Forgive 93-year-old Ed Mosberg if he has no patience with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent statements referring to immigrant internment centers on the southern border as concentration camps.
Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y., Dist. 14) ignited the Holocaust survivor’s anger on June 18, when the progressive freshman member of Congress, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens, posted a video on Instagram in which she stated: “The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border, and that is exactly what they are — they are concentration camps.”
Ocasio-Cortez “should receive the Nobel Prize for stupid,” Mosberg told NJJN. “She has to remember one key thing: These people [in the internment camps] came [to the United States] of their own free will. Nobody forced them to go there. These are not extermination camps. To compare them is an insult.”
Mosberg, a Morris Plains resident, who plans to place a full-page ad in The New York Times emphasizing his perspective, said he would like to talk to Ocasio-Cortez and offer her a tour of the sites of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mauthausen, and Majdanek concentration camps through From the Depths, the nonprofit foundation of which he is president. On its website its tagline says, “Connecting with the Past to build the Future.”
Earlier this week, Mosberg suggested Ocasio-Cortez ought to be removed from Congress, but he seems to have shifted his focus to a strategy of offering to help her understand why he feels her comparison was so objectionable.
“I would like to take her to the camps, maybe to Mauthausen and the ‘Stairs of Death’”— where prisoners were forced to carry large stones up the 186 steps — “and the ‘parachute jump’ on top and let her look down,” said Mosberg. “I was forced to go up and down those steps with boulders several times a day.”
If she sees for herself the sites of such atrocities, said Mosberg, “maybe then she will understand and be a better person. I want to do this with her because I feel this is the right thing.”
Despite several fellow members of Congress urging her to accept Mosberg’s offer, Ocasio-Cortez declined. Her office issued a statement saying she knows the difference between the immigrant internment camps and Nazi death camps, and informed NJJN she was unavailable to comment for this story.
Mosberg has made dozens of trips back to his native Poland and the camps where he was interned. “I lost my whole family in the Holocaust, and I feel it is my duty to tell about it and keep the record straight as long as I live.”
Mosberg’s home, where he lives with his wife, Cecile, who just turned 92, is a virtual museum dedicated to the Holocaust and his survival. Using his own funds, he has acquired hundreds of Jewish artifacts from the era, along with several pieces of Nazi memorabilia.
Mosberg lost his entire family in the Shoah and survived imprisonment in the Plaszow and Mauthausen concentration camps. He met Cecile, herself an Auschwitz survivor, in Italy after the war, after recovering from a serious bout of tuberculosis in a sanitarium. The couple were married in Belgium in 1947.
From there they came to the United States from Belgium in 1951 with their 18-month-old daughter Beatrice, who now lives in Baltimore. “I was a wealthy man when I arrived in America,” said Mosberg with a grin. “I had my wife, my life, and my daughter and 10 dollars in my pocket…. I already had faced death many times.”
His family also includes daughters Caroline and Louise, both Morris Plains residents, and six grandchildren.
After working at sewing handbags — which, Mosberg said, paid him “60 cents an hour” — he was hired by Garden Homes, a Short Hills real estate development firm started in 1954 by Holocaust survivor brothers Joseph and Harry Wilf, who became major philanthropists. The company today, run by Leonard, Zygmunt, Mark, Orin, and Jonathan Wilf, has a net worth of $5 billion.
Mosberg found success as a property developer and he built more than 2,000 houses in the Morris Plains area. “I will always be thankful to the Wilfs for helping us build a life after the Holocaust,” Mosberg said. “I still do some work for them. They took us in.”
His experiences of Nazi brutality and brushes with death in the camps have molded the attitude he takes when issues such as the one with Ocasio-Cortez arise.
While he was in Plaszow, a camp that was built on land previously occupied by two Jewish cemeteries in the Cracow area, Mosberg worked for the feared camp commandant Amon Goth, who was hanged for his crimes against humanity in 1946.
“I worked straightening up his office and keeping it in order,” said Mosberg. “I saw him shoot prisoners, saw him hang prisoners. I feared for my life every day.” Mosberg, who attended Goth’s Supreme National Tribunal war crimes trial in Cracow in 1946, said that seeing him on trial brought back painful memories of Plaszow.
Transferred to Mauthausen, in Austria, Mosberg survived the daily climbs up and down the “Stairs of Death” and frequent beatings.
Carrying the stones, he said, “we were in groups of five. If someone dropped a boulder, everyone behind us was crushed. If you stopped for a moment, they either shot you or they pushed you off the cliff to your death. Luckily I was still fairly strong.”
The abuse — Mosberg has a typical club among his collection — consisted of being beaten almost unconscious, then having your head stuck in a bucket.
“They beat you, then tried to drown you,” Mosberg explained.
After he was transferred to Linz, he was among several thousand Jews the Nazis planned to seal in caves and use dynamite to bury their captives alive as Allied troops approached. The dynamite failed to ignite and Mosberg was liberated May 5, 1945. He was one of the first Mauthausen survivors to talk to the media six days after that final incident.
Mosberg still carries Polish pride, and was awarded the Polish Order of Merit, the country’s highest civilian distinction, last May 1. And he was upset by a dispute between the larger Jewish community and Chabad over synagogue rent in Cracow this past week.
“We don’t need Jews against Jews in Cracow in front of a synagogue. I am looking into this with the Polish consul,” he said.
He also discussed his views regarding German responsibility for the Holocaust with Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 in Israel.
After the Holocaust he found out his mother was murdered in Auschwitz and his two sisters were among 7,000 women shot on the Baltic Sea coast, their bodies thrown into the sea.
Then he contracted tuberculosis in Italy.
“I told Cecile I had nowhere to go, so I am going with you,” Mosberg said.