Sean Cribbin, 9, interviewed Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz

A new short film in which nine-year-old Galway boy Sean Cribbin interviews elderly Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental about his life aims to teach Irish children about the terrible consequences of hatred and racism.

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The beautiful seven-minute documentary, released to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, tells the story of how Tomi Reichental was imprisoned in the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany when he, too, was just nine years old.

During their interview, Tomi tells Sean about the importance of learning from the mistakes of history to ensure that such a horror never occurs again.

Sean shows a profound interest in Tomi’s life as a child in the camp and asks what Irish children can do to share his story.

Filmed at the Hardiman Hotel in Galway City, the Kamil Films documentary shows a great bond and understanding between the elderly man and the young boy.  Tomi urges Sean, and other Irish children, to challenge bullies and to say that bullying is wrong.

“Well, I grew up in a village just like villages in Ireland and I had a beautiful life. I’m always telling people that where I lived, it was my paradise. We always played with children from the village. We had a good life and we didn’t experience any hatred,” he tells Sean.

“People were very nice to us, so I have very fond memories from my childhood until 1939 when the Holocaust began. We began to be hated and persecuted, and life became very difficult.”

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Naturally curious, Sean asks Tomi if he had ever met Anne Frank, whose diary about life in hiding from 1942 to 1944 is one of the best-known books in the world. Tomi recalls playing in the hut where Anne used to live, but says that he was not aware of who she was at the time.

Anne was among more than 35,000 people who died in Bergen-Belsen in the first few months of 1945. When British soldiers liberated the camp, they discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside, many of them half-starved and seriously ill. Nine-year-old Tomi was among the young children who had played among the 13,000 corpses lying around the camp.

Tomi did not speak about his experiences for 55 years, until after his wife passed away. He has given talks about the Holocaust to 100,000 secondary school students all around Ireland but tells the little Galway boy that his lectures are too upsetting for younger children like Sean.

He remembers his aunt sewing a yellow star onto his coat, the fear in his family when anti-Jewish propaganda began to spread, being captured by the Gestapo, and the crowded ‘cattle car’ which transferred his family to Germany.

He has written a book about his experiences as a Jewish child in the camp, where 35 members of his family died, and hopes that the short film will reach schoolchildren across Ireland.

“We have to teach children not to hate, not to bully, and if you see anyone being bullied don’t become a bystander. Tell them it’s wrong. Nobody said it was wrong when it happened to us and look what happened, this tragedy of the Holocaust,” he tells Sean.

Tomi tells Sean that survivors of the Holocaust will not be around in ten or 20 years, so it is important that children like Sean keep the memory of what happened in the Holocaust and pass his story on to the next generation.

“What I would say to young people today is that people should not forget. What I am doing is talking to young people and teaching them about the era of the 1930s and 40s, so that we should never forget and erase the racism and xenophobia from our midst,” he says.

“Unfortunately, we have racism in Ireland and if somebody sees somebody else being bullied because they are foreign, or because they have different coloured skin, or a different religion, they should not become bystanders. They should get involved and say it’s wrong.”

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental with Sean and Philip Cribbin

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental with Sean and Philip Cribbin

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Tomi was liberated in April 1945 and wears a yellow star during his talks in Irish schools, to remind children of the terrible indignity faced by Jews living under the Nazi regime.

The short film was the brain-child of Sean’s father, Philip Cribbin, a teacher and production manager with Kamil Films.

“I got the idea of getting a small boy to interview Tomi about his life as a small boy,” says Philip. “I know that Tomi has spoken to 100,000 Irish children, but I want this film project to give him a digital legacy.

“Sean is a tough little GAA player, but he really connected with Tomi’s story and it has made him more empathetic. When Tomi was nine, one of his jobs was to clean out the cisterns in the toilets and he came across babies and foetuses. He had to tone down the details of what life in the camp was really like when he wrote a children’s book about it.”

Philip recalls that Tomi became quite emotional on the day of the filming when he saw how excited Sean became excited by the prospect of a lollipop. It suddenly reminded him of what it was to be nine years old and his own lost childhood among the thousands of starving prisoners in the overcrowded concentration camp.

“Tomi teared up when he saw how excited Sean was by the prospect of a lollipop,” says Philip. “He suddenly remembered what it was like to be nine years old and the things that make a nine-year-old excited. Then he told us that he was cleaning out dead babies when he was nine years old. We all became emotional at that point.”

Philip says the aim of the film is to get children to engage with and share Tomi’s story of resilience and hope. The film-makers want people to be more empathetic to the suffering of others, and to respond to his story on social media by using the hashtag #InspiringTomi.

To find out more about this film, check out Philip Cribbin’s ‘Inspiring You’ website.

You can watch Sean's interview with Tomi here:

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--  * A digital journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook, Twitter, or on his website - CiaranTierney.com.   

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