Saturday 20 October 2018

Tomi reveals the horrors of Holocaust

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental speaking to students in St. Mary's College.
Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental speaking to students in St. Mary's College.

Olivia Ryan

HOLOCAUST survivor Tomi Reichental told of his horrific childhood experience under the Nazi regime when he spoke to a large audience of sixth year students in St Mary's College last week.

Tomi detailed the unimaginable horror of his experience in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

Describing his earliest memories following his birth in 1935 in Piestany, Slovakia, Tomas (Tomi) Reichental gave the students an insight into Nazi-occupied Poland through the eyes of a child.

'I grew up in a world where Jews had no citizenship. The Nuremberg Laws were passed the year of my birth and my people were excluded from everything.

He described how he was just four years old when the Nazis invaded Poland and the mass execution of Jews began. He was just six when the Nazis made jewish people wear a yellow star on their clothing emblazoned with the letters Jude (Jew).

Tomi explained that expulsion of Slovakia's Jews to the death camps began in March 1942 and women and children were particularly targetted in an attempt to destroy the future of the Jews.

'I watched as my aunts and cousins were led away and we did not even cry for them. We did not know that just 48 hours later they would die in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.'

Tomi and his family came face to face with the Nazi regime when a unit of SS swooped on their tiny village.

'My father was taken to Auschwitz. What I would later learn was that en route he jumped from the moving train with a Hungarian man and that is how he survived. 'We did not see him again until after the war as he joined the resistance against the Nazis,' said Tomi.

The Gestapo came across Tomi's 76-year-old grandmother in a shop in Bratislava.

'She was betrayed as Jewish and the Nazis beat her up until she gave them details of her family, then one-by-one they found us all,' said Tomi.

Of the 13 of Tomi's family captured, only five survived. The other seven perished at Auschwitz. Tomi and his family were transported to the concentration camp 'Bergen-Belsen; which he described as 'our new home in hell.'

He told how a young woman named Anne Frank died of typhus in a wooden barracks next to his at the camp when she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitcz.

'If the Nazis didn't get you, disease or hunger would and we watched as hundreds of people became skeletons or developed infections and literally fell to the ground dying a very slow and painful death,' said Tomi.

Tomi described liberation from the Nazis in April 1945 in quite simple terms to the students.

'One day the guards were gone and the gate of the camp was left open, but nobody left. We were all too afraid and just wondered at the open gate. Then some jeeps rolled in and one had movie cameras on it as the Allies filmed the conditions of the camp'.

Tomi was reunited with his father and then went on to study in Germany. He also recalled that he had played in Anne Frank's house after the liberation not realising its significance at the time.

The Argus