News Release

“Make peace with your past so it doesn’t destroy your present”

Tomi Reichental is one of only three Holocausts survivors now living in Ireland. At a recent event hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Dublin he gave a harrowing eye-witness account of his appalling World War Two experiences to an attentive and enthralled audience of close to one hundred and fifty people.


Born in 1935 in Slovakia, Tomi was only nine years old when he was rounded up by the Gestapo along with twelve other members of his family. Seven of them were sent to the slave labour camp at Buchenwald, where inmates were literally worked to death.  Only one of the seven survived.

Meanwhile, Tomi, his mother Judith and his brother Miki, his grandmother Rosalia, aunt Margo and cousin Chava were packed into a cattle wagon on a train with hundreds of others, with very little food or water or sanitation. Some people died. After a ghastly journey lasting seven days and seven nights, the train arrived at Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

Conditions there were dreadful.  Tomi never wore any striped pyjamas. Instead he stood in the same clothes for six months and watched as thousands perished wondering when his turn to die would come.

 Sadly, a few months after they arrived, Tomi’s seventy-six year old grandmother did die. Along with other family members, he had to watch as her body was dragged from their hut and thrown on top of an already overloaded wheelbarrow and then thrown on piles of corpses outside.  

The sights and smells of death were everywhere and the soldiers who liberated Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 said they could smell the stench for two miles before they reached the camp.

For Tomi and his family, their liberation was bittersweet for they discovered not long afterwards that thirty-five members of their extended family had been murdered. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins died in the Holocaust.

Tomi has now lived in Ireland for around sixty years and during much of that time until 2004, 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. Hardly a week goes by when he is not meeting second-level students as he travels throughout Ireland to inform them of the awful reality of the Holocaust.

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 owed it to the victims that their memory is not forgotten”.  

Denis Bleakley, along with members of his family, travelled from Bangor, County Down to hear Tomi’s story, and said afterwards that all of them had been very moved by his total lack of bitterness. In particular, his plea that we should all make peace with our respective pasts so it doesn’t destroy the present resonated deeply with them.

 “Meeting him and shaking his hand has brought home that the holocaust was not just part of history in another time and another place.”

 Mary Ryan from Tramore in County Waterford who attended with her husband Willie also recalled Tomi’s appeal to make peace with past.

“He is a very inspirational man.”  

At the conclusion of the event, John Connolly, Ireland’s Director of Public Affairs, presented Tomi with a copy of the first volume of “Saints”, a new history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He expressed the view that whilst in our lives we will often associate with both good and indeed very good people it is less common to meet a great person such as Tomi Reichental. He spoke of the Church’s history of persecution which though not on a scale with that suffered collectively by the Jewish people and individually by Tomi, and those like him, perhaps helps us to have at least a small level of empathy with the horror of the Holocaust.   

 Whilst Tomi Reichental’s story is a story of the past, it is also very relevant to our own 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, abuse, and finally murder. One of the lessons we must learn is to respect difference and reject all forms of racism and discrimination.”

Afterwards, Mark Coffey, the Church’s President for the Dublin Area had a brief discussion with Tomi Reichental and Taher Alsabi of the Milltown Islamic Centre. "I stood there speaking with Taher and Tomi and I was struck by the thought that we were three men with vastly different cultures and experiences, but brothers still. I shared this with both of them and said that I thought nobody would treat each other like this if we remembered that we are all brothers and sisters who worship the same God."

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