Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Some letters ''from long ago and today'' - A Tale of Two Holocaust Survivors Meeting in Cyberspace, One in Ireland, One in New York

San Diego Jewish World news article [March 17, 2015]
"A tae of two Holocaust survivors"
New York Times news article by Times reporter in Ireland
''Breaking Silence, Survivor Sets Out to Meet Holocaust Past''
After seeing the San Diego Jewish World article about him, Tomi Reichental reached out to the editors of that newspaper seeking to locate Peter Kubicek and wrote:

Dear Sir,

I read with interest your March 17 article in the San Diego Jewish World. The documentary written about recently in the March 14 issue of the New York Times by the paper's Ireland stringer --  -- about ''Close to Evil'' which was my second film which I made: it was not about my life but a story in which I was prepared to stretch my hand to an SS guard Hilde Lisiewitz (today H. Michnia) from Bergen Belsen living in Hamburg, she is 93 years old.

When the film “Close to Evil” was screened in Lunenburg in Germany a German citizen was so enraged that he filled a complain with the Lunenburg prosecuting office and a file was open against her. She might stand trial for participating in a death march where several hundred women lost their life.

Once the prosecutor opened a file it prompted the media and the story became a world news. That's one of the reason that NY Times published the article. My first film “Till The Tenth Generation” is my autobiography.

I am writing to you as I would like to get the e-mail address of Peter Kubicek. My uncle Oskar Reichental was from Trencin.  My son lives in California and I visit San Diego as I have some friends there. I go sometime to New York, too, so it might be a possibility to meet Peter some day in person.

With my best wishes.

Tomi Reichental, [Dublin, Ireland]
To Which Peter Kubicek replied, after being forwared the letter from the SDJW editors:

2.  Dear Tomi,

I am very happy to receive your e-mail address. I trust you read "Tale of Two Holocaust Survivors" that appeared in the San Diego Jewish World newspaper.

It occurs to me that we may have been on the same cattle-car transport to Bergen-Belsen, in November 1944, from the Slovak concentration of SERED. The latter was under the command of the notorious Alois Brunner, whom I still remember.

Tomi, ešte vypráváš Slovensky ?

[Note: Peter asks Tomi whether he still speaks Slovak. He later replies, ''Of course."]

S pozdravom,

Peter, NYC
To which Tomi replied to Peter directly, just a few minutes later:
3 .
Dear Peter, This modern technology is fantastic, all happens so fast.

 I am delighted to make the contact.

We might have been together in the same transport from Sered, after the selection by Alois Brunner, apropos he died in 2010 in Syria Damascus he is no longer south after by the Wiesenthal centre they have proof that he died, he would have been today 102 year old.

He got away with his crimes.

It was the 2nd of November when we were deported fro Sered and we arrived on the 9th to Bergen Belsen. As you said it was the first transpot from Slovakia with children, mothers and the elderly that didn’t go to Birkenau because the gas chambers where blown up by the Germans on the 7th of November do to the advancing Russians towards the camp. We were in the cattle cart traveling at the time and must have bean diverted to B.B. We lived in block 207.

For the past 10 years I have been involved with lecturing about the Holocaust in Ireland and around the world, work which has earned me a lot of honours and I am also traveling a lot.

Two years ago, I gave 5 lectures in Bratislava. Ja hovorim perfect Slovensky ale je mi lahsie pisat Anglicky.

I am enclosing a Tomi Reichental news story which was an article in one of the newspapers. [SEE BELOW NOTES]

This month I was in South Africa by invitation also giving lectures and speeches for a Charity fund raising for orphan children. We were in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. By the way I also gave lecture in New York 3 years ago at a local college there.

My son lives in California so I travel to the US every year, I have also friends in New Jersey, New York where I made a visit couple of times so perhaps we might meet one day as per your quote in that SDJW article by your friend Danny.
''The Tomi Reichental story''

Tomi Reichental was born in in 1935 in Piestany Slovakia.  In 1944 he was captured and deported to Bergen Belsen concentration camp with his mother, grandmother, brother, aunt and cousin. When he was liberated in April 1945 he discovered that 35 members of his extended family were murdered, Grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins-died in the Holocaust.

Tomi was 9 years old in October 1944 when he was rounded up by the Gestapo in a shop in Bratislava. Along with 12 other members of his family he was taken to a detention camp Sered in Slovakia where the elusive Nazi War Criminal Alois Brunner had the power of life or death. Tomi, his mother Judith and his brother Miki, his grandmother Rosalia, aunt Margo and cousin Chava were dumped into a cattle wagon on a train bound for Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The others 7 members of the family were sent to the slave labour camp at Buchenwald, where inmates were literally worked to death, 6 of them perished in Buchenwald only one survived. It took 7 days and nights for the train to arrive at Bergen Belsen. In March 1945 his grandmother died in Bergen Belsen, young Tomi had to watch as the body of his 76 year old grandmother was dragged from their hut and thrown on top of a wheelbarrow already overloaded with corpses and then thrown on piles of corpses outside. 

The sights and smells of death was everywhere. Tomi remembers:
“Besides, typhoid and diphtheria which were the biggest killers. 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 2 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”

For 60 years, Tomi didn’t speak of his experiences “not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t.” Since breaking his silence he has been on a mission of remembrance. Tomi has lived in Dublin from 1959. Since 2004 when Tomi began to speak about his experiences, he travels up and down the country twice a week to talk to Leaving Cert students. Hardly a week goes by without Tomi receiving letters from teachers and students with their reaction to his visceral eye witness account of the Holocaust. Tomi never wore any striped pyjamas. For 6 months he stood in the same clothes and watched as thousands perished wondering when his turn to die would come.

Thousands of pupils in schools all over Ireland have heard the Tomi Reichental story, and in January 2008 the general public had the chance to see and learn with the RTE transmission of the film “I Was a Boy in Belsen” 1 hr.  Documentary film on Tomi’s life. The film was directed by the Emmy award winning producer Gerry Gregg, the film 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. Why had he to wear that yellow star? Why could he not go to the village school? Why did he have to get a new name and hide in a big strange city and pretend he was a Catholic?

Since Tomi began to speak in Schools, Colleges and Universities he is also regularly invited to present his lectures for private events. He spoke in Lenster house (Irish Parliament) in November 2009, to the European Parliament in Ireland, to the Naval Academy, military bases, and private associations like History, Women’s associations act.

In October 2009 then Minister of Integration John Curran TD approved a grant towards the development of “Teacher’s Guide” based on Tomi’s story to teach the Holocaust. This brochure which included the DVD “Till the Tenth Generation” ( full length film of 90 min ) which was distributed to 850 School in Ireland, hence the Holocaust is taught in part in Ireland according to Tomi Reichental’s story. His quest to inform as many people as possible about the Holocaust took him several times to the US, England, Slovakia and Germany to Bergen Belsen in June 2012 to present a lecture for the first time to German students.

In October 2011 Tomi’s first book was published “I Was a Boy in Belsen” He is now in process writing his second book.  The latest project for Tomi was fulfilled with the premiere of his second film “Close to Evil” which had its premiere at the 25th Galway International film festival where the film earned the 2nd place in documentary feature, also directed by Gerry Gregg.

So, why has 79 year old Tomi Reichental, after 60 years of unbroken silence and 45 years of residential anonymity in a quiet cul-de-sac in Rathgar, embarked on his public mission of remembrance?
As one of only 2 Holocaust survivors left in Ireland, Tomi is mindful that the horrors of the Holocaust will soon pass from memory to history.
The words of Paddy Fitzgibbon at the unveiling of the only Holocaust memorial in Ireland at Listowel, Co. Kerry are imprinted on Tomi’s consciousness:

“Our generation, and the generation after us, will be the last that will be able to say that we stood and shook the hands of some of those who survived. Go home from this place and tell your children and your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren that today in Listowel, you looked into eyes that witnessed the most cataclysmic events ever unleashed by mankind upon mankind. Tell them that you met people who will still be remembered and still talked about and still wept over 10.000 years from now – because if they are not, there will be no hope for us at all. The Holocaust happened and it can happen again, and every one of us, if only for our own sense of self preservation, has a solemn duty to ensure that nothing like it ever occurs again.”

Tomi puts it very simply: “In the last couple of years I realised that, as one of the last witnesses, I must speak out, I owned it to the victims that their memory is not forgotten”
Having taken the courageous leap from the safety of silence to the emotional exposure of public remembrance, Tomi took the last big step on his painful journey through the dark days and months of his childhood incarceration. In October 2007 Tomi Reichental was among a group of survivors invited to attend the opening of a museum on the site of the Bergen Belsen camp. There with his brother Miki and cousin Chava who also survived, after 62 years these survivors stood for the first time at the giant mound which holds the bones of their grandmother along with thousands of others lost to history.

Tomi’s 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. In Tomi’s words. “The Holocaust didn’t start with cattle wagons and gas chambers, but with whispers, taunts, daubing and then abuse and murder. One of the lessons we must learn is to respect difference and reject all forms of racism and discrimination.”

 At 79 years of age, Tomi Reichental never refuses an invitation to speak to pupils, no matter how far away or how small a class. His tireless quest earned him a recognition that he never expected.
On the 16 of November 2012 the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck awarded Tomi Reichental the “Order of Merit” for his untiring commitment to furthering mutual understanding, reconciliation and German-Irish friendship.

The awarding of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is a prestigious recognition and particular highest honour that the Federal Republic of Germany bestows for services to the nation.
Addition to the story:

On the 17th of October Tomi  have received “The Global Achievement Award” The award was presented to me on behalf of the Irish Diplomatic core and the VoxPro Co. it was presented to me by Simon Coveney minister of Agriculture, Food and Defence and the directors of VoxPro Co. The ceremony was in Silver Spring Hotel in Cork, attended by 42 Ambassadors and honorary Consuls including 200 guests.
Person of the Year Award

On the 6th of December 2014 Tomi  was Awarded the “International Person of the Year”. The reception was held in City West hotel and was broadcast by RTE 1 in a live 2hr TV program. The Award is very special for me, because he was honoured by the Irish people for his  untiring work for promoting tolerance, reconciliation and rejection of racism and bigotry.


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