Tomi Reichental's visit
'Several history class groups from Gorey Community School came face to face with a witness to one of the great human catastrophes of the twentieth century. The oratory was filled to capacity with standing room only while students heard Tomi Reichental, a Holocaust survivor give a harrowing account of his time in a Nazi concentration camp.
He began by telling the students of his childhood in Slovakia, recalling a happy time on his father’s farm in the small village of Piestany. In 1944, aged just 9, he and most of his family were taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The young people listened in silence as he told them of the inhuman conditions he witnessed. He spoke of seeing literally hundreds around him fall ill and die from typhus, diphtheria, tuberculosis or just starvation. He went on to recount the times he and other children played childhood games in full view of heaped corpses. Worst of all was seeing his grandmother’s body heaped on a cart, on the way to be burnt. In all, Tomi lost 35 of his close family members in the Holocaust.
Happily he witnessed the liberation of Bergen-Belsen camp by the Allies in April 1945. Some years after the war he came to Ireland and managed a factory making zips. Tomi, who has lived in Ireland since 1960, met and married an Irish Jew, Eva Blackman.
Tomi was introduced by the Principal, Michael Finn who explained to the young people that could tell their children and grandchildren they had heard a first-hand account of one of the darkest moments of world history.
To say that Tomi’s words had a profound effect on all who heard it is surely an understatement - even the serial ‘messers’ were stunned into silence. The original hour scheduled soon grew into two when Ms Russell invited questions from the students. Many students commented how they will never forget meeting a Holocaust survivor; images of his arrest and the dark memories of Bergen-Belsen will stay with them forever. Tomi also stayed and chatted to students afterwards and signed copies of his memoirs: ‘I was a boy in Belsen’. Perhaps Mr Reichental’s last comment said it all: when he was asked did he forgive his captors, he simply answered ‘if Ididn’t, I would still be their prisoner!’ '
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Gorey Community School
At the forefront of education in North Wexford since 1993
Gorey Community School