I've seen starvation horrors, says Holocaust survivor leading Great Famine event
HUNGER and exile – these are some of the links between the Great Famine and the Holocaust which will be remembered at a commemoration event today.
Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental will lead this year's annual Famine 1848 Walk, taking place this afternoon from The Commons to the Famine Warhouse in Farranrory, Co Tipperary.
The walk commemorates all those who died, fled and tried to stage a public rebellion during the Famine and Rising of 1848.
"As a survivor of the Holocaust who experienced starvation, it was only natural that I should agree to lead the commemoration," said Mr Reichental.
In 1944, aged nine, he was rounded up in Bratislava, Slovakia, and sent to "hell on earth" – Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany – with members of his family.
"We saw emaciated skeletons walking very slowly, aimlessly, shaved heads, eyes sunk in the sockets of the skull," said Mr Reichental (79), who will deliver a speech after the walk.
The survivor, a qualified engineer, said he knows all about the degradation that comes with the ache of hunger. "Our daily food consisted of two slices of bread and black coffee in the morning, turnips boiled in water for lunch and two slices of bread with coffee in the evening, around 700 calories a day."
The Bergen-Belsen camp was liberated in 1945. Mr Reichental, his mother and his brother managed to survive until then and were liberated on April 15, 1945.
In 1959 he moved alone to Dublin to work. Thirty-five of his family perished in the Holocaust including grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.
"Some were gassed, some were worked to death, some were executed, and some were star-ved," said the father of three, whose wife died 11 years ago.
A new documentary about Mr Reichental's journey back into his past will be screened on RTE this September.
Proud to be the first Jew to lead the Famine 1948 Walk, Mr Reichental said Jews had made significant efforts for the Irish during their time of dire need.
"Jewish banker Lionel de Rothschild set up the British Relief Association, the biggest and best organisation at sending food to Ireland," he said.