“Acceptance is key”
Buchenwald survivor Alex Moskovic wants to remember. “I would like to share my experiences with others and stand up for acceptance and respect,” said the American. To that end, he and his son Steven are making a documentary film, which brought them to the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen on April 7, 2010, his 79th birthday. The archive contains numerous documents on his family´s fate. Moskovic then traveled to the Buchenwald memorial to attend the ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of its liberation.
Alex Moskovic was one of 904 child and adolescent survivors of Buchenwald concentration camp. “The documentation should especially show what has become of the other Buchenwald children and what they have achieved,” said Moskovic. “We have become good and productive citizens,” he added with a little pride. They defied psychiatrists´ negative prognoses after the end of the Second World War which had doubted their ability to integrate into a civil society. “We knew very little when we were liberated. We only had our lives in the camp, no school, no education,” reported Moskovic. “But we wanted to go on.”
Moskovic was born in 1931 in Sobrance, which was Czechoslovakia until 1939, subsequently occupied by Hungary and today Slovakia. The Jewish family led a normal life until the German invasion in spring 1944, as Moskovic describes it from a 13-year old point of view. His father owned a small store. “But then we were told we were being ‘resettled’,” Moskovic remembers. “Everyone was allowed to pack exactly one bag. We didn´t know where we were going.”
The family was first deported to a ghetto for eight weeks. In May 1944 they were sent to Auschwitz in a cattle car. Alex lined up next to his mother upon arrival and for the immediate selection until an older male prisoner pulled him over to be with the men. “Always remember to say that you are 16 years old,” the man hissed at him, ultimately saving his life. His grandmother and younger brother were murdered and he never saw his mother again. Alex was separated from his father and older brother.
The SS confined the boys to a block with other children. They were only allowed out during the day while older prisoners were doing forced labor. The children heard rumors about medical experiments, which Alex was shielded from. One day he had prisoner number B-14662 tattooed on his arm and was assigned to a work commando. “I was in the so-called ‘Shit Commando’ with 13 other boys,” reported Moskovic. Among other duties they were responsible for cleaning the kitchens, which significantly improved Alex´s chances of survival.
He was forced to join the death march to Gleiwitz at the end of January 1945 as the Russian Army approached. “We heard the gunfire,” said Moskovic. “We ate snow to quench our thirst.” After 8 months of terror and uncertainty, Alex glimpsed his older brother and father at the railway station, where they were to be sent to Buchenwald. “We approached each other wordlessly and hugged and cried. We had so much to say to each other but only repeated our names over and over again. It was incredible.”
The three managed to stay together for a time. However, Alex´s father Josef grew weak at Buchenwald and died on February 9, 1945. A Kapo smuggled Alex and his brother Zoltan into Block 66 which was created and maintained by the Communist resistance within the camp to save Jewish youth. The Communists organized extra rations and arranged for transfers to the sick barracks in times of danger. Nevertheless Zoltan, who was 2 years older than Alex, had to join another death march.
After the US Army liberated the camp on April 11, 1945, Alex spent 6 weeks in a hospital bed regaining his strength. He weighed a mere 32 kilograms (just over 70 lbs). He then returned to his hometown. “Our family had planned to meet there when it was all over,” reported Alex. He waited several months but no one returned. Alex was the sole survivor. An uncle brought him to the USA in July 1946.
In his new home, Moskovic went to school, married, had two children and worked at ABC Sports television for 30 years. The next time he set foot on German soil was to cover the 1972 Olympics in Munich, where he witnessed the Palestinian terrorist attack on the Israeli team. “I had to deal with the situation as a professional,” Alex explained. “Luckily I didn´t have much time to think.”
The American embarked on what he refers to as his “second career” in 1994 in Florida. He began to speak to students about his terrible memories of his lost youth and the time he had spent in the camp. “People have to know what happened. I want to make sure that something like this never happens again,” said Moskovic. He feels that the keyword is not “tolerance”, as this implies a distance to others. “‘Acceptance’ is the right word for me.” Children should learn early in life not to exclude others based on their skin color, religion, income level or clothing.”