Against Hate: WWII Liberator Alan Moskin Speaks at WMS
By Eugenia Moskowitz
Using turns of phrase from a bygone era that painted a picture of a past that is growing more and more distant yet still relevant, Alan Moskin, 93, unfolded a story at Washingtonville Middle School about a teen jock from Englewood, NJ, who got drafted and was known at basic training in the south as “College Boy.” Coming from a diverse northern neighborhood, he said he discovered racism at boot camp in the south in the early 1940s, even while he fought with his buddies in the infantry overseas and watched them get blown up alongside him.
To a rapt audience of eighth graders and their parents assembled in the auditorium on the evening of Apr. 11, Moskin described how, led by Patton, he fought both Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) and Waffen SS soldiers as a scout in Central Europe and the Rhineland, often killing boys younger than himself, sometimes feeling conflicted about it, and sometimes not. The chaos and horror of war was made apparent in his descriptive retelling of his time in the foxholes, and when he and his unit came upon a concentration camp, something they had never heard about, cloaked in barbed wire and clouded with stench.
Describing the starvation, filth, and misery, he said, “is like trying to describe the indescribable. I do the best I can. It wasn’t just a crime against Jews, but a crime against everything that’s moral and decent, a crime against humanity. It was bestial. How did the civilized world let something like this happen? Damned if I ever got an answer I understood.”
Moskin ended up a lawyer raising two daughters and enjoying grandchildren. He said he started speaking about World War II only 25 years ago, when a persistent representative from the Holocaust Museum in Westchester wouldn’t stop calling him. He finally agreed to speak about his experiences, and said he hasn’t stopped since. Despite his age, he frequently travels across America, and just recently returned from Sweden.
During the Holocaust unit, organized for the past 14 years by eighth grade social studies teacher Rebecca Wetzel, Washingtonville students see and hear liberators like Moskin, survivors such as Trudy Album, and hidden children like Paul Galan, in their classrooms. But with most of these people now in their 90s, the Holocaust Museum has been extensively video recording them and many others, telling their stories so that their experiences and voices are never lost and their stories are preserved for generations to come. Through the internet, students around the country and the world can hear them speak.
“I’ve been around the block,” Moskin concluded, “and in America, be happy for what you got.” He said he was sickened at the hate spewed by ISIS and other groups around the world, even within the United States, wondering what exactly he and his buddies fought and died for. “Maybe the Greatest Generation,” he sadly worried, “didn’t do a great enough job.”
But, at the end of his talk, the round of applause from the audience said otherwise.
CAPTION: “Hate begets hate,” WWII infantryman and concentration camp liberator Alan Moskin said at Washingtonville Middle School on Apr. 11. (Photo by Eugenia Moskowitz)