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Model School Primary School, Northland Rd, County Londonderry

Tomi Reichental - A Holocaust Survivor's Story

28th Oct 2019

Tomi Reichental is a survivor of the Holocaust.

Tomi gives talks to secondary schools to educate his audience about what life was like then and to ensure the memories of those who perished are kept alive. We welcomed students and staff from De La Salle,  St. Patrick's Grammar school, St Malachy’s High School, Castlewellan and Nendrum College, Comber.   

On Friday 28th October, we were honored to listen to his story

"After all the horror, I am doing my best to keep the memory of those lost ones alive. We - you, me, your children, my children - must never forget. "

He was born in Czechoslovakia in 1935 to Jewish farmers and lived with his family on their farm until he was the age of eight. At this age laws started coming in that prohibited the movement and rights of Jewish people and that is when he and his family went into hiding. Unfortunately he, his mother, his brother and his grandmother were caught and taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944 where they stayed until the camp was liberated by the British in 1945. 

Even from a young age he saw the way in which he was treated by others change gradually. His family were well respected in his community. If someone needed a lawyer, or advice they were sent to the 'Reichentals'. He started to notice their surname being used less and instead they were referred to as the 'Jews'. Individual identities were blended. Tomi shared that he did not like to refer to the  number of people who perished at this horrendous time as a number, as it is used as a tool to dehumanize those individuals and their stories. Just like his family's identity was slowly disappearing.

His recount of this part of his childhood was harrowing. When he first arrived at the camp he was struck by the people who were walking about. He was unable to determine if they were men or women. Their heads were shaven and they wore loose striped uniforms. It was a woman and children's camp. He would watch how the women would walk around the camp. He observed how some of the women would fall. He would then wait a few minutes to see if the women would get up. Tomi saw a woman drop to the ground before his eyes, shortly after he arrived at he camp. She never got up. This was the first time his young eyes saw a dead body and unfortunately it would not be his last.

There were so many people dying each day and each week that they couldn't dispose of the bodies and so they were left in mounds, on top of each other. The bodies would lie there until such times as mass graves could be dug. As children, he and his friends would play in the camp. He recalls hiding behind mounds of bodies. This became a very poignant moment of his talk for our students. He was a 9 year old boy at this stage. The students in the audience could relate to their own childhood and how different theirs had been to Tomi's.

“We found their corpses there in the mornings. In all, 70,000 prisoners of Bergen-Belsen are buried there in mass graves. I lost 35 members of my family in the Holocaust."

Tomi's incredible story is hard to comprehend, especially when it was not that long ago that this atrocity happened. Tomi said he hoped it would never happen again but it had happened again. He spoke about Bosnia in 1995, saddened that lessons had not be learned.

Tomi’s moving testimony is amazing. His determination to educate people about the Holocaust is admirable. His ability to reflect without hate is something that will stay will us for a long time.

At the end of this poignant talk Tomi asked us all to stand up for those who are being wronged. The Holocaust did not happen overnight. It began with small changes in the way people thought of the Jews and behaved towards them. This behaviour was normalised without opposition. So we can listen and we can learn. We can do something, to honour Tomi and all those who perished in the Holocaust. We won't sit back and let the innocent be persecuted. We need to stand up for what we believe in so that it never happens again.

On Friday 26th October, we were humbled to be part of this living history.

2020 will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

Tomi was presented with a beautiful water colour painting of Downpatrick. The painting was done by a local artist Ms Helena Rogan. We are very proud to acknowledge that Helena is one of our past pupils.

A Holocaust Prayer
Philip Hall

Lord God and Father,
We remember before you all those who bear the inner and outer scars of the Holocaust and of subsequent acts of genocide.

Let them not be overwhelmed by the horrors that engulfed them.

Be close to them.

Help them to see that you suffer with those who suffer, and that no wickedness can ever extinguish your infinite love.

Restrain those who are filled with hatred and use violence to pursue their ends.

Change their hearts.

May remembrance make us alert to the reality of evil and its deceptive allure.

Help us to recognise our own capacity for evil and allow your Spirit to purge it from our beings.

Help us also to stand up against evil and oppression, even if that means we have to suffer ourselves.

Enable us to defend those who are not strong enough to defend themselves, and to be ready to bring the light of your truth into the dark areas of human experience.

Deepen our respect for everything you have made, and help us to share in securing the maximum good of every person who is alive in your world.

We ask this in the Name of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, carries our sorrows, heals our wounds,
and is risen for our freedom.