Soldier shares WWII Holocaust memories
By: MC1(SW) Ira J. Elinson , The Dolphin, May 1, 2008
On a rainy Monday night, April 28, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Alan Moskin marched cadets and invited guests , across battlefields, down foxholes and into a Nazi concentration camp.
The audience of about 50 people heard how difficult it was for an almost 19-year-old soldier to leave a friend dying of his wounds and of his shock to find that his enemy was starving people to death, and then stacking their bodies like firewood.
Moskin, 82, spoke as part of the academy’s Holocaust Remembrance program, which began earlier in the day with a luncheon and concert by the U.S. Coast Guard Band.
“It is important for us to recognize and remember the hardship and suffering of those who were brutally persecuted because of their differences and those who fought valiantly to free them from the arms of hate,” said Kenneth Hunter, civil rights officer for the academy. “We want to ensure no one forgets the sacrifices these brave people made.”
Moskin’s account was a difficult one to tell.
“For more than 50 years after the war,” Moskin said, “I didn’t speak to anyone about my experience in combat and later as a liberator, and that includes my mother, father, wife and children.”
He paused and looked steadily into the stilled audience.
“The reason was that I was afraid of conjuring up all the memories,” Moskin said. “I closed up that part of my brain. I locked it up and threw away the key.”
He said he found the key about 12 years ago. He wanted to reinforce history and counter tales that the Holocaust never happened. Moskin, a retired attorney, is now taking his message to anyone who will listen, including audiences at the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley, N.Y.
“Every day 1,100 of my World War II buddies pass away,” said Moskin. “I started to speak, and I haven’t stopped since. I will speak anywhere, anytime, so long as I have the strength. In another 10 years, there will be few left to tell the truth. You will have to be our witnesses.”
Setting the stage, he spoke about growing up in Edison, N.J., where Blacks and Whites, Jews and Christians, Irish and Italians got along.
“We all played in the streets together,” said Moskin. “Baseball, tag, whatever we did, we did together. It didn’t make a difference where you came from or the color of your skin. It was a neighborhood.”
At 17-years old, he was in Syracuse University. As soon as he turned 18, he received his draft notice.
“‘Greetings’ the letter said. Whoever thought they should start a draft letter with ‘Greetings’ should have had his head examined,” said Moskin.
After three months of infantry training, where he encountered bigotry and prejudice for the first time, it was off to the battlefields of Europe, where he was in the 66th Infantry, 71st Division of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army
He paused. When he began speaking again, he cautioned the audience that what he had to say was not pretty. It was not glorious. And it definitely was not a video game.
“I speak the truth about what I saw and did and I cannot change anything,” said Moskin. “If I changed anything, I would be rewriting history.”
It was early May 1945 when his unit freed a prisoner-of-war camp in Austria that contained mostly British airmen.
They in turn told of a camp of Jewish prisoners a few kilometers away. That was the Gunskirchen Concentration Camp.
“We didn’t know what they were talking about,” Moskin recalled. “We didn’t know anything about camps for Jews.”
The soldiers marched on towards the other camp.
“We walked into the forest, and suddenly there was a stench in the air,” said Moskin. “It was nothing like anything we had ever smelled before. It was so bad that the odor crept into my brain.”
Coming upon a high barbed-wire fence, his unit got its first glimpse of the savagery that was suffered by so many.
“It was the most horrific thing I ever saw. I wasn’t even 19, and I’ve seen bodies in combat, but never like this. They were like skeleton-like creatures,” Moskin said of the prisoners there. “I don’t like using the word creatures, but that’s what they were like. They looked like zombies, and as they increased in number we realized they were humans severely emaciated.”
He recalled that they looked at the uniforms that he and the other soldiers wore.
“Some backed off. They were scared. They didn’t know who we were.”
They rushed up to him when Moskin told them in German that he was also Jewish.
“This is not a TV show, or a movie,” Moskin said. “This is what my buddies and I experienced … I kept saying to myself over and over: How did this happen? How could the world let this happen?”
The soldiers began giving the prisoners their rations, but had to stop because they couldn’t handle the solid food. Medics were running everywhere attending to as many as they could. From the compound, Moskin and his squad moved to check out the buildings, where they encountered even more suffering.
“There were people crammed into narrow rows of shelves like sardines,” said Moskins. “Some were dead, some in the throes of death. Hollow eyes looking out at us. There was a lot of crying going on. I knew some tough guys and believe me they all had tears.”
While the audience is living 60 or more years removed from the Third Reich, Moskin reminded them that this wasn’t a crime against the Jews. He called it a crime against everything that’s decent, kind and merciful, a crime against mankind itself. He cautioned everyone that hatred is still prevalent in the world. He urged them to stand up against racist remarks and against people who ridiculed others because of their looks, their religions, their differences.
In his closing remarks, he paid a tribute to 11 buddies he lost in the war, “to my band of brothers,” by calling their names.
“I am a messenger for all the poor people who got slaughtered, because they can’t speak for themselves. We have to do everything in our power to make sure that this never happens again. Never again! Never again! Never again!”