Tomi Reichental was 9 years old in 1944 when he and his family members were rounded up by Nazis in their native Slovakia and transported by train in cattle cars to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
Reichental will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at the 19th annual Yom Hashoah/Interfaith Holocaust Commemoration at Temple Israel, 2004 E. 22nd Place. His story is told in a memoir, “I Was a Boy in Belsen,” and in two documentaries, “Till the Tenth Generation: The Story of Tomi Reichental” and “Close to Evil.”
Although 80 percent of Slovakia’s Jews died in the Holocaust, including many of his family members, Reichental, his brother and parents survived.
“When we were liberated on April 15, 1945, there were 20,000 or 30,000 corpses lying around, and the young children were playing among these rotting and decomposing bodies — playing hide and seek behind piles of corpses,” Reichental told the Irish Examiner last year.
He went on to Israel, where he served in the Israeli army, studied engineering in Germany, and then came to Ireland in 1959 to open a factory.
A year later, he was introduced to a young Irish Jewish woman, fell in love, got married and settled in Dublin, where he raised his family and still lives.
Like many survivors of the Holocaust, Reichental did not talk about his experiences. His own wife died without ever hearing the story.
“For over 50 years I couldn’t talk about what I saw and went through,” he said in a documentary film.
“Six million people like me were murdered in the Shoah (Holocaust). Among them were 35 members of my family.
“Now I am able to face my ghosts. Whenever I can, I talk about my experiences.
“Twice a week I go to schools all over Ireland. I force myself to remember the past. I owe it to the dead to tell my story,” he said.
“We have to teach the young people that racism is very awful. We must (ensure) that the memory of this Holocaust is never forgotten. ... This story has to be told, and people have to know that this did happen.
“And we are the last witnesses,” said Reichental, who is 80. Older Holocaust survivors are dying, and younger ones do not remember, he said.
After Reichental told his story on a radio broadcast, a listener contacted him to say that one of his guards from Bergen-Belsen was alive and living in Germany.
Confident that she would have changed, Reichental sought out a meeting with her, hoping for some kind of reconciliation.
But she refused to see him and expressed no remorse for her part in the Holocaust. In the course of pursuing that meeting, however, he formed a friendship with her granddaughter.
The public is invited to Tulsa’s free Holocaust commemoration, which is recommended for ages 12 and older. Parking is limited at Temple Israel, but overflow parking will be available at the adjacent Utica Square.
After the presentation, Reichental will sign copies of his memoir, which describes his life before, during and after the Holocaust. Copies of the book will be available to purchase, or books can be purchased in advance at the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, 2021 E. 71st St.
The event is sponsored by the Tulsa Council for Holocaust Education, which is a committee of the Jewish Federation of Tulsa, and by the Tulsa City-County Library, in cooperation with dozens of local interfaith and community organizations.
Artwork by Tulsa-area youths studying the Holocaust will be displayed.