Northern Ireland news

Holocaust survivor warns Belfast audience that lessons must be learned from genocide

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental was sent to Bergen-Belsen camp as a nine-year-old child in 1944. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

A HOLOCAUST survivor living in Dublin last night warned a Belfast audience that the genocide should never be allowed to happen again.

Tomi Reichental, who was held in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with his family from 1944 – 1945, told the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration at Belfast city hall that lessons must be learned from the Holocaust.

Around six million Jews, roughly two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe, were murdered by Nazi-run Germany and its collaborators during the Second World War.

Mr Reichental, who lost 35 family members in the Holocaust, was nine when he was sent to Bergen-Belsen.

He is one of only three Holocaust survivors living in Ireland.

"I didn't speak about my experiences for more than 50 years, but now I tell my story in order to educate young people and make sure history doesn't repeat itself," he said.

"I am glad I have been able to share my story with so many people in Northern Ireland, and I look forward to many more visits in the future."

During the event to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia, Mr Reichental lit a candle of remembrance.

Hosted by the Executive Office in collaboration with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Belfast City Council, the event was attended by many members of Northern Ireland's Jewish community.

The event included the premiere of a new documentary in which Mr Reichental, fellow Holocaust survivor Susan Pollack MBE, and Safet Vukali? BEM - a survivor of the genocide in Bosnia - shared their personal experiences with young people from schools and colleges across the north.

The commemoration, attended by junior ministers, the DUP's Gordon Lyons and Sinn Féin's Declan Kearney, also featured poetry readings by Michael Longley and Maureen Boyle, as well as a performance by Lagan College choir.

Mr Lyons said: "As each year passes the poignancy and importance of the act of commemoration and remembrance becomes more significant.

"I believe that the testimonies of survivors like Tomi play an important role in helping us to understand what happened and to learn lessons for society today.

"Their testimony must never be forgotten. We must learn from this terrible history so that we do not repeat the sins of the past."

Mr Kearney said this year's 'Stand Together' theme of Holocaust Memorial Day was an important message.

"There must be no tolerance in our society and international community, for persecution, discrimination and inequality," he said.

"The theme ‘Stand Together', ‘Seasainís Le Chéile', must be a moral and political call to action.

"It demands that we challenge and eradicate the mindsets and practices which perpetuate hatred, prejudice and division.

"But it must also serve as inspiration to ‘Stand Together' in pursuit of a new vision for our world, which values all citizens with dignity and respect, regardless of creed, colour, culture, ethnic identity, sexual orientation or political persuasion."

Olivia Marks-Woldman, Chief Executive of Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said memorial ceremonies took place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the same day for the first time in years.

"The significant milestone that we collectively mark is made especially poignant by the dwindling number of survivors of the Holocaust who are able to share their testimonies," she said.

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