Alan Moskin, “a New Jersey boy,” an 18-year-old soldier in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, a Syracuse University student who was drafted after World War II broke out, was among a group of American soldiers at a Nazi POW camp in Austria on May 4, 1945.
The war was almost over, the German soldiers were in retreat. Moskin and his fellow G.I.s were speaking with the POWs. “Mostly British flyboys.”
“There was a rumor,” the British soldiers told him, “about a camp for Jews down the road.”
“We looked at each other,” Moskin, now 88, said on Veterans Day, reminiscing about his wartime experiences.
The Americans had never heard about Nazi concentration camps.
“You didn’t know there were camps for Jews?” the students at the schools where Moskin frequently speaks ask him.
The soldiers had no clue.
On a damp day, they started walking through the woods in the direction that the Brits pointed them.
Suddenly, Moskin says, came “the most offensive, nauseating stench.” They were “at least a couple of hundred meters” from Gunskirchen, a subcamp of Mauthausen. The smell “permeated” the area.
The soldiers walked through the camps barbed wire. No sign of Germans. Just, “piles of skeletal bodies with no flesh.” And, in the barracks, more “piles of dead bodies. It was the most horrific sight I ever saw.
“I knew what death meant in combat.” But civilians?
Some 20,000 skeletal survivors, those not forced onto death marches, were still there that day.
The emaciated survivors begged the liberators for sustenance. Essen, bitte. Something to eat. Wasser, bitte. Water. Zigaretten, bitte. Cigarettes.
Starved, the inmates bit into tobacco.
“I couldn’t speak much Yiddish,” Moskin says. “Ich bin auch a Jude,” he told them in a combination of Yiddish and German. I also am a Jew.
Amerikaner, danke, danke. Americans, thank you, thank you.
One “elderly” man started crying. “He started kissing my filthy boots.” Moskin picked him up. “I embraced him. He embraced him. That was the first time we saw smiles.”
That day was the most memorable from Moskin’s year in the Army. But he chose not to remember. For 50 years. “I took a key and locked up that part of my brain.”
Then someone from the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley, Rockland County, called Moskin, who lives in nearby Nanuet. She had heard about Moskin’s background. He hung up. “I couldn’t talk about it.” She kept calling. “Please, you have to speak. You have to tell the truth.” You have to refute the Holocaust deniers.
Finally Moskin started speaking in public, mostly to school groups, about what he had seen and heard and smelled. And he hasn’t stopped speaking.
He estimated he’s spoken at more than 120 schools. “I’m a busy boy.
“It was like a catharsis,” Moskin says. “It all poured out of me.”
Within a decade, he says, all the men and women like him with personal memories of the Holocaust will be gone.
“You’re the last generation,” he tells young students, “who will hear people like myself.”
A retired lawyer, Moskin says he will keep speaking as long as he has the strength. “I have a talk today,” he told the Jewish Week. “Next week I have four talks.”