Ninety-two-year-old Alan Moskin surveyed the eighth graders filling John Jay Middle School’s auditorium from behind the podium.
“Let’s get some ground rules in place,” he began. “Sit up straight. If you yawn, cover your mouth. What I’m going to tell you deserves your respect."
Students shifted in their seats.
“I wear this cap whenever I speak,” said Moskin, referring to his blue cap which displayed the words 71st Infantry Division, WWII. “It makes me feel connected to my buddies who never made it home."
Through vivid stories, Moskin told students about losing friends in combat through France, Germany, and Austria, and an encounter with the venomous hate of Hitler Youth. He also told them about walking through the forest and stumbling on the Gunskirchen Concentration Camp.
"It was the most horrific site I’ve ever witnessed," said Moskin. "There was a pile of skeletons to my right and to my left—but they were still alive. I couldn’t distinguish male from female. I thought to myself, what is going on here?”
"My lieutenant knew I was Jewish," continued Moskin. "He told me to say something. I said, 'Ich bin auch ein Jude.' 'I am also a Jew.'"
The prisoners smiled and said, “Danke.” An elderly man wanted to kiss his boots. Moskin cried.
“This is the hard part for me—but I tell myself I have to do it,” he continued. “Sully, Rich. Toby. Sanders. Mitch. . . “ He recited the names of the 71st Infantry who died in the war.
“I bear witness and I want you to bear witness for me when I’m gone," said Moskin. "Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
“I’m an upstander and I want you to be an upstander,” concluded Moskin. “If friends are using derogatory terms about people, tell them to knock it off. It starts with you."