Thursday 20 October 2016

'Horrified' survivor of the Holocaust seeks apology from Ronan over Nazi jibe

Kevin Doyle and Adam Cullen

Published 26/09/2015 | 02:30

Developer Johnny Ronan
Developer Johnny Ronan
Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental says that Ronan should apologise

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental has said he was "horrified" by developer Johnny Ronan's use of the phrase 'Arbeit Macht Frei' in his statement to the Banking Inquiry.

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The businessman has caused outrage in the Jewish community by signing off his submission with the phrase that translates as 'work will set you free' and which hung at the entrance to many Nazi concentration camps.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last night that while he didn't see the statement, "there is no room, absolutely no room, for any anti-semitic comments".

Members of the Banking Inquiry believe they are powerless to do anything about the offensive phrase, as they are "not moral guardians of the language people use".

"We have to act like judges and just look at the evidence in front of us. We cannot censor it," one member told the Irish Independent.

Mr Ronan has been widely criticised since his statement was published on the Oireachtas website on Thursday but has so far not responded.

Labour senator Susan O'Keeffe said she would like to see the issue discussed at the next committee meeting.

She said that while the inquiry had faced many issues with people's statements, this was not a challenge that they had anticipated.

"We are not in a position to censor statements even as a result of a meeting of the committee members. Of course it's in bad taste but it's his evidence," said a source.

In his statement Mr Ronan, who was one of the country's best-known developers during the boom years, attacked Nama and claimed the agency had destroyed his business.

He said that having civil servants at the helm of Nama was "akin to asking an accountant to fly a plane".

Former justice minister Alan Shatter, who is Jewish, has described the use of 'Arbeit Macht Frei' as "incomprehensible".

He said the phrase was "notorious and diabolically misleading".

And last night Mr Reichental, who was subjected to the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany at the age of nine, joined in calls for Mr Ronan to apologise.

"I was horrified when I heard that Mr Ronan had made this statement.

"I have been to many concentration and work camps. I have seen this phrase above the gates at Auschwitz.

"It is my hope that Mr Ronan has misunderstood what the phrase represents," the 80-year-old told the Irish Independent.

"In essence it means that people were literally worked to death. Their freedom was death. Their freedom was heaven.

"Mr Ronan seems to be comparing the work he has put in his companies to this. Maybe he hasn't got the just rewards he feels he deserves after putting in this hard work. Only he knows what he truly meant.

"I hope these comments were made in ignorance. If not he should apologise.

"I also hope he visits Auschwitz or perhaps another one of these places. Perhaps it will put his words into some context," added Mr Reichental.

Mr Reichental, who is originally from Czechoslovakia, moved to Ireland 55 years ago after losing 35 members of his family in the Holocaust.

He has dedicated the last decade to educating people about the horrors he witnessed as a boy.

On Thursday, he was one of five people awarded honorary doctorates by Maynooth University for his tireless work and dedication to combating xenophobia and racism.

When asked if the comments should be stricken from the record and removed from the Oireachtas website, he said the onus should be placed solely on Mr Ronan.

Irish Independent

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