|Pesia Feder, left, was three when Gunskirchen was liberated. From her left, son Levi Feder, Alan Moskin, a Gunskirchen liberator, museum Executive Director Tanja Sarett, Zishe Feder, and Miriam Leimzider.|
Sixty-seven years ago, Alan Moskin, and Miriam Leimzider stood in the depths of hell in the Gunskirchen Concentration Camp in Austria.
Neither was aware the other was present. One experienced Gunskirchen as an inmate; the other had just marched in as a liberator. Neither will ever forget.
Moskin – who speaks widely about his experience as a young American soldier entering the camp – was mentioned recently in the New Square newspaper Jewish Community Connections. Leimzider saw the article and connected Moskin to the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley, through which Moskin does much of his educational work about what he saw at Gunskirchen.
The two met, along with Pesia Feder, who was 3, when Gunskirchen was liberated, along with family members. They joined with other survivors at the beginning of the museum’s ongoing CafÃ© Europa program.
“Miriam saw an article and connected Alan to us,” wrote museum Executive Director in an email. “They met with Alan…It was very moving and special. The whole family miraculously survived. They came from Hungary, and instead of being transported to Auschwitz, ended up in Austria. It is an unbelievable story.”
Leimzider was only 10 at the time, but tall for her age. She was able to pass for 13, working in construction in Vienna. repairing terracotta roof tiles that had been damaged in bombing. The children laborers’ job was to toss the tiles up each flight of stairs to the next child who would catch it. They had little food and constant fear, so she preferred to work at street level, even though it was cold, because there she could beg for food.
She and family members were marched to the Mathausen Concentration Camp, and then on to Gunskirchen, a sub-camp meant to hold a few hundred, but instead was teeming with thousands.
On May 4, 1945, the United States 71st Infantry arrived. Leimzider was in the barracks when she heard someone running around screaming, “We are liberated, we are liberated,” in German.
“Someone said, ‘Don’t go out, it might be a ruse.’ Then we saw the American soldiers in the doorway, and my mother said, ‘You can get up.’
“I started to cry,” Leimzider said. “It’s true, it’s true.”
Moskin was one of those soldiers. Only 18 at the time, what he saw and smelled were seared in his brain forever.
“They looked like death walking, skeletons walking, everywhere you looked,” he recalled. “There was a foul stench of the dead and the dying. ”
Moskin was not prepared for what he saw and had no idea that such hideous places existed. The things he saw, including three survivors digging into the entrails of a dead horse and eating them, haunted him for years. It was only in 1995 that he began to articulate his memories, eventually becoming a volunteer educator for the Holocaust museum.
Moskin, who lives in New City, has met other Gunskirchen survivors before and it is always a rewarding experience, he said.
“To hear from people that got out of that hellhole, it is amazing,” he said. “How they survived, that they have children of their own and made a life.”
Leimzider’s mother and six siblings survived the camps and post-war typhus. They found her father six months after liberation. The family made aliyah to Israel and eventually Leimzider immigrated to America, settling in Kiryas Joel in Orange County.
Moskin and Leimzider share a common experience that few others can imagine. “I asked him what were you feeling that day, on the other side of the fence?” Leimzider said.
Moskin, 86, for his part, keeps on talking.
“I was scared to bring back the nightmares,” he said of his reluctance to speak of what he saw in Gunskirchen. “But it was a catharsis. All that stuff I was keeping inside me just came out.”