By Hayley Siegle
There are very few witnesses to the Holocaust left, which is why I keep speaking about it. Now it is time to hear us, because in just a few years, we will all be gone.
These were the wise and sincere words of one our heroes, one who we cannot honor enough. This man is Alan Moskin, a World War II U.S. Army veteran and concentration camp liberator, who served from September, 1944 until August, 1946 as a member of the 66th Infantry, 71st Division, a part of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Moskin was born May 30, 1926 in Englewood, New Jersey, where he remained throughout his childhood. He attended Syracuse University both before and after his military service in WWII and then attended New York University Law School, from which he became a practicing civil trial attorney in New Jersey. Currently, Moskin resides in Nanuet, New York and travels the country sharing his experiences as an infantry combat soldier and concentration camp liberator.
The students and faculty of Byram Hills High School had the privilege of hearing the haunting stories and wise wisdom of Mr. Alan Moskin just a few weeks ago. Moskin spoke about his memories from the war (and did not sugar coat the details at all). He wanted the students to hear what war was really like. While you will never truly know what it feels like to be in war without being there, Moskin made it all seem so real for the students. He told stories of his fellow infantry members, best friends, and brothers getting injured and dying. He told of the day in which he liberated Gunskirchen, a concentration camp. These stories are amongst those that the audience members will never forget.
Moskin explained that when he arrived at the concentration camp, he saw barbed wire fences. There was a horrific stench and frail, emaciated humans – some with infected wounds – amongst piles and piles of bones and skeletons. Moskin said that when he and his fellow soldiers arrived at the camp, they tried as quickly as they could to hand out their rations to the people. However, these people had been deprived of food for so long that they could not eat the solid food and started choking as it got caught in their throats. Additionally, there was not nearly enough food to distribute to all of the people. Another thing Moskin noted was that many of the men in the camps scavenged on the nicotine of cigarettes. He explained that when men were given the cigarettes they would not smoke them but would rather unroll them, getting every last bit of nicotine from the wrapping of the cigarettes.
Just as we are still asking today “why did this happen,” or “what did these Jews and innocent people do to deserve this cruel treatment,” the people held in the concentration camps asked themselves these same questions. One of the men that Moskin encountered in the concentration camp began talking to Moskin. The man was so frail and weak that he could barely stand, and Moskin was trying to do everything in his power to help him. Finally, the man uttered out a few words, those perhaps of a different language than what Moskin spoke, yet Moskin was able to make out something along the lines of “Why me?” Moskin had no answer and was left speechless, just as we are today.
Another large component of Moskin’s presentation was telling of the brotherhood that developed among him and the other fellows of his infantry. These men had become his brothers and each and every one of them were willing to put themselves in the line of fire before one another. One story that really struck me was when Moskin described how he was in battle, alongside his friend, when all of a sudden he felt something hit his head. It was the limb of his friend who was no longer standing right beside him, yet Moskin could not stop fighting, despite his desire to go tend to his fellow soldier, his best friend, his brother.
Moskin’s story had some audience members in tears, for it was so surreal to hear the experiences that he had. While we know of World War II and the Holocaust as our history textbooks explain, it is not quite the same as hearing someone personally tell of these stories that are perhaps left out of textbooks and readings, or rather sugarcoated.
Although cliché, many will say that history repeats itself and this is exactly why it is so important to speak with those who are still with us from WWII, so that we prevent another horrific genocide from occurring. Unfortunately, as we get further and further away from WWII, there are fewer individuals still around to tell of their stories and experiences. This is why Moskin began speaking of his time in the Army. He said that initially he was silent about discussing the war because he just did not want to bring back the memories he had. However, he soon realized the impact that speaking about these experiences could have on others, and ever since has been speaking to thousands of people throughout the nation.
Sophomore Samantha Krevolin explained, “Being able to hear true stories from a WWII veteran was an amazing experience. I think it is especially important for kids and those in younger generations to learn about what happened since WWII was such a tragic event.” Furthermore, she added that Moskin really made the stories he told to the audience clear and graphic so the audience could gain an accurate depiction of war and would therefore gain a whole new perspective. Also a sophomore, Isabelle Ilan reflected, “Listening to the speaker was an incredible and moving experience. He did not shy away from truly expressing the depths to how his experiences affected him and did not sugarcoat the raw truth.”
Moskin truly gave an amazing presentation that will have a long-lasting impact on the young adults he spoke to. The Byram Hills community was extremely lucky to hear from Moskin and from this we will only continue to make our community a more accepting and welcoming environment.