A survivor of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, will give a talk about his experience of the Holocaust in the Seminar Room of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway on Sunday, 8 November at 1pm.
Mr Reichental was born in 1935 in Piestany Slovakia. In 1944 at age nine, he was captured by the Gestapo in Bratislava and deported to Bergen Belsen concentration camp with his mother, grandmother, brother, aunt and cousin. They were taken to detention camp Sered in Slovakia where the elusive Nazi War Criminal Alois Brunner had the power of life or death. When he was liberated in April 1945, he discovered that 35 members of his extended family were murdered. His grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins all died in the Holocaust.
Recounting the sights and smells at the concentration camp Tomi Reichental said: “Typhoid and diphtheria were the biggest killers, but people were dying of starvation and cold in their hundreds. First the bodies were removed and burned, but later they were just piling up in front of our barracks, there were piles of decomposing bodies. The soldiers who liberated Belsen in April 1945 said they could smell the stench for two miles before they reached the camp. In the camp I could not play like a normal child, we didn’t laugh and we didn’t cry. If you stepped out of line, you could be beaten up even beaten to death. I saw it all with my own eyes.”
Professor Ray Murphy from the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, said: “Tomi is one of the last surviving witnesses to the Holocaust. As such, he feels compelled to speak out so that the victims are not forgotten and we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. For most of his life Tomi did not speak of the atrocities he bore witness to, but in recent years he has become an advocate for tolerance and compassion. His story is a story of the past. It is also a story for our times. The Holocaust reminds us of the dangers of racism and intolerance, providing lessons from the past that are relevant today. One of the lessons we must learn is to respect difference and reject all forms of racism and discrimination.”
Reichental has lived in Dublin since 1959. In 2004, for the first time in 60 years, Reichental broke his silence and began to speak about his experiences during the Holocaust. Thousands of students in schools all over Ireland have heard his story, and an RTÉ documentary film called I Was a Boy in Belsen was based on Tomi’s life. The film was directed by the Emmy award winning producer Gerry Gregg and retraces the events that swept away the Jewish presence in Central Europe from the point of view of a boy who couldn’t understand why. To mark his 80th birthday on the 26 June 2015, the Board of Trustees of HETI (Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland ) established a scholarship in Reichental’s name. It will be awarded annually in perpetuity to a deserving candidate to enable her or his participation in one of the Holocaust education programs. The scholarship is in recognition of Reichental’s immense contribution that he has made to Holocaust awareness and education over the years.
The talk at NUI Galway will be followed by a Q&A session and Reichental will sign copies of his book I Was a Boy in Belsen. Admission is free but early arrival is advised.