Originally posted by Peter Cameron, May 10, 217 on Times Tribune
Alan Moskin was a 19-year-old Jewish-American soldier in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army when his division came upon Gunskirchen, a concentration camp in Austria.
Now 90 and speaking to hundreds of students who gathered Tuesday at the 29th annual Teen Symposium on the Holocaust at the Hilton Scranton and Conference Center, the New York man recalled the horrors he encountered there — starving skeletal bodies, both dead and alive, walls of barbed wire and a foul stench that affects him even now.
“‘It’s like the devil himself took a vacation and came up to Gunskirchen,’ he recalled another soldier telling him. “I thought, ‘boy, that’s right on.’ ”
Moskin’s wide-ranging, riveting and graphic speech was just one of several given by speakers who seized the attention of the hundreds of students who came from 28 school districts, including North Pocono, Riverside and Carbondale Area, as well as students from New York and the Lehigh Valley.
Students from school districts including Scranton, Old Forge and Dunmore will attend the second day of the event today.
After the former staff sergeant recounted the U.S. Army’s fight to take back Europe and then the liberation of the concentration camp, the students broke into groups and heard from Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, including Michael Herskovitz. Born in the former Czechoslovakia in 1929, he survived Auschwitz in Poland, the most infamous of all the Nazi concentration camps, before British troops freed him.
Ruth K. Hartz told another group how she and her parents went into hiding in Nazi-occupied France when she was just 4 years old. A family in Southern France hid her parents, but the little girl went to live in a convent where she could blend in with the other children. She recalled the Mother Superior hiding her in a trap door when Nazis came searching for Jewish children. Now living in Philadelphia, Hartz has recounted her story in a book titled “Your Name is Renée.” An older cousin told her to change her name to help her hide from those hunting them.
Public education on the genocide that killed six million Jews and millions of others is mandated by states like New Jersey and “strongly encouraged” in Pennsylvania, according to state law, said Mary Ann Answini, the symposium coordinator and the director of the Holocaust Education Resource Center in Scranton.
The speakers, many in their 80s and 90s, stressed to the teens that they were the last generation who could hear firsthand from those who experienced World War II in Europe and the Nazi genocide of European Jews.
“You are our voices to tell our history to future generations,” Hartz told her group of students.
Stephanie Camacho, a 17-year-old junior from East Stroudsburg High School North, listened to Herskovitz tell his story, which she called moving and inspirational.
“I felt that it was a duty of mine to listen and try to grasp as much as I could from everything they have been saying, because it will be my responsibility and I will have to tell others about what I learned today,” she said. “It wasn’t something that’s made up. It’s actually real and it could happen again.”
The old soldier Moskin, who grew up in a relatively diverse neighborhood in Englewood, New Jersey, also warned the teens about the dangers of hate and prejudice, and urged them to judge other people based on character, never race.
“People are more alike than they are different” he said, paraphrasing the famous poet Maya Angelou.
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