Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Monday, January 26, 2015

From Holocaust Survival to Happiness

"There was no water system, electricity, nothing. I was always barefoot [in 1940s Konus, Hungary]. If a car came into town, that was like a national holiday. We used to run out of school."
"People used to see bundles of bodies tied together with wires, floating in the rivers."
"My dad and I and my brother went to one side. And my mom and my three young sisters went straight to the gas chambers."
"I remember one day they called everyone to the middle of camp [Auschwitz/Buna work camp] and brought in three people, and hung them that night. One guy stole a piece of bread, another stole an apple. To survive, you had to. We called it organizing, not stealing."
"You didn't care [about death]. You're so desperate, so hungry, you don't focus on human beings. You're an animal."
"I had my number, 6024, and that's all I knew. You could have called my name, I wouldn't have answered you."
"When you were marching on the death march, you could hear shooting continuously. People who couldn't walk anymore, they shot them. Bang, bang, bang, bang -- continuously, you see?"
"I was sitting on top of someone's head [packed open freight cars]. People were starving, freezing -- it was January. They'd stop the train every so often and pull all the dead bodies out."
"[Buchenwald] was worse than Auschwitz. In Auschwitz, at least I went to work. In Buchenwald, you went there to die."
"[On April 22, 1945 came the Americans] All the guards were gone. You always thought that the Germans were coming back. You were so scared of everything."
David Moskovic, Holocaust survivor, Ottawa, Canada
David Moskovic is seen with his only surviving sibling, his sister Edith, who now lives in Florida.     Courtesy Joy Moskovic
David Moskovic's memory reaches back to the early summer of 1944 when, transported with his family to the Auschwitz death camp he recalls a smokestack and foul-smelling smoke blackening the sky; nearby a mountain of clothing and shoes. "But nobody knew what it was." Now, 85, he was fourteen when he was introduced to the world outside of his rural village, a farming community, now located in Slovakia. Even there his family heard of dreadful misfortunes of European Jews, and then his family was swept toward that wholesale misfortune.

This was when the infamous Adolph Eichmann, tasked as a major Nazi Final Solution organizer, began rounding Jews up in the provinces of Hungary. Rattling trains of cattle cars duly delivered 12,000 Jews on a daily basis to Auschwitz. Germany and its Axis supporters might have been fighting a war on the world stage against the Allied forces, but it viewed Hitler's dream of exterminating the world's Jews as too important to be neglected, so energy was not spared to fulfill that obligation, diverting troops and transport to the vital task.

On the day the town crier in Mr. Moskovic's sleepy little town ordered that all Jewish residents must assemble the following morning, he, his parents, his brother and sisters were placed in a cattle car with standing room only for the two-day trip to the death camp; no toilet facilities, but then no food or water either. On entering the camp gates SS guards separated the arrivals; women with children, the elderly and most girls to the left, men and youth to the right.

Moskovic, like others detailed to work as slave labourers to IG Farben -- still a German chemical colossus in Germany -- were taught various labour skills. He was taught how to lay bricks and was expected to work toward building a factory -- which American or Russian bombers would regularly bomb to rubble. "The whole world was shaking. When it stopped, it was back to work."  Those were twelve-hour workdays where the workers were fed a typical Auschwitz diet of 700 calories daily mostly comprised of stale bread heels and watery 'soup' absent nutrients.

The Buna camp inmate life expectancy was about three months on average. Workers considered too ill or too weak to work were liberated from their tasks, sent to the Birkenau gas chambers. Finally, in January of 1945 as the Soviet army began to close in, the Nazi command ordered 58,000 prisoners to be evacuated from Auschwitz on a forced march, one of which Mr. Moskovic and his father survived. They weren't called "death marches" for no reason; any who fell or became ill on the move were summarily executed.

After several days of marching they were once again on a train, this time to be taken to a concentration camp close by Weimar in Germany. Eventually American troops drew near to Buchenwald and the SS began killing prisoners; 500 or a thousand prisoners taken outside the fence by guards, forced to dig their own graves, then shot to death, to fall into the ready graves. David Moskovic survived this ordeal as well, managing to evade being called into a death group, by subterfuge.

When the Americans did arrive, he and the several thousand left in the camp were liberated, and he returned to his home village, hoping to find family members there. One day one of his sisters arrived. Before reaching the gas chamber his sister Edith had spontaneously been helped by several Slovak women who took her from the line to hide her under the linen they were handing out. They had been tasked to hand towels to victims informed they were headed to showers, to wash, not to be gassed by the deadly Zyklone B.

In 1950, David Moskovic applied to emigrate to Canada. There he found work as a plumber's apprentice. Preparing, among other apprentices to write a test to attain their master plumber's licences, a friend informed him that the city of Ottawa's then chief inspector had said: "There's a Jew coming through ... let's skin him alive." "A free country, with all the freedom in the world, and that's what happens to you in Ottawa!", he said wonderingly. "Would you ever believe it?"

Eventually he married, after starting his own company, General Plumbing and Heating. He and his wife had three children. "I used to drive down the Queensway and I didn't feel the tires touching the road. Life was terrific." He had moved beyond his soul-scathing experience in Europe. "Many people live that camp life till they die. I'm not one of them. I never fell into that horrible stuff. I became a Canadian boy, a good citizen, and I never looked back. I've had a good life and I never think about the camp."

"My life is so good that every day I get up and say thank God of another beautiful day. Every day's a gift. I'm a happy person." This speaks to the resilience of the individual, that hope was never lost despite horrendously brutal and tragic conditions imposed on men and women and children by the atrocious genocidal ideology of a vicious totalitarian government. It speaks also of the sad universality of anti-Semitism. But above all it speaks of human condition and the will to survive.

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