The junior youth and youth joined with the adults and everyone crowded into the main session to listen to Tomi’s insightful and moving account of how he, as a boy of six, was taken with his family to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Approximately two hundred people listened intently as Tomi’s story unfolded.
Tomi is the subject of two documentaries and has written an acclaimed autobiography entitled, I Was A Boy in Belsen. During last May’s Five Years Too Many Campaign, he was the principle speaker at the Irish press event in Dublin where he spoke out in condemnation of the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. At the press event Tomi drew parallels between the systematic discrimination and persecution of the Jews during WWII and the situation of the Baha’i community in Iran. His very strong advice is to keep public attention on the situation in Iran in order to prevent the situation escalating any further.
For the past eight years, Tomi has spent his time working tirelessly for human rights . Throughout the year he travels the length and breadth of Ireland speaking to young people about the danger of racism, prejudice and discrimination. Last January, His Excellency the German President, Joachim Gauck awarded Tomi Germany’s highest award to an individual, the Order of Merit. This award was made in recognition of his tireless work in the combating of discrimination and racism, and in particular his commitment to the cause of reconciliation and highlighting the futility of hatred.
Today Tomi spoke at the Baha’i Summer School about these topics as well. Encouraging everyone to speak out when they encounter bullying or prejudice or discrimination, and warning of the danger of being silent in the face of the bad treatment of others. As he put it himself, it is not enough that we don’t perpetrate injustice or violence, it is vital that none of us are bystanders and just ignore these things as they happen to others.
He emphasised the fact that horrors, like the Holocaust, don’t begin in concentration camps, they begin in the playground and the workplace and the neighbourhood. And, as Tomi pointed out, these are the places we, the ordinary people, have the power to effect real and lasting change for the better in all of our societies.
Tomi’s two hour talk was warmly received by all present. As he finished, everyone in the room spontaneously rose to their feet and broke into rapturous applause. All those present felt genuinely honoured to be in the presence of such a dignified and brave man and everyone was deeply moved by the obvious fact that, in spite of his suffering, Tomi Reichental is not only not bitter or vengeful, he dedicates his entire life to fostering reconciliation and hope.
It was a truly wonderful and inspiring day.