Saturday 21 September 2019

'Ireland should take in 10,000 refugees', says Holocaust survivor

Tomi Reichental was sent to a concentration camp when he was just nine years old.
Tomi Reichental was sent to a concentration camp when he was just nine years old.

Caroline Crawford

A Holocaust survivor living in Dublin has called on the government to re-home 10,000 refugees displaced by the crises in Syria and the Middle East.

Tomi Reichental was just nine years old when he was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

He says the images of refugees risking their lives as they flee war-torn areas reminds him of what happened to the Jewish community in the lead up to World War II.

"We have to learn from the past, but we don't seem to. The current refugee situation is history repeating itself. In the 1930s, when many Jewish people wanted to escape others in Europe would not let them in - now it is happening with the refugees," he said.


Mr Reichental said he hoped his adopted home of Ireland, where he has lived for the past 55 years, would help refugees who had been left without hope.

"I think Ireland will do the correct thing. I think we should take in 10,000 refugees.

"That would be a huge number of people for a country like ours, but I think we have to do it - we have to help.

"Before the war nobody would take us in and then the Holocaust happened," he added.

He said refugees that move here should be helped to fully integrate into society and mixed into communities instead of placed in isolated areas.

Mr Reichental lost 35 members of his family in the Holocaust, including his 76-year-old grandmother Rosalia, who he remembers being dragged from their hut after her death and thrown onto a heap of corpses.

He said he only began speaking about his experiences 11 years ago.

"I only started to talk about it 11 years ago and now they can't stop me.

"It is partly because I don't want people to forget the Holocaust and also because racism and bigotry are such a problem once again," he added.

In 1944 at age nine, he was captured by the Gestapo in Bratislava and deported to Bergen Belsen concentration camp with his mother, grandmother, brother, aunt and cousin. It was liberated in April 1945.

Recounting the sights and smells at the concentration camp he said: "Typhoid and diphtheria were the biggest killers, but 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 two 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."

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