An RTÉ Radio interview marking Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2012 is the catalyst for a remarkable two-year journey. Holocaust survivor Tomi discovers one of his former jailers — Hilde Lisiewicz is alive and living in Hamburg. Lisiewicz is a convicted War Criminal. Nevertheless, Tomi reaches out to Hilde to offer reconciliation.
Hilde asserts she is “a victim of victor’s justice”. This prompts Tomi to investigate the SS woman’s claims of innocence. Unexpectedly Tomi’s odyssey ends where his story began, back in his native Merasice, meeting the ghosts from the past and embracing a German woman directly related to the man who played a role in the liquidation of Tomi’s family.
Director Gerry Gregg gives Film Ireland the background to the new extended cut of his film Close to Evil, which screens at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.
When we set out to film in Israel and Ireland in December 2013 and across Germany and Poland in January we knew we had the basis for a strong and unique film . Already the “work in progress” that is Close to Evil has been a prize winner at the Galway Film Fleadh and the “Stranger than Fiction“ Documentary Festival in Dublin.
We knew we had the potential for a truly remarkable feature that tells a story that is unlikely ever to be recorded again. We doubt very much if a Holocaust survivor anywhere across the globe will ever again get an opportunity to encounter an SS Guard from the period of their incarceration. Tomi Reichental, a citizen of Ireland since 1977, did.
Also, we are never again likely to see scenes between Irish veterans of the liberation of Bergen Belsen meeting up with a person they helped to save from a certain death from starvation and disease. Both John Stout and Albert Sutton, now in their ’90s, do when Tomi Reichental pays them an emotional visit at their homes in Cork city and in Dublin.
Furthermore, when Tomi Reichental is confronted with the prospect of meeting the granddaughter of the top-ranking Nazi who was instrumental in the deaths of over 30 members of his family, he doesn’t flinch. This is an electrifying scene unlikely ever to be replicated anywhere in Europe again.
This is now a big canvas film with universal and eternal themes at its pulsating narrative heart. We hope it will attract an audience at home fascinated by the quest our central protagonist Tomi Reichental embarks on from Dublin. We are confident the viewer will be willing Tomi on as he delves into the darkest chapter of recent European history. They will follow Tomi’s footsteps as he investigates a past full of heartache. They will root for him when returns to sites that haunt him. Along the way he will be tested and presented with challenges he did not foresee when he set out to seek peace and reconciliation with a woman from his boyhood trauma in Bergen Belsen – the unrepentant SS War Criminal Hilde Lisiewicz.
A “mitzvah” is the Yiddish word for something good that leads to something better. At the end of a long 2-year journey
Tomi’s quest is now complete. His generosity of spirit has at last been rewarded in a manner nobody could have foreseen when he set out on his odyssey 2 years ago to meet his former jailer, Hilde Lisiewicz.
In Galway this year we will present those attending the Fleadh with an opportunity to see this mitzvah up close.
Close To Evil: Extended Cut screens at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014) on Fri 11th July in the Cinemobile at 10.00
Tickets for the screening are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.