Thursday, 14 June 2018

The Day I Finally Met Belsen Survivor, Tomi Reichental

Talking about Belsen with Tomi Reichental in Cambridge
Ever since publishing Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - A Personal Account by my late father, Leonard Berney in 2015, I've been very aware of everything Belsen-related happening online and especially on Twitter. So I had seen many articles, videos and TV appearances about Dublin-based Belsen Survivor, Tomi Reichental who was a child at Belsen. But we just had never bumped into each other at any of the many Holocaust-related events I've attended over the past three years.

So I decided to get in touch with him and found out he happened to be delivering a talk about his Belsen experience at the Cambridge Union, the world's oldest continuously running debating society on Thursday 14th June 2018. At last, this was a chance for me to hear him talk and to meet him!

When we met just before his talk, he seemed very pleased to meet me and I was certainly very pleased to meet him! His talk really made you understand what it was like being Jewish and a child during the Holocaust, and what it was like being at Belsen at such a young age. It was very moving.

After the talk, I was so honoured that he wanted to sit and talk with me; we chatted for over an hour! We agreed to keep in touch and I very much look forward to seeing him again soon.

Tomi Reichental delivering his Belsen talk

Tomi wearing his Star of David as he was forced to do by the Nazis

I was so honoured to meet Tomi!

At the main entrance of the Cambridge Union with Tomi
Read about my meeting with another Belsen survivor, Gena Turgel, in 2015:
Daily Mail Online: British soldier fell in love with Jewish inmate at Belsen concentration camp

Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp (eBook Kindle edition)
by (former) Lt-Colonel Leonard Berney R.A. T.D., edited by John Wood, Forewords by Major-General Nicholas Eeles CBE, Nanette Blitz Konig, Introduction by Joshua Oppenheimer

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

I got recognised as the "Monty Python guy" by the lead singer of CODA!

Peter Byrne as Robert Plant
I was walking back home from East Grinstead a few weeks ago when this chap in the street said, "Hi, I recognise you - aren't you the Monty Python guy?"

He later identified himself as Peter Byrne, that is to say, Robert Plant in the Led Zeppelin tribute band "CODA". Well, I was chuffed to be recognised!

So I listened to some CODA. They are great! Sound just like the real thing!

Great to meet you Peter - you made my day. Glad you're a Python fan too!

You can find CODA online here:

Monday, 12 February 2018

Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 in Geneva with Holocaust Survivor Eva Schloss

My late father, Belsen liberator Leonard Berney, found talking about Belsen very painful immediately after the war. My mother tells me it was a totally taboo subject at home.

Luckily for him, and us, about 40 years after the war ended, he started to talk about it. I assume he found the experience cathartic because he talked about it increasingly as the years went by. I remember him first telling me about it, and my realisation that he had played a pivotal role in a very important moment in history, albeit a highly unpleasant and traumatic one for all concerned.

He eventually wrote a book about his experience at Belsen; his account of the camp's liberation, called Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - A Personal Account. He also started to deliver lectures about his experience and even appeared in two very important Holocaust documentaries in which he was interviewed about liberating the camp: Night Will Fall and No Asylum.

I noticed that, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, a screening of No Asylum (which is about Anne Frank's father's struggle and ultimate failure to get his family out of Holland as the war was approaching) was taking place in Geneva. So I contacted the producer of the documentary, Paula Fouce to ask if I could attend, as Geneva is only a one-hour flight away for me. She told me that the screening would be attended by Eva Schloss, Anne Frank's step sister, who herself was an Auschwitz survivor. Paula also told me that the day after the screening, there would be a special Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony in the United Nations General Assembly Hall during which Eva would give an account of her experience before, during and after her time in Auschwitz.

It was such an honour for me to be part of the screening and ceremony and to meet Eva, Paula and all concerned.

Here are a few photos of my time in Geneva for Holocaust Memorial Day.

With Paula Fouce, producer of No Asylum
With Her Excellency Aviva Raz Shechter, Permanent Representative of Israel
to the United Nations Office at Geneva
With Eva Schloss and her grandson Eric Schloss
Showing Eva and Eric Schloss dad's book
Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - A Personal Account
Couldn't help noticing that the carper of the cinema was the same as appears in
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining!

A video message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres
Eva Schloss giving her keynote address
Former laureates of the Menuhin Competition, violinists Dmitry Smirnov and Anne Luisa Kramb
with pianist Gordon Black, Artistic Director of the Menuhin Competition performing
J.S. Bach, Bloch and Bartók
Everybody wanted a piece of Eva!

Under the magnificent United Nations emblem
In front of the iconic Allée des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Our Visit to Charlie Chaplin's World, Geneva

Gemma on our way into Chaplin's World, Geneva
While in Geneva for Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, Gemma and I had the chance to visit Charlie Chaplin's family home which was recently turned into a museum called Charlie Chaplin World. We loved it and felt we had really been invited into his personal life. I found the experience very moving. What a lovely man he was. Here is a selection of photos of our day in Charlie Chaplin's World.

Chaplin's World has its very own bus stop 
Manoir de Ban, Charlie Chaplin's family home

Gemma with Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush
Gemma getting a trim from Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Gemma with the blind girl in City Lights
The recreation of this scene from The Great Dictator was directly relevant to the
reason we were in Geneva - Holocaust Memorial Day 2018
Charlie Chaplin's tramp costume
With Edna Purviance in The Immigrant
Gemma with Charlie Chaplin in the police station in Modern Times
Gemma breaking out of her prison cell in Modern Times
Gemma on the phone in Modern Times
Gemma in Chalie Chaplin's tramp costume
Gemma in Adenoid Hynkel's costume in The Great Dictator
Gemma as the policeman in Easy Street
Charlie Chaplin's two Oscars
Charlie Chaplin's original hat, cane and boots

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Holocaust Memoirs of a Bergen-Belsen Survivor - Classmate of Anne Frank

by Nanette Blitz Konig
On 27th January 2018, Holocaust Memorial Day 2018, Nanette's book "Holocaust Memoirs of a Bergen-Belsen Survivor - Classmate of Anne Frank" was released.

My connection with Nanette is through my late father, Belsen liberator, Leonard Berney. As described in her book, it was my father who helped Nanette recover from the terrible ordeal she had just been through of being a prisoner in the most inhospitable conditions imaginable, losing all members of her family (except her two aunts in London), disease and malnutrition. On page 85, she writes:
"I have thankful, tender recollections of that man. After all, as a member of the British Army, he saved my life. He was one of those who entered the camp to free us, who were shocked and had compassion for our predicament - innocent people who had been subjected to the worst punishments. On top of that, he wrote letters to help me communicate with my family. That was the first time someone offered me any help in months. It was a good feeling to remember that there were still good people in the world."
And Nanette appears in my father's 2015 book "Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp - A Personal Account" in that she wrote one of the Forewords of the book.

Nanette, in fact, published her book in Brazilian Portuguese some time ago (she lives in São Paulo), but was keen to get it published in English. So she and her family asked me if I could help make this a reality. By chance, I came across Amsterdam Publishers on Twitter who appeared to be, and have since proved to be, a perfect fit!