Book Review: I was a boy in Belsen by Tomi Reichental

boy in belsen

The author of this book, Tomi Reichental, gives his first-hand account of the horror of the Jewish imprisonment in concentration camps during World War Two .As survivors continue to become increasingly rare, true and unique stories of the events of the Second World War become ever more so important. Stories of survivors of one of the biggest manmade disasters in the world’s history are very much invaluable.

There have been many books on what many would consider the worst atrocity to hit the world. Many which are based on different aspects of the tragic war. There have been books that have focused on the heroes; there have been those that have featured the horrific pain and suffering of those who fought the Nazi’s or those that tried to save the Jews. However the Tomi Reichental, I was a boy in Belsen, is a powerful nonfiction story of a young Jewish Slovenian child who would become trapped within a Nazi Regime during the most shocking war and would survive to tell us his precious but harrowing memories.

Tomi, his mother, brother grandmother and aunt and cousin ended up the Belsen concentration camp in the year 1944[1]. The reader is shown the barbarianism and cruelty the Jews suffered during the war when Tomi tells us how the Gestapo came across his 76-year-old grandmother in a shop in Bratislava. “She was betrayed as Jewish and the Nazis beat her up until she gave them details of her family, then one by one they found us all.’’ Here is where, Tomi aged only nine, new life of hell would commence. Tomi Reichental’s father was not captured with them at that time .His father would go on the run as the Jewish people of Slovakia were hunted. [2]

Reichental tells us the history of the Bersen- Belsen concentration camp   that began to operate in the year 1940 .It is revealed to the reader as one of the most horrendous concentration Camps of the second world war. Reichental writes why he has now come out with his valuable story of his childhood terror and sadness saying “not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t”[3]. He tells us how the Jewish population in Slovakia began to rapidly deteriorate from 90,000 to 25000, as Hitler and the Nazis pushed to eliminate the Jewish people[4]. “We heard whispers filter through that our people were not going to camps but to gas chambers, but we could not believe such talk so we carried on and did what we were told by the Nazis. Things were worsening in our village and you could be shot on the spot if the Nazis suspected you were Jewish. But my father had many friends in the village who would warn us to hide if the Nazis were around. I remember a lot of hide-and-seek between 1942 and 1944 as we tried to avoid the devastation[5] writes Reichental.[6]

In May 1944 the family, without Tomi father, entered the Bersen-Belsen Camp. Previously to that year the camp would be just an area where the Jewish prisoners were held, however, in 1944 the camp would become a place where the prisoners were killed in massive numbers. It is thought that between 16,000 and 18000 were exterminated in the gas chambers of the camp. In the book the readers sees how parents would try to protect their children by preventing them from hearing of the expected final fate of the prisoners in the Concentration camp.

However, amongst psychological torment the Jews were forced to endure, they would suffer great physical deprivation .Be this through the cold, the inadequate clothing and needless to say the growing starvation that would continuously torment the camps prisoners. The author tells how he vividly remembers watching the corpse of his grandmother being thrown on top of a pile of rotting bodies as the other young children played obviously around them.


Reichental tells us how he had thought that his father had been taken to Auschwitz “My father was taken to Auschwitz. What I would later learn was that on route he jumped from the moving train with a Hungarian man and that is how he survived. [7]“We did not see him again until after the war as he joined the resistance against the Nazis

The readers sees how Tomi’s father who had tried to keep the farm going had been captured while simply just walking on the road. He tells though how his father survived by jumping from a train. How he was on a train with another man that had escaped several times cut open   their carriage and said ‘’ I’m going to jump, any of ye who want to survive should jump’’. [8]

The reader is told how bravely his father was the member of only 3 men who escaped a Nazi train by jumping .He explained why only three chose to escape as the dangers of jumping off a speedy train in the pitch dark , saying how they might of just jumped to their death. He explained how his family had begun to believe that they would never see his father   and how they had they had been shocked when a message arrived one day from their father which featured the words ‘’I’m alive’’.[9]

Furthermore,it is important on how Tomi tells of how when the war had ended it didn’t mean that attitudes had changed. It tells is that there was massacres happening for years afterwards and says how any Jew who planned to return to their home and retrieve their property from their neighbours would face the possibility of being shot as much as actually regaining what they had owned.[10]

I was a Boy in Belsen  is a book that truly contains some incredible images of one of the most disturbing periods in history. The horror of the book made by a man who lost 35 family relatives in the holocaust makes the story of his survival more incredible.[11]He explains how the deaths caused by starvation would be often slowly drawn out and be incredibly painful. Nevertheless Tomi Reichenal has managed to go through these atrocious experiences without, astoundingly holding any grudge against the ordinary German people. He of course recognises that many of the German’s, even though they may deny it, supported what happened. However he can forgive them, he recognises that forgiveness is better than hate. Which surely is something that many people and countries could follow.

In conclusion I was a boy in Belsen by Tomi Reichental is historic book written by a historic Holocaust survivor. Reichmann could be telling horrific horror story if one did not know it was much worse than a fictional horror, that the story was the frightful tragic reality of Hitler’s time in power. .After reading the book I personally felt that it was an invaluable and insightful historic Memoir of the author’s life. The book expresses brilliantly the sorrow and hurt of the Slovakian Jews in the war and tells the reader the astonishing struggle of his family who battled to survive in no doubt one of the most gruesome regimes in history. In addition the book expresses both the terror of life in a concentration camp while being inspired by his ability to forgive the German people. Finally for the above reasons I feel this was most definitely an amazing book that covers a extremely terrifying chapter of human history.[12]



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