and young Rwandan refugee ultimately struck up a friendship that transcends age, race, religion and nationality. “In spite of all our differences,” Gewirtzman told The Jewish Week, “we, in fact, went through the same type of horror, and can understand each other in ways [few others] can.”
Recently the two, who for nearly four years have been traveling the country together sharing their life stories with thousands of high school and college students, were awarded the Spirit of Scandinavia Award. The honor, given out by American Jewish Committee-affiliated Thanks To Scandinavia, recognizes the exceptional achievements of ordinary individuals and remains a lasting tribute to the Scandinavian people, who helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust.
“In Scandinavia, people had a civil obligation to help those in trouble,” said Richard Netter, who in 1963 founded TTS with Danish-born entertainer Victor Borge. “That’s not the case in America or other countries. For example, during the war years, how many countries helped the Jews? Most sat back and didn’t give a damn.”
Gewirtzman, speaking to about 150 people who attended the Spirit of Scandinavia award ceremony held at the home of the Swedish Consul General of New York, said, “Both [Jacqueline and I] met death and evil head on, and both of us came back without letting rancor and bitterness overwhelm us.”
The Spirit of Scandinavia Award comes in the wake of an Anti-Defamation League honor Gewirtzman and Murekatete received in November.
Though separated by a continent and two generations, Gewirtzman and Murekatete have endured similar suffering at the hands of their fellow men. Yet they remain ambitious, civic-minded and, above all, determined to build a world that doesn’t remain idle in the face of genocide — be it in European death camps, Rwandan villages or, most recently, in Western Sudan.
Gewirtzman was only 11 when World War II broke out; he was forced into a ghetto and, ultimately, into hiding. After his family was liberated by the Soviet Army, Gewirtzman and his family returned to Losice, where they received an icy reception from their non-Jewish neighbors.
Out of the 8,000 Jews who lived in the city prior to the Holocaust, the five Gewirtzmans were among only 18 who survived Nazi extermination. The family immigrated to Italy after the war, and then in 1948 to the United States, settling in Albany. David became a pharmacist, and he and his wife ultimately moved to Long Island with their two children. Now retired, the couple devotes much of their time to Holocaust education.
Murekatete was in her grandmother’s nearby village when her nuclear family was taken to a nearby river and hacked to death by their neighbors. “The same neighbors whose kids I played with,” she said. Her family was among the well over 800,000 Tutsis butchered in only 100 days by Hutu tribesmen. “Like any other children, my brothers and sisters and I, we all had goals,” said Murekatete, who as a youngster dreamed of becoming a doctor. “We thought nothing would ever interfere with those goals.”
Murekatete’s grandmother was also murdered, while Murekatete waited inside a grim Italian Catholic orphanage packed with shell-shocked children praying their parents would walk through the doors to take them home. Few did. When the violence died down, surviving family members located her. One of Murekatete’s uncles, who had been living in the United States since the late-1980s, agreed to adopt the orphaned youngster and bring her to live stateside.
She is now attending NYU on a full scholarship from a foundation supported by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, whose sitcom, incidentally, was at its peak the year of the Rwandan genocide. “People say, ‘You deserve [the scholarship] because of what you’ve been through,’ but my situation is not unique,” she said, noting that she has been granted opportunities that thousands of other Rwandan orphans have not.
Murekatete plans to attend law school in the United States, but travel frequently to Rwanda, where she wants to work with women suffering from AIDS. Encouraged by Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel, whom she met at the United Nations International Day of Peace in 2003, Murekatete is writing a memoir she hopes to publish next year.
“Unfortunately many people who speak about the importance of Holocaust remembrance don’t necessarily equate the Holocaust with other tragedies in the world,” said Rebecca Neuwirth, executive director of Thanks to Scandinavia. “The same is true for people who talk about the genocide in Rwanda. Here are these two people, Jacqueline and David, so incredibly different, who have come together without any pressure from the outside. On an emotional level, they recognized the fundamental commonality of their suffering. The both wanted to turn their horrible experiences into something good for this world.”
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