The students of St Joseph’s Secondary School, Foxford, got a chilling lesson on the horrors of the Nazi regime yesterday (Thursday ) when Irish based Holocaust survivor, Tomi Reichental, travelled to Mayo to share his experiences as a boy in the notorious concentration camp Bergen-Belson.
English and history teacher at the school, Grace McWalter, invited Mr Reichental to Foxford to address the students after reading his moving memoir, I was a Boy at Belson, with her transition year class.
“We were so lucky to have him here, particularly as it was very topical this week with International Holocaust Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz taking place on Tuesday,” said Ms McWalter.
“Mr Reichental travels all over Ireland speaking to students about the Holocaust. He is on a mission of remembrance because he wants to make sure something like this never happens again. He made a huge effort to be here because he was speaking in Liverpool on Tuesday and only returned on Wednesday, so we are deligthed to have him here with us.”
Mr Reichental is also to appear on tonight’s (Friday ) Late Late Show.
A native of Slovakia, who has lived in Dublin since 1959 and married and raised a family there, Mr Reichental kept silent about his experiences during the Holocaust for 50 years.
He has now dedicated himself to travelling to schools across Ireland to educate students on one of the darkest eras in modern history.
“For 50 years I couldn’t talk about what I saw and what I went through in Bergen-Belsen,” he explains. “Six million people like me were murdered in the Shoah [Holocaust]. Among the victims were 35 members of my family.”
Mr Reichental said he speaks to students now not because of who he is, but because of what he is.
“I am a survivor of the Holocaust and one of the last witnesses to the horror that happened not that long ago.”
He said he forces himself to remember the past because he owes it to the millions of Holocaust victims to tell that story.
In December, Mr Reichental was named the Rehab International Person of the Year. Last September, RTÉ broadcast a documentary called Close to Evil, which charted Mr Reichental’s extraordinary journey to reach out to a former Bergen-Belsen prison guard.
In his book, I Was A Boy in Belsen, he recounts his personal experiences of being sent to a Nazi concentration camp with is family when he was just nine years old.