When Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental, right, visits Stonehill on Tuesday, October 27, he will explain what prompted him to reach out in reconciliation to Hilde Michnia, one of his guards at Bergen Belsen concentration camp.
Speaking in the Martin Institute at 7 p.m., Reichental will be joined by Gerry Gregg the producer of Close to Evil, an acclaimed documentary that traces his extraordinary attempt to bring together a Holocaust victim and perpetrator. At the event, Reichental and Gregg will show a clip from Close to Evil, which will be followed by a conversation on reconciliation, forgiveness and atonement facilitated by Provost Joe Favazza who specializes in the study of reconciliation and forgiveness.
A member of the SS assigned to Bergen-Belsen, Michnia, see photos below, initially expressed interest in meeting with Reichental, a child prisoner who lost 35 family members in the Holocaust. Ultimately, however, she rebuffed him. Although not successful in the way he had hoped for, Reichental did not search in vain.
While on his journey of remembrance, he met Alexandra Sennft whose grandfather, Hans Ludin, was a top Nazi official responsible for the deportation and destruction of the Jewish community in Reichental's native Slovakia. Sennft belongs to a group in Germany, whose members are descendants of leading Nazi officials who seek to come to terms with the sins of their parents and grandparents.
In the critically acclaimed and multi award winning documentary Close to Evil, which explores the possibilities and limitations of reconciliation and atonement, Sennft was asked if she would meet a victim of her grandfather's actions. In response, she told director Gerry Gregg she'd been waiting all her life to meet someone like Tomi Reichental and to engage in a conversation across the generations.
For Reichtental, meeting with Sennft was an embrace of a kindred spirit. He said. “Alexandra sought me out in order to demonstrate our common humanity. She wants to proclaim the truth and urge people not to forget. My mission is the same, we must remember. She has now met my brother, she is now a good friend and a new member of our larger family.”
An advocate for understanding and a strong voice against bigotry and hate, Reichental has lived in Dublin since 1959. He regularly visits Irish secondary schools speaking about the subject.
In 2012, Germany awarded him its highest honor, the Order of Merit, for his work in promoting understanding and reconciliation and for enhancing German-Irish relations. In June, he celebrated his 80th birthday in a Dublin mosque at the invitation of the local Imam, an illustration of Reichental’s capacity for building bridges.
When Reichental first learned about former guard Michnia and her possible interest in meeting with him, he hoped that Michnia, a Catholic active in her parish, might have changed her values and become a different person to the young woman, brainwashed by Nazi propaganda, who was convicted of war crimes in 1945.
Absence of Remorse
Showing little remorse, however, Michnia persisted in downplaying her role in Bergen-Belsen and indeed denying the murder of inmates at the camp. In subsequent developments, it emerged that she is now under investigation for charges relating to possible complicity in an SS death march in January 1945 where 1,400 female prisoners died.
“I was prepared to meet Hilde, who had been a perpetrator and who I thought had seen the light and changed her values. I was prepared to reconcile with her and shake her hand, because in my naïve thinking she was also a victim of her own time. That I did not meet Hilde was not a big letdown but rather the fact that Hilde is still stuck in the 1940s, this is what disappointed me,” Reichental explained.
In 2011 when Reichental and Gregg, left, visited Stonehill to show their first documentary, Till the Tenth Generation, which explained how Reichental finally broke his silence about the Holocaust after 55 years and how he embarked on a mission of remembrance, they received a full and warm welcome in the Martin Institute.
The event is free and open to the public. For information, contact Martin McGovern, director of communications and media relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-565-1070.