Survivors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps were among the audience at Solihull School this month for the first British screening of Close to Evil, a documentary about Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental and his efforts to engage with one of his former jailers.
Welcoming Mr Reichental, a survivor from Bergen-Belsen, and film director Gerry Gregg, Solihull School invited pupils, parents and guests, including representatives of national Holocaust networks, to view the film at the first official screening in mainland UK.
Having previously aired in Ireland, the film focuses on Mr Reichental’s discovery that his former jailer, SS guard and convicted war criminal Hilde Lisiewicz, is alive and protesting her innocence, claiming to be a victim of victor’s justice.
The feature unexpectedly takes him back to where it all began, his native Slovakia, where he meets with a German woman; the granddaughter of the man who had a direct role in the death of 35 members of his own family.
He told the audience: “I could not have predicted where this journey would lead. I did not wish to confront Hilde, only to see if she felt any remorse for the past. In her refusal to meet with me, I was instead able to come full circle and instead meet with the direct descendent of the man responsible for the liquidation of my family.
“I felt a sense of duty to tell this story. Soon all Holocaust survivors such as myself, and perpetrators such as Hilde, will be gone and only records will remain. By sharing my journey with the young people at Solihull School and other schools across Ireland, I hope that the truth will continue to be told for many years to come.”
Mark Penney, head of the Junior School at Solihull, added: “I don’t think anyone who attended our screening of Close to Evil will ever forget Tomi’s incredible story. We’re extremely grateful that he took the time to visit our school and speak with pupils, staff and guests about his experiences.
“We are committed to teaching our Senior School students about the true events of the Holocaust. I hope that the screening, and meeting Tomi, will stay with them for a very long time.”
The screening follows the planting of a sapling from the chestnut tree Anne Frank references in her diary, which arrived at the school in November thanks to Holly Krober – a sixth form student who visited Auschwitz and was so moved by the experience that she decided to commemorate the victims at the school. She worked with the Support Anne Frank Tree Foundation to obtain and plant a sapling, which was planted by local Holocaust survivor Mindu Hornick, who was also at the premiere.