Tomi Reichental Receiving his Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

Tomi with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany

This is the moment when Tomi Reichental author, family man, holocaust survivor, and perhaps most importantly man of quiet dignity and wisdom was honoured by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Joachim Gauck, with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The award was presented to Tomi by the German Ambassador to Ireland, Dr. Eckhard Lübkemeier in recognition of his tireless work and efforts to educate present day generations of the dangers of racism, the futility of hatred, and the perils of indifference that gave rise to the Holocaust 70 years ago.

In 1944 when Tomi was just nine years old the Gestapo entered a shop in Bratislava as part of an operation to round-up remaining Jewish Communities in Slovakia. Along with 12 other members of his family he was taken to a nearby detention camp where the elusive Nazi War Criminal Alois Brunner had the power of life and death. Tomi was soon after transferred to Belsen where he remained until he was eventually liberated by the allies in 1945. 

Tomi has been on a journey for much of his life in an effort to understand the horror of the Holocaust and perhaps most importantly the motivations of those who actively participated, shouted in support or just stood by while it happened around them. Tomi believes that intolerance starts in the hearts and minds of individuals and becomes dangerous when focused on communities or individuals who may share different national, political or religious perspectives, it can happen anywhere and it has the potential to happen again if people are not vigilant.

Despite being caught up as an innocent nine year old boy in what has become known as the darkest period in human history. A period when new and unparalleled levels of cruelty and depravity were practiced through the use of forced labour camps, death marches and gas chambers designed solely with the intention of erasing the Jewish People of Europe, Tomi still speaks of the need for reconciliation. Last year he made contact with one of the guards who kept him and others captive in Belsen and who herself was part of the system that oversaw the murder of many others who died in the Holocaust. Tomi wanted to meet her not as an accuser but in a spirit of reconciliation and to show the futility of carrying on anger and old resentments.

Tomi now travels around Ireland telling of his experiences, sharing the wisdom he has developed over the course of his extraordinary life. He believes that hating people you don’t know because of their nationality, political views or their religion is a taught process not a thought process. And so Tomi encourages the children in school as well as older gatherings to think about the obligations and responsibilities we have to each other as fellow citizens and human beings.

 

Press Statement from the German Embassy in Dublin.

 

Note on the Award

The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany was instituted in 1951 by Federal President Theodor Heuss. It is the only honour that may be awarded in all fields of endeavour and is the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation.
The Order of Merit may be awarded to Germans as well as foreigners for achievements in the political, economic, social or intellectual realm and for all kinds of outstanding services to the nation in the field of social, charitable or philanthropic work.

Official Information On the Award