Alan Moskin, WWII veteran and concentration camp liberator, came to campus during x-period Thursday, April 10, to discuss his experience while fighting in the 71st Division of George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.
“It was really eye opening to hear first hand experiences,” freshman Riley Kovalcheck said.“His speech was really inspiring.”
The first part of Moskin’s speech was about his youth before being drafted for the Military and discussed a little about combat. He was born in Englewood, NJ on May 30, 1926, and said growing up in a very ethnic neighborhood was the best thing that ever happened to him.
“It was completely mixed and we all played in the streets together, ate in each others’ homes together, did everything together,” Moskin said. “People are more alike than different. The color of all blood is red. It’s simple. I found out the world doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.”
He received his draft notice while studying at Syracuse University and moved to Florida for infantry basic training.
“I had never shot a gun before and I learned how to shoot an MR Rifle. It was learn how to kill or be killed,” Moskin said. “You did what you had to do—quite a transition from a student.”
He started to discuss how he got along with all of the southern men until one made a derogatory, racist remark about his best friend because they were in a picture together on his bedpost.
He claimed he wasn’t prepared for the ‘40s in the south and the prominent discrimination.
A Jew himself, he was deeply disturbed when driving past a sign that said “No blacks//No Jews//No dogs” on it outside of a restaurant one day.
“I couldn’t fight the war in the south,” Moskin said.
He said he didn’t understand how, while they were all there to fight the Nazi enemies because of their discrimination and wrong doing, there could be the same kind of discrimination in his own unit.
While discussing combat, Moskin said it should never be glorified.
“If you think there’s anything macho or heroic about killing in combat, it is not,” he said.
He went on to tell a story of catching the arm of a solider that flew over his head in combat. Moskin found out it was one of his buddies.
A couple weeks later, he said he watched his best friend die right in front of him, asking him for help, but Moskin was unable to give any.
“Any solider who said he isn’t scared is a liar, jackass, or both,” Moskin said.
He went on to discuss how he had to kill a young Nazi soldier and afterwards, found a picture of the boys family in his helmet.
“You don’t forget stuff like that,” he said. “The fact that I killed this young soldier was something I still think about and always have. I followed order and didn’t enjoy a single minute of it.”
Moskin didn’t talk to anyone about what he saw or experienced while serving for fifty years after the war because he didn’t want to bring back the frightening nightmares.
“[If you want an idea what combat is like] watch the first 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’. He said he doesn’t know how [Steven] Spielberg did it. I left with the willies.”
Next, he discussed how his unit discovered the concentration camp.
In May 1945, they met up with soldiers from the British Air Force who asked Moskin’s unit if they had heard rumors of a camp for Jews a couple miles away. His unit was shocked, having heard about any camps as the majority of lower rank soldiers were unaware at that time.
“We started walking through the forest and then the worst smell hit us. It was one of those smells that sink into your skin and cloud your mind,” Moskin said.
Walking forward, they then saw a fence with barbed wire and realized they must have hit the Austrian concentration camp.
“On the left there was a pile of skeleton-like bodies and same on the right,” he said. “They visually looked like zombies with hardly any hair, terrible stench, sores, and many were chanting prayers in a dialect they couldn’t understand.”
He said many were crawling or laying down, he couldn’t distinguish men from women and if they had clothing, it was tattered, stripped pajamas.
“I remember seeing many backing up like they were frightened,” Moskin said.
It wasn’t until he said “I’m also a Jew” in German that they stopped being frightened by them. A man came up to him, went to kiss his boots, and when Moskin picked him up off the ground, the man engulfed him in a hug where Moskin was face to face with the open, infected sores all along the man’s neck.
“He just kept saying thank you over and over again,” he said.
After going inside the camp and seeing the piles of dead and dying everywhere, he ran out in a panic, calling for the medics, were all at a loss for words.
“This young fellow made eye contact with me mumbling ‘Why did they do this to me? I’m a good person, I didn’t do anything, why did they do this to me?’ over and over before bending his head down and dying,” Moskin said. “No one should die like that.”
He said the Holocaust wasn’t just a crime against the Jewish, but against decency. After the war, thousands of camps were found and each story was worse than the next.
“It’s so hard to describe the bestiality of what I witnessed. It left a mark on my heart and soul.”
He said he is still dumbfounded as to how the free world could let something like this happen.
After the war ended, he went back to Syracuse University and got a law degree. He also attended the Nazi trials and learned about the inhumane treatment of the camp prisoners.
“In memory of all those poor people brutally dehumanized, slaughtered and murdered without any reason, we can never forget the Holocaust,” he said.
Moskin ended by saying there is still so much hate and discrimination in our world, with almost 1,000 hate groups in the U.S. alone.
“I want all you young people to speak up and speak out,” Moskin said. “Indifference is the same as consent. Inaction is the same as consent.”
He then said that our generation will be the last to hear from survivors before they’re gone.
“We’ll be gone once you have children so you have to tell them about the truth,” he said.
Moskin said he’ll never be able to forget the living hell and the horror.
“The 71st left a mark on me,” he said. “I don’t dwell or I would be messed up more. I can’t forget and I don’t want anyone else to ever forget.”
Moskin plans to continue speaking wherever asked until he’s physically unable and hopes our generation share the truth shared today.
“Hopefully, God willing, your generation and future generations will finally get rid of all this hate, prejudice, and bigotry,” Moskin said. “You make sure the hell and horror of May 4, 1945, never ever happens again. Never again, never again, never again.”