As holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday, he contemplates how far society and humanity has really come since that horrific genocide during World War II. Reichental grew up in Slovakia but has lived in Ireland since the 1950s, and now he finds himself speaking at a mosque about harmony between religion and peoples. While there is much to celebrate in how communal the world is today, Reichental believes he can see a repetition of the horrors of World War II in the nationalist extremist movement occurring in his home country, and in the treatment of Syrian refugees.
Condemned to Remember is a fascinating and engrossing documentary which feels just long enough at its 90 minute running length. While not always convincing in its linking of the past and present, most of the film works thanks to the incredible personality of Tomi Reichental, who is the movie’s heart, spirit and mind. Reichental is so insightful, clear-cut and quietly determined as to make for a spirited narrator. There's a sense of warmth to him that makes him feel like a long-time friend.
Condemned to Remember shares in common with other films which look at this subject matter a desperate longing for justice for what happened, a need to unveil the truth as the existence of Holocaust deniers hangs heavy over its survivors. Those who made it out of the concentration camps feel ‘the story is not over yet’ but, given the inability of the state to find them closure, the sad truth is they will likely always be haunted by the past. There are some extremely emotive and brutal pictures shown in the doc which demonstrate that yes, this is a topic that must be examined again and again as the full extent of its horrors are barely tangible.
But where Condemned to Remember really gains momentum is when it turns to what’s happening in the here and now. We learn of Slovakia for Slovaks, a heavily nationalist movement which feels like a modern-day Nazi body. We can visibly see how impassioned and infuriated Reichental becomes when talking about it. It's frightening that these radicals are gaining support and spreading, across Europe and especially among the young, showing that xenophobia is very much alive and well.
For Reichental, what is happening now is a repetition of the past, which he argues is evident in the war in Syria, the refugee crisis that has followed, and in the Islamophobia of the modern day. Reichental talks to a number of Muslims about their lives and hardships to show that all they want is to survive, to live. However, one gets the sense that Reichental is being quite simplistic about these complex issues and never really addresses points the opposition would bring up. He disengages from debate altogether in his idealism. But at the same time, his message of love and care for your fellow man is commendable. Moreover, his desire to feel a connection with others through the shared experience of pain and trauma – which we see a number of individuals responding to positively throughout the film – is so touching as to make you wish the world really was a better place.