BY CHERYL SLAVIN
Just prior to its regular session last Wednesday, the Rockland County Legislature held a brief but moving ceremony to honor Rockland resident and army veteran Alan Moskin for his service during World War II. During the ceremony Moskin, whose unit helped liberate the Gunskirchen death camp in Austria, met Legislator Aron Weider’s grandmother—a Gunskirchen survivor— for the first time since the liberation.
“I was completely surprised!” Moskin later told the Rockland County Times. “I had no idea that when John Murphy asked me to attend the session that this would happen!”
Introducing Moskin, Legislator John Murphy told the audience that the veteran had shipped out to Europe from Camp Shanks in Orangeburg in early 1945. Moskin served as a 71st Division infantryman with the storied Third Army under General George Patton. In May 1945, just days before the end of the war, Moskin’s unit came upon the Gunskirchen Lager (Camp) and freed the survivors.
Legislator Aron Weider picked up the story from his grandmother’s point of view. She was only a teenager during the war, and had been sent to the Mauthausen death camp. From there, she and her remaining family members were forced into a death march over 125 miles to Gunskirchen. Many of her family did not survive, but she was still alive when the 71st Division entered the gates that May day. “If it were not for Mr. Moskin and his company,” Weider said simply, “I would not be here today.”
Murphy, Weider and Chairwoman Harriet Cornell then presented Moskin with a certificate in honor of his service. Moskin thanked them, adding:
“I was the youngest of my unit when we shipped out to war, and now I’m 87, only one of two members of my unit still alive. There are very few witnesses to the Holocaust left, which is why I keep speaking about it. Now is the time to hear us, because in just a few years, we will all be gone.”
At that point, Weider’s grandmother joined the group at the podium. This was the first time that the liberator and the survivor had met since 1945. Face beaming, she could only repeat thank you, over and over. “I was just a girl,” she said, “and you saved my life.”
“Whenever I meet Gunskirchen survivors,” Moskin said later, “there is always a bond. All I wanted to do was to hug her.”
Alan Moskin has lived in Rockland County since the late ‘70s, but he has only started speaking about his experiences since 1995. Before then, it was simply too painful.
“Before we got to Gunskirchen, we, the soldiers, had no idea there was anything like those camps in existence. The horror when we saw the survivors, like broomsticks with no flesh, and the smell, the stench of that place, was unlike anything we could ever have imagined. The memories of it will always be with me, which is why I talk about it now, because it is so important for people to know that this evil did happen and to make sure it never happens again.”
A retired attorney, Moskin now speaks regularly at schools and other public forums from New York to Florida about his wartime experiences. He remains an active, and cherished, member of the Rockland community.