Irish documentary prompts Holocaust suspect investigation
Hilde Michnia alleged to have been involved in forcing prisoners on death march
A World War II veteran places a flower on the memorial wall during a commemoration service in the former concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany. Photograph: Getty Images
Tomi Reichental and Suzi Diamond, both survivors of Bergen-Belsen, at the national Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration recently in the Mansion House. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
German prosecutors have opened an investigation into a 93-year-old woman, suspected of serving as a Nazi SS guard, after she was featured in an Irish documentary broadcast on RTÉ One television last September. Hilde Michnia is alleged to have been involved in forcing prisoners on a march during which about 1,400 women died.
Prosecutors in Hamburg began investigating Ms Michnia after a social worker from the northern German town of Lünberg filed charges against her, the Guardian reported. She is suspected of serving as a guard in the Bergen-Belsen and Gross-Rosen concentration camps, and having been part of evacuating the latter camp in 1945.
Hans-Jürgen Brennecke filed the charges after seeing the documentary Close to Evil in which Bergen Belsen survivor and Irish citizenTomi Reichental attempted to interview Ms Michnia. In the documentary, directed by Gerry Gregg, Michnia admitted to taking part in the evacuation.
Mr Brennecke, who organised the first German screening of the documentary last week, said there should be “some consequences if such important information is in [the documentary].”
Michnia, called Lisiewicz during World War II, was convicted in the past for her role as a concentration camp guard. She was one of a group of 45 SS guards put on trial by the British occupying forces in 1945. Survivor Dora Almaleh testified that Michnia had beaten two men for stealing turnips from the kitchen, and Michnia was sentenced to a year in prison. She was released in November 1946.
Close To Evil
Ms Michnia told Die Welt newspaper she had not been involved in any atrocities and only worked in the kitchens.
In an article for The Irish Times in February 2013, while Close to Evil was in preparation, the Emmy award-winning film maker Mr Gregg, recalled how following an interview with Tomi Reichental on the RTÉ Radio 1’s The God Slot programme in 2012 a Galway listener contacted RTÉ.
“The listener had worked in Germany and got close to an elderly woman who was active in her Hamburg parish. The German woman had confided in her about her past and her nightmares. She was once an SS guard in Belsen. The listener wondered would Reichental like to meet her? Hesitantly, he agreed.”
Previously Mr Gregg and Tomi Reichental had worked on the documentary I Was a Boy In Belsen, broadcast on RTÉ One television in 2009.
Me Gregg continued: “That invitation prompted us to make a second film. Close to Evil will tell the story of what Reichental discovered about his former jailer, Hilde Michnia. Michnia, now 91, is a convicted murderer. She was found guilty of beating two prisoners to death in Belsen for stealing turnips at the Luneburg War Crimes trial in 1945.
“Reichental travelled to Hamburg to meet Michnia and offer her a chance to repudiate her past. She declined.”
Born in Slovakia in 1935, Tomi Reichental lost 35 relatives in the Holocaust. Describing Belsen as “hell on Earth”, he saw his grandmother Rosalie die of starvation there and her body dumped on the piles of rotting corpses that ringed the concentration camp in the spring of 1945.
An Irish citizen since 1977 he settled in Dublin in the 1960s where he raised a family and ran a business. Now he lectures schoolchildren and adults all over the world on his experiences in the camps and what we can learn from them.