Tomi Reichental’s memoir, I Was a Boy in Belsen, was published several months ago by O’Brien Press, and strangely, this devastating true story somehow, after some promotion from the likes of Pat Kenny and National newspapers, seemed to slip under some invisible radar. But this book has much more to offer than it seems. Far from being just another account of the shocking horror of daily life in a concentration camp, this novel captures every ounce of the trauma associated with such an experience.
The novel starts on a happy note, I’m sure some of you will be glad to know, with a description of a childhood that seems idyllic and enjoyable in Slovakia. Reichental, a man who was incarcerated in Belsen as a child, manages to expertly contrast the two worlds: That of pre-Nazi Slovakia, and that of war, deportation and mindless murder.
Through the following chapters, some of the most harrowing descriptions I have ever read feature. He lost thirty-five members of his family through the Holocaust, and some death’s are described gruesomely. But this isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it’s a good thing. Reichental seems to see what happened to him as something he must share with the world to stop it from happening again “till the tenth generation”.
I don’t want to give too much away. But there is one thing I must say. This book isn’t something you sit down to read to have a laugh and relax. It’s something you read to face a fact. A fact that six million jews were brutally murdered in Nazi Concentration camps through the 1940’s. This isn’t just a book, it’s a historical document. Read it. You’ll probably cry, sometimes you’ll probably feel like you don’t want to keep reading. But you must, because this is a historical period that must never be forgotten, and with the help of Reichental’s wonderful novel, hopefully never will be.