The most incredible person I’ve ever met: An interview in Dublin

Matthew Carlson (left) and Tomi Reichental pose for a selfie in Reichental’s residence in Dublin, Ireland.

Name: Matthew Carlson

Year in School: junior

Major: journalism and mass communication

Position: editorial assistant, Irish Catholic Newspaper

I knocked quietly on the door, unsure if I had the right house. The door opened and I was greeted with a friendly grin and an invitation inside.

My editor had sent me out to interview a man by the name of Tomi Reichental for a personal profile for the Irish Catholic newspaper, my place of interning for the summer.

I was quickly surprised by the amount of pictures and paintings hanging on the walls.

After introductions, Tomi invited me to his living room to talk. I knew a little about his story, but no amount of research prepared me to hear it from him.

Tomi was born in Czechoslovakia in 1935 to a Jewish family. As World War II progressed, his family faced persecution from the government.

In 1944, Tomi and his family were taken away by the Nazis to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

Tomi shared the details of what his imprisonment was like. I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing. Of course I had heard of the Holocaust, but it was completely different hearing the words from someone who was so hurt by it.

After liberation from the camp, Tomi was reunited with his surviving family members and returned to his home village.

He went on to attend college in Germany of all places and moved to Ireland to help start a zip manufacturing factory. There he met a girl, got married and started a family.

For years, Tomi didn’t tell anyone about his time in Bergen-Belsen, not even his wife or children. After his wife passed away and Tomi retired, he started to realize he couldn’t keep quiet about the tragedy he went through.

Since then, Tomi has written a book about his life and the incredible hardships he went through. He has helped make multiple documentaries and spoken to thousands of students in Ireland about the impact of how people treat one another.

All in all, I spoke with Tomi for a little over an hour. I was packing my things to go, when I heard “you know, why don’t you stay for tea”.

I followed Tomi to the kitchen where he prepared a pot of tea and a tray of biscuits.

For another hour, we talked about life. He told me about what his life looks like now, sharing stories about his current partner, his son who lives in America and his recent trip to the hospital. I had never felt so insignificant talking to another person.

In my life, one of the worst things that can happen is getting stuck with an 8 a.m. class for the whole semester. I know the struggles in my life are insignificant, but listening to his story firsthand really opened my eyes to it.

He spoke with such grace and joy. Not 24 hours before speaking with me, he was in the hospital getting tests done, but talking with him, you would’ve thought he had won the lottery.

As if the conversation itself wasn’t a treat enough, Tomi asked for a selfie after I took the photo that would print in the paper. I left that interview in shock. I knew I probably wouldn’t get the chance to have a conversation like that, maybe ever.

Although this internship in Dublin has been unforgettable in many ways, my conversation with Tomi will always be a special memory.

Vote for this blog post in Round 2 of the 2018 Greenlee Summer Intern Blogging Competition. Voting opens at 11:59 p.m. CST on August 8 and closes at 11:59 p.m. CST on August 15. The author of the post that receives the most votes will receive the $50 Amazon gift card.