SEBASTIAN – Alex Moskovic was 13 years old when his family was rounded up in Hungary and shuttled off to a Jewish ghetto near the end of the World War II. Eight weeks later they were packed onto a train, which took them to what he calls an “extermination camp.”
The actions of one Jewish prisoner, who did the “dirty work” for the Nazis saved Moskovic’s life, he told a room filled with more than 100 eighth graders at Sebastian River Middle School.
That one prisoner’s actions that one day kept the young teen from being shepherded to the left – to the gas chamber. Instead, he pulled Moskovic away from his mother and led him to his father and older brother, who had been channeled to the right – to the selection area.
In Yiddish, the prisoner spoke to Moskovic.
“Anyone asks, you are 16 years old,” the man told him, repeating it several times on the way to Moskovic’s father.
“It makes the hair on my neck stand on end,” said Jack Hodge, 8th grade social studies department chair, noting that every year of the last 10, Moskovic has recounted his tale, each time making the hair rise.
“We really treasure him,” Hodge said of the Hobe Sound, Fla., resident.
During the Holocaust, Nazis decided they did not have any need for the young or the mothers who clung to them in what they called labor camps. Those under 16, over about 40, and women who traveled with children were often culled from the group under the pretense of getting a shower.
Instead of a shower, they were gassed.
It was a lesson the Sebastian River Middle School students learned Thursday as part of activities leading up to Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 2.
Only a select group of students got to hear from 80-year-old Moskovic, who had spent 16 months at Birkenau, part of the more widely known Auschwitz concentration camp, before liberation forces rescued him and his fellow prisoners.
Recounting his story, “it takes a toll,” said Moskovic as tears welled in his eyes. He comes back to the school each year to pass on his story in the hope that others will remember, “so these things shall not repeat themselves again.”
“If people like I don’t do it, who will do it?” Moskovic rhetorically asked when questioned about why he puts himself through the pain of reliving those events. “Someone has to.”
Moskovic is one of the younger survivors of the Holocaust – many who were older than he, many who had risked their lives to save others have already passed away.
Moskovic’s story was but one part of the Holocaust event at the school Thursday.
Actress-educator Campbell Echols told the students of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl who was about their age when her family was captured and sent to concentration camps.
Echols told the audience that she was just 16 when she played the role of Anne Frank in a production. It was that performance that piqued her interest in Frank and the Holocaust.
“It changed my life,” she said.
For her, it became obvious that she had to help spread Frank’s story, help others understand the horror of what happened to not only the 6 million Jews who were killed, but the other 5 million non-Jews who were also killed just for being different.
Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, suspected political prisoners and those who opposed the politics of the time were all targeted.
“You guys are the carriers of the truth,” Echols told the students.
Matched with period news reels and other video, Echols played the role of a fictional friend of Frank – a composite of the teen’s diary, of witnesses and those who knew Frank and what happened to her once her family was taken.
Frank died just 14 days before her camp was liberated. Her father was the only known survivor.
“Being Jewish meant that you were not part of the ‘master race.’ You were subhuman and an enemy of the state,” Echols told the students.
The program, which combines acting, historical footage and live interaction is called “Through the Eyes of a Friend” and was brought to Sebastian Middle School through a grant provided by the League for Educational Awareness of the Holocaust, a nonprofit devoted to teaching about the Holocaust and other genocides.
Echols asked the students if they knew how many races there are around the world.
“One,” she said, affirming the answer from one of the students. “Human.”