MONTVILLE, NJ - When discussing the value of the Living Lessons presentations at Lazar Middle School on Wednesday, May 18, eighth grader Katie DeAngelis said it well, “When you are at an all-time low, there is always hope.”
And hope was the theme of many, if not all, of the 50 speakers who spoke at the event.
The Living Lessons program: Voices, Visions and Values occurs at Lazar Middle School every other year which gives students an opportunity to hear speakers on diverse, challenging and touching stories designed for their grade level.
Judy Gothelf, Living Lessons chairperson, and Derek Lynn, Living Lessons co-chairperson, spent over a year preparing for the event.
Gothelf explained, “It is my greatest hope that every child and adult who saw the Living Lessons program will take the messages that were delivered by each one of our 50 speakers and learn and grow from them, learn how to treat others, and learn that despite our differences, we are still all human beings who need to embrace each other and be accepting of those differences. My hope too is that each person gained a better understanding of the fact that no matter the challenges they face in life that they too can work hard to overcome them.”
One of the presenters at the seventh biennial Living Lessons program was Alan Moskin, a World War II (WWII) veteran who participated in the liberation of an Austrian concentration camp.
He is a man who did not mince words when speaking to the students. He said what he meant and meant what he said with conviction and strength. When he described the horrors that he witnessed, the students were paying close attention to his words and his emotions.
He described how his company was sent to liberate the Gunskirchen concentration camp in Austria. He described the stench that came from blocks away; a smell he will never forget. He described the horror of seeing human skeletons piled on the side of the road and living skeletons begging for food and water.
Moskin also said that the troops had no idea that the concentration camps even existed, but he did say that he learned the higher ranks did know about the atrocities.
He could not believe what he saw, and he will never forget what he witnessed.
Moskin told the students that one of his reasons for doing these presentations is since in a few years all of the WWII veterans will be dead, he doesn’t want the students to believe anyone who says to them the holocaust never happened. It did! And he was a witness. Moskin told the students that they will be the ones who will keep the true stories alive.
Moskin began the program by telling a little about himself. He told the students that he grew up in the fourth ward of Engelwood, NJ, where Jews, Catholics, blacks, whites, all happily lived together. He said his mother had a black neighbor that was like a sister to her.
He also said that he was an athlete and his team mates were from all different races and creeds. Moskin did not know prejudice until he was 18 and got drafted into the army and was sent south. Here he and his friends were labeled by some awful words because he had a photo of his high school team hanging behind his bed that included blacks. This was very disturbing to Moskin. He said, “I never heard this nonsense before, and it was tough on me.”
Moskin also told the students that at that time every male at the age of 18 received a draft notice that began with the word “Greetings.”
After receiving the letter, he was to report for a physical even though he was a college student at Syracuse University. There were no college deferments back then. He was immediately drafted into the United States Army.
He described that most northerners never had a gun; most southerners did. In basic training they learned “to kill or be killed.” He received a M1 rifle and was expected to use it, and he did.
He was eventually put on a ship called the Liberty, and he was shipped to Liverpool on a 12 day journey of seasickness and discomfort. He was now part of the Third Army under General George Patton and was sent to Germany.
Moskin described combat in detail emphasizing to the students that combat was like being to hell and back.
His best friend was killed, and he was asked to write his mother living in Michigan a letter. He described it as being one of the hardest things he had to do. After the war, he would visit her, and they became very close.
He explained how he had to kill a Hitler youth. He described the boy as being that blonde hair, blue eyed Arian youth who was only about 14 years old. Inside his helmet was a photo of his mother and father with the words written on it, “We love you, Mom and Dad.” He said, “I killed their son. I killed, but I did not like killing anyone.”
“Hate, Hate, Hate, the Hitler Youth were full of Hate,” he said. He compared it to ISIS saying, “No religion condones this violence. That’s garbage. It is all about Hate.” He continued to say that “hate begets hate.”
He told the students that the movie “Saving Private Ryan” was a good movie to see to understand war.
Moskin described having a lot of guilt. “Why did I make it, and my buddies died?” He said, “I will speak for my buddies who died. I will speak for them now.”
He quoted President John Kennedy. “Mankind must put an end to war or war is going to put an end to mankind.”
Moskin believes no one should be judged by race, creed, sex, sexual orientation, etc. Everyone should be seen as individuals, not as part of a group.
He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Moskin stated, “We are all God’s children. We need to live in peace.”
He told a story of when he went to speak at another school. He told them that they should hug each other and not hate. After his talk, someone came up to him and gave him a big hug. He heard back from the school saying the students founded a new club called “The Hug Don’t Hate Club.”
Moskin also quoted Edmund Burke who said, “Evil prevails when good men fail to act.” He told the students to speak out, get rid of the hate.
He wants the students to bear witness to what he said.
Moskin concluded with, “It is up to your generation to bring peace to the world. We failed. It’s up to you now.”
The following comes directly from the Lazar Living Lessons program booklet:
“Alan Moskin was born in Englewood, NJ, on May 20th, 1926. He attended Syracuse University both before and after his military service in World War II and he graduated in May 1948. He then attended New York University Law School graduating with a J.D. degree in June 1951. He practiced law as a civil trial attorney in New Jersey for over 20 years and subsequently worked in the private business sector until he retired in 1991.
"Alan was drafted into the military service at the age of 18 and served in the U.S. Army from September 1944 until August 1946. He was a member of the 66th Infantry, 71st Division, part of General Patton’s 3rd Army. Alan’s outfit fought in combat through France, Germany, and Austria during which time he was promoted in rank from Private to Staff Sergeant. His company participated in the liberation of the Gunskirchen Concentration Camp, a subcamp of Mauthausen in May of 1945. After the war ended, Alan remained in Europe until June 1946 as a member of the U.S. Army of Occupation.
"Alan currently resides in Nanuet, NY, and has spoken to middle and high school students as well as other groups in NY, NJ, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arkansas, Wyoming, and North and South Carolina sharing his experiences as an infantry combat soldier and a 'concentration camp liberator.' He has done video recordings at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in NYC and at the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education in Rockland County, NY. He has participated in programs at the United States Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, the German School in White Plains, and has been on Russian and Spanish television, CBS radio, and on the documentary “The Jewish Americans” on PBS.
"Alan has two grown daughters and seven grandchildren. He presently serves as a Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Holocaust Museum and Study Center and is also Commander of the Rockland/Orange District Council of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA. In addition, in 2014 Alan was inducted into the New York Senate Veterans Hall of Fame and the following year he was elected by the Veterans Coordinating Council in Rockland County, NY to be the 2016 Veteran of the Year.”