“I am condemned to remember the terrors of the past and compelled to resist the return of the evil that turned Europe into a wasteland.”
These are the words of Tomi Reichental, Holocaust Survivor, and Irish citizen. These words are uttered on the main street of the village of Merasice in Slovakia 70 years after Tomi was forced to flee for his life as a ten year old boy. Merasice is the place Tomi once called home. What happened here during World War Two has haunted Tomi all his life and motivates him today, to bear witness on behalf of all those who suffer as result of racism and intolerance.
Now 70 years after his liberation from Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, many in Europe are asking questions that seemed unthinkable. Is civil society in the countries that were decimated by the Final Solution being degraded and disfigured once again by old poisonous prejudices? To answer that question Tomi Reichental was motivated to make “Condemned to Remember”.
This film begins with a unique birthday party. To celebrate his 80th birthday Tomi Reichental finds himself as guest of honour at an out of the way Dublin Mosque at the end of the holy month of Ramadan on a balmy mid-summer’s evening.
This special occasion prompts Tomi to pick up his old rucksack and hit the road again to see for himself the plight of people who are being persecuted, just as he once was. Tomi attributes this quest, to his restless “mission of remembrance”. The need he feels, to honour the memory of the victims of the Shoah and warn against any complacency that “it can never happen again”.
“Condemned to Remember” depicts an epic journey across a Europe in the throes of political, economic and social turmoil. Through the prism of the experiences of an 80 year old “who has seen all there is to see” the tumultuous story of contemporary Europe unfolds.
In Germany, Tomi pursues the investigation into the convicted SS War Criminal Hilde Michnia. He strives to assist the efforts of sympathetic Germans to bring this SS Guard to account for her secrets and lies about her role in the forced evacuation of women prisoners from slave labour camps in Poland in 1945.
In Poland, in Jedwabne, at the site of the mass incineration of local Jews by their Polish neighbours Tomi confronts the “crisis of shame” that prevents an honest reckoning with the scale of the local collaboration and “collusion” with the Nazi extermination project.
In his native Slovakia, Tomi observes at close quarters the rise of the neo fascist “The Peoples Party-Our Slovakia”. He attempts to interrogate the Party’s leader, Marian Kotleba about his hero worship of Josef Tiso and the Hlinka Guard. Back in the 1940s Tiso’s puppet regime was responsible for the round up and mass expulsion of Slovakia’s Jews into the hands of the Nazis. Tomi never dreamt he’d see the uniform of the men who destroyed his world on parade again in Bratislava. Thirty five members of Tomi’s family never returned from captivity. Some were gassed. Some were starved and worked to death. One was guillotined for his partisan activities.
In Bosnia- Herzegovina Tomi prays at the site of another war crime – the mass murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. There he seeks out and embraces the survivors of “ethnic cleansing”. Like him they still search for justice and the bones of their loved ones.
Along the way Tomi’s path crosses with the refugees who are trekking across Europe looking for sanctuary in a continent in the throes of upheaval. Their plight brings back memories of Tomi’s own days on the run from the Gestapo as a boy. Putting himself into the shoes of the “new Jews” of the 21st Century, Tomi discovers a strong common bond with desperate men and women fleeing the hell that is Syria and other war torn regions of the world.”