Tomi Reichental, 79, said the controversial businessman must immediately offer an explanation for why he believes it was appropriate to use the phrase to explain his treatment by Nama, saying it was a “stupid and ignorant” comment which insults those who died under the regime.
On Thursday, the Oireachtas banking inquiry published a 28-page statement from Mr Ronan criticising Nama for actions which he said infringed on the “human rights” of businessmen hit by the crash.
The developer ended the statement by controversially writing: “I am very glad to have exited Nama and do not intend to look back. However, we as a nation, need to learn from our mistakes. ‘Arbeit macht frei’ no, i nGaeilge, ‘Tugann saothar saoirse’.”
“Arbeit macht frei” — meaning ‘work brings freedom’ — is a phrase infamous with the Nazi regime after it was placed on the gates of concentration camps during World War II.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental said Mr Ronan must apologise for the remark regardless of his interpretation of it.
The peace campaigner and holocaust survivor, who personally saw the sign in Buchenwald and Auschwitz-Birkenau, said he only heard the developer’s comments while returning from receiving an honorary doctorate from NUI Maynooth for his work to combat xenophobia and racism.
“First of all, I can say I saw two of these signs, in Buchenwald and Auschwitz. This phrase was used by the Nazis and had a sarcastic connotation that people in these camps, these slave labour camps, would be free when they died. Life expectancy in Auschwitz was two-to-three months — I myself lost uncles. So when he uses that phrase, I would demand an apology from him for using it,” Mr Reichental said.
The peace campaigner acknowledged that Mr Ronan “was maybe trying to say ‘I am working for the economy and as such should be free from criticism’,” adding this may have been his reason for using the phrase.
However, he said, even in this context it was a “stupid and ignorant” comment to use which “doesn’t do any good for Irish people and Ireland” as it is likely to draw attention from abroad.
“I don’t think Johnny Ronan is an anti-semite or anything like this, but out of respect, he should not have said this. He should personally say sorry for this mistake.
“I heard this while driving back on the M50 from the ceremony, it just hit us, ‘Arbeit macht frei’. I thought ‘what the hell is going on’,” he said.
Meanwhile, former justice minister and Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter has again called for Mr Ronan to apologise for the remark and for the comment to be redacted from the developer’s written statement to the inquiry.
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland programme Mr Shatter, who is Jewish, said Mr Ronan should offer to re-write it and that he does not understand why has not already apologised.
Mr Ronan had yet to respond to a request for comment at the time of going to press. His written statement was published by the inquiry 12 hours after the end of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur.