The date May 4th, 1945 will forever be etched in their memories, and now it will be forever etched in ours. That fateful day toward the end of World War II was the day that American soldiers liberated Gunskirchen Lager, a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. This past March 13, my sisters and I were privileged to attend a “reunion of sorts” between our father Joseph Rosenfeld, an 82 year old Gunskirchen survivor, and Alan Moskin, an 87 year old Jewish World War II Veteran who took part in the liberation of Gunskirchen.
Joseph Rosenfeld, 15 years old at the time of his liberation, met up with Alan Moskin, 68 years after the event, in a little bagel store in Rockland County, New York. It was an emotional meeting for all who attended, as we listened in awe to the events they recounted as teenagers from different sides of a world that had been turned upside down.
Joseph Rosenfeld, the former inmate of Gunskirchen, came to the U.S. after WWII and was promptly inducted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After recently sending a donation to the Jewish War Veterans Association, the Rosenfelds received a copy of their annual calendar. Attached to the November listing was a profile on Mr. Alan Moskin, veteran of WWII, born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey. The article related the story of Mr. Moskin’s participation in the liberation of Gunskirchen as a soldier in the 71st Division of the American Army. Mr. Rosenfeld, as most of the inmates of Gunskirchen, was at death’s door on that fateful day. Typhus, lice, skin ulcers and devastating starvation had affected all of them. They had suffered through torture and death marches, as the Nazis tried to cover their tracks before the Americans moved in. And most of the events of that day remained a blur to him. When Mr. Rosenfeld saw the profile of Mr. Moskin, he strongly desired to meet his liberator and express gratitude.
After contacting the Jewish War Veterans, a chain of events was set into motion that led to their ultimate reunion. The two hit it off immediately and spoke of being at two different ends of the same event. Mr. Moskin, then age 18, relayed the horror of what he had experienced. He said that American soldiers were completely taken by surprise, not having a hint of the existence of these camps, nor the conditions of their inmates. To this day, he said, he was haunted by the overwhelming stench and misery of the barely recognizable people he saw in the camps. He spoke of being approached and kissed by living skeletons covered with lice and sores. He recalled, that despite the fact that he didn’t know a word of German or Yiddish, the words “Ich been a Yid” spontaneously escaped his lips in solidarity with his suffering brethren. For 50 years, Mr. Moskin said that he could not speak of his experiences and suffered with symptoms that he now recognizes were most likely due to post traumatic stress disorder.
Mr. Rosenfeld, in turn related to Mr. Moskin the miraculous series of events through which he and his entire immediate family had survived the war. A mere teenager of 13, when war came to his native Hungary, Joseph, his four brothers and parents were en route to the infamous Auschwitz death camp when a bridge leading to the camps was bombed by Polish partisans. Unable to send their prisoners to Auschwitz the Germans rerouted the Rosenfeld family to labor camps. Two older brothers Zelig and Marty were sent to the front to dig ditches for the German defensive line. Joseph, Moshe, and Abraham, along with their parents were sent to Vienna to clear rubble and body parts strewn on the streets. Later he and part of his family were forced to march 200 kilometers in the dead of winter from Vienna to Mauthausen without food, water, or proper clothes and footwear. Mr. Rosenfeld told Mr. Moskin how he had left the line in desperation to pick up a snail on the side of the road to eat. A German guard observing the scene shot the fifteen-year-old boy in the wrist. Due to the ingenuity of his mother who found some rags and wrapped the hand in garlic for lack of a better antiseptic, Joseph was able to live to see the Liberation and receive proper medical attention. As the Germans prepared for their final extermination, the two older brothers were ultimately sent to Mauthausen as well. Through word of mouth, Joseph and his mother located the brothers who were shells of their former selves and on the verge of death. They were nursed back to health with smuggled sugar cubes that their mother had sewn into hidden pockets in the hems of Joseph’s tattered pants.