By Liam Dacko
Members of the Stonehill community will have the opportunity to explore issues of reconciliation and forgiveness when Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental comes to speak at the Martin Institute Tuesday, Oct. 27.
Reichental, who was imprisoned at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany at age 9, will participate in a conversation on the issue of atonement. Provost Joseph Favazza, who specializes in the study of forgiveness, will facilitate the discussion.
Director of Communications and Media Relations Martin McGovern, who has known Reichental for several years, believes the event will be worthwhile.
“Tomi is a witness to one of the worst crimes in history, the Holocaust. He is a very articulate witness, but also a man who has a mission that seeks to ensure that we never repeat that and, in ensuring that we don’t repeat it, that we learn the lessons from that nightmare. That makes him a very effective advocate for civilization, for reconciliation, for dialogue, for the opposition to bigotry and hate,” McGovern said.
Producer Gerry Gregg, who helmed the documentary “Close To Evil,” will join Reichental and Favazza on stage during the event.
“Close to Evil” follows Reichental as he prepares to come face-to-face with former SS officer Hilde Michnia, who served as a guard at BergenBelsen during World War II.
Although Michnia ultimately refused to meet with Reichental, his journey was certainly not meaningless.
In the final scenes of the film, Reichental meets Alexandra Sennft, granddaughter of Hans Ludin. Ludin was a Nazi official responsible for the destruction of the Jewish community in Reichental’s homeland of Slovakia.
A clip from Reichental’s powerful conversation with Sennft will be shown during his visit to campus in an effort to promote conversation.
Although the topic of the discussion is a difficult one to tackle, McGovern said it is important that it be addressed.
“Tomi is such a majestic man. He could have every right to be angry, but he’s put anger aside. Instead of being torn up with anger, he’s passionate about how to make the world a better place. He’s done the hard work on that front,” McGovern said.
Reichental, who currently lives in Dublin, Ireland, is the author of the book, “I Was a Boy in Belsen.” The book recounts his experiences during the Holocaust. Reichental regularly visits secondary schools in Ireland to talk about his time at Bergen-Belsen.
“He is a man who puts his hand out and is willing to talk to other people to narrow the gap that may exist between us. He is not one that seeks to deepen the gap,” McGovern said.
In recognition of Reichental’s work in promoting forgiveness, Germany awarded him its highest honor, the Order of Merit, in 2012.
“That [award] means a lot to him,” McGovern said. “It means modern Germany is very, very different from Hitler’s Germany.”
Reichental’s upcoming visit to Stonehill is not his first. Reichental visited campus in 2011 with Gregg for a screening of their first documentary, “Till the Tenth Generation,” which focuses on Reichental’s efforts to tell his story of survival.
The upcoming event is free and open to the public. “We hope we get a really good student attendance,” McGovern said. “But the Martin Institute always wants to attract to a broader community. So, we’d love if neighbors, friends and alumni came as well.”
The event will take place Tuesday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. in the Martin Institute.