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Irish-based survivor of Belsen camp wanted to shake hand of ex-SS guard

REMARKABLE holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental has revealed that he was prepared to shake the hand of one of his SS jailers.

Some 67 years after he was freed from Belsen concentration camp, Tomi travelled to Germany last year to meet a woman who had been a guard there.

However, the meeting with the guard, now known as Mathilde Michnia, was cancelled at the last moment. It was claimed that she was "too ill" to see him. Speaking to the Herald, Tomi said he was disappointed that the encounter did not take place. "It would have been some closure for me, but I think it would have given some closure to her as well," he said.

"I was prepared to shake her hand. I didn't want to accuse her. It was to make some reconciliation between the two sides."

His journey was followed by the Emmy Award-winning producer and director Gerry Gregg, who is making a documentary with the working title Close To Evil.

Tomi is one of just two survivors of the holocaust who live in Ireland, and he has been here for 53 years. He visits schools around the country to tell young students about what happened.

Living in Rathgar, Dublin, Tomi has been tireless in his bid to promote tolerance and oppose racism. "It is something that I owe to the victims of the holocaust, that their memories aren't forgotten," he explained.

His work is being recognised tomorrow, when in Dublin the German Ambassador Dr Eckard Lubkemeier will bestow on him the prestigious Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, nearly 70 years after he survived the terrors of the Nazis.

He was selected by the President of Germany, Joachin Gauck for the award. "I really am very honoured. It came out of the blue," Tomi said. A reception will be held in the German Ambassador's residence.