CONDEMNED TO REMEMBER (15A/Ireland/94mins)
Directed by Gerry Gregg. Starring Tomi Reichental.
Filmmaker Gerry Gregg focuses on Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental as he celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin mosque, and travels the world drawing parallels between the past and present. The past that he survived, and the present that threatens all of us.
THE VERDICT: Reichental was born and spent his childhood in Slovakia, before being taken to a Nazi concentration camp. When he escaped, 35 members of his family had been killed, and he subsequently settled in Ireland to live his life in quietude. It was not until later in his life that Reichental realised the power he had as a survivor, and the obligation he felt to speak out about the terrible parallels he saw between his past and what is happening in the world today, as well as his quest to help to bring SS War Criminal Hilde Michnia to justice.
Tomi Reichental is a fascinating subject for a documentary, a man who mourns the past that so terrible affected him and millions like him, while trying to raise awareness about equality, acceptance and reminding us not to allow what happened to him and his family to happen again. Reichental is both subject and interviewer throughout the film, and although it would be easy for ‘Condemned to Remember’ to be a historical documentary, which only looks backward, it is clear that Tomi Reichental believes there is a lot more to why he feels the need to speak out publicly. The Slovakian genocide of Jewish people is a truth that is not often explored on film, and there are some truly striking and engaging moments as Reichental speaks with people of different nationalities and religions about his experiences. However it is when Tomi turns his eye to the present that the film takes on a passionate and far reaching feel, as Reichental makes clear that the Syrian refugee crisis and the treatment of ‘outsiders’ feels to him, like a repetition of the horrors he survived in his life.
Gerry Gregg’s film feels personal, political and an important reminder to audiences that the past is part of the present. Tomi Reichental feels he is condemned to remember the past that so greatly damaged him and millions of others, and the film makes sure to tell audiences that we are all responsible for protecting vulnerable people, and not turning a blind eye. That said, however, there are times when ‘Condemned to Remember’ feels a little disjointed, and not always cohesive in the story, and the comparison it is trying to make. That said, there are plenty of emotional moments throughout the film, and it is difficult not to come out of the cinema thinking about the state of the world today.
In all, ‘Condemned to Remember’ is a little messy and incoherent at times, but Tomi Reichental and his experiences are not only emotionally engaging, but the paralells he draws between that has happened in the world and what is happening today is a powerful message. A clearer vision for the film, however, could have led to a more coherent and cohesive feel.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    The long, dark shadow of the 20th Century Jewish Holocaust still looms large over humanity, troubling us and reminding us to never forget. Condemned To Remember is an absorbing documentary which follows one survivor’s story into the past and finding disturbing parallels in the present.

    Slovakian-born Jew Tomi Reichental was a young boy when he was interned at the Bergen Belsen concentration camp in Germany. His own Government had shamefully sold Jews to Germany on the condition that they don’t come back. Reichental survived but lost a harrowing 35 members of his family to The Final Solution. 80 at the time of filming in 2015 and now living in Rathgar, he’s a sprightly, soft-spoken man whose wise words are weighed with history and loaded with resonance for our time. The film follows him as he goes on a journey through Eastern Europe, including his homeland, which has changed further still…

    Condemned To Remember is a close collaboration between Reichental and director Gerry Gregg. Watching the two of them onstage at a Q&A screening was fascinating, even humourous at times. They very much complement each other, with one man having a story to tell and the other having the tools to tell it skilfully. Reichental’s story is one of survival against all odds, with him attempting to confront a SS guard many years later – the message being that it’s never to late to prosecute those who committed or aided the Holocaust. One of the film’s most disturbing moments is a photo of local Poles who collaborated with the Nazis posing with the skulls of liquidated Jews. Humanity seems to have gone out the window back then.

    It was originally conceived as following Reichental back to his homeland, along with his 80th Birthday celebrations in a welcoming Muslim mosque in Blanchardstown – a world first for a Jew it seems. The structure of the documentary changed though when the two of them discovered recent developments in Europe, which mirrored the atrocities of the 1940s. The rise of a white supremacist fascist group elected to the Slovakian parliament baffles even Reichental. Meanwhile, he finds the mass displacement of Syrian refugees who fled in their millions to Eastern and Central Europe to be lacking in basic human understanding from Europeans. Ireland is not immune to this criticism either.

    It’s this added element which makes the film so much more than about the Holocaust. It gives it a much greater resonance, reminding us that the past is reflected in the present. Those who choose to ignore the mistakes of history are doomed to repeat them. This is a moving documentary which is both intimate and epic in scope, well-structured and hits home hard at times. Yet, there’s a message of peace and understanding between all religions and cultures which is harmonious and hopeful. Reichental’s ultimate hope is that his story is passed on by the younger generation. He meets a 19-year-old German girl at one point, who swears to keep his story alive. The very fact that this is a direct relative of the man who signed the deportation order for his family to Bergen Belsen has huge significance. Seek this film out – it’ll move you in unexpected ways. ****