In 1944, nine years old Tomi Reichental was one of over forty members of his family taken from his home in Nazi – run Slovakia and put on a train to Bergen – Belsen. Lucky to escape going to Auschitz, where he faced certain death, he was one of the six members of his family to survive the Holocaust.
Condemned To Remember, directed by Emmy award-winning Gerry Gregg, is the journey Tomi takes to Germany to try to confront convicted war criminal Hilde Michnia over her lies about her involvement in the notorious Walk Of Death, where Jews literally had to walk miles in the winter snow to their death.
He also visits Poland where locals colluded in murdering Jews – who had been their neighbours for four hundred years, and talks to a Bosnian Muslim man who managed to escape the Ethnic Cleansing genocide of 1995.
He continues his search for insight by talking to a student who fled Syria and has now settled in Germany. Finally Tomi returns to his former family home in Slovakia, and stands in the over grown, weedy garden remembering being a carefree child so long ago.
Condemned To Remember is the exploration of a plucky 80 year old man, as he uncovers information about gruesome events in Europe during WWII, and unearths more recent atrocities.
It is filled with black and white pictures and footage of women, children, men, young and old in concentration camps or on their way to one. One scene I found particularly heart-breaking was of an elderly woman, being harassed by a rough soldier. Scenes from Bosnia of the assassinations of young Muslim men brings the reality up close and scary.
Now resident in Dublin, where he has lived since 1959, the film shows Tomi, a retired jeweller going to his local Mosque for his eightieth birthday party, which is unheard of usually, as Muslims traditionally do not like Jews. He is warmly welcomed in a show of solidarity.
Tomi gets caught up in an unfortunate incident too, where a remark he made to an Irish journalist about the Irish government being able to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees, is blown up out of proportion. This is badly handled in the documentary where it seems he is highlighting Ireland’s ignorance, by relaying remarks some phone in callers made to a local radio station to his Syrian refugee friend… which were fairly negative, but not representative.
Tomi now gives lectures to Irish school children on the Holocaust and is one of the last witnesses of the horror.
A sad indictment of human evil, Condemned To Remember is also a film full of love and fellowship. Highly recommended. A eye-opener.