Ed Mosberg can still recall the horrors he witnessed as a teenager, when the Nazis began killing Jews in the ghetto of his Polish hometown, Cracow.
“They assembled all the invalids and took away their crutches and their canes and said, ‘If you can cross the square, you are safe.’ Those poor people were on their hands and knees crawling, and when they were too slow, the Nazis shot them. It was like a game to them,” he recalled 67 years later in an interview at the NJ Jewish News office.
When Mosberg and his family returned to Poland last month, they went not just to resurrect bitter memories but to celebrate something positive and proud — the bar mitzva of Mosberg’s grandson, Zachary Karger.
They brought along a Polish Torah scroll that had once been confiscated by the Nazis. It is one of more than a dozen Mosberg has purchased since the end of the war and donated to New Jersey synagogues and day schools.
After incarceration in the Plaszow and Mauthausen concentration camps, he became the sole survivor among three generations of his family. He went on to build a successful real estate business in New Jersey.
The Union resident has remained determined to gather memorabilia salvaged from the ashes of the Holocaust as grim reminders of genocide and survival.
One such reminder came two days before Zachary’s bar mitzva, when vandals painted swastikas and stars of David on a memorial plaque outside the camp at Plaszow. The act of defamation drew the attention of Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwusz, the archbishop of Cracow.
“He came in and apologized to the Jewish people and the Polish people,” said Mosberg. “I don’t say the monument was defaced by anti-Semites. They were hooligans. They did not know what they were doing. They make a bad name for the Polish nation.”
A day later, his grandson recited Kaddish for those who died 67 years earlier as some 500 people — Jews and non-Jews alike — gathered in the rain to share the moment of remembrance.
Then, on March 15, friends, family members, and diplomats from Poland, Germany, and Israel gathered at Cracow’s 150-year-old Tempel Synagogue for the bar mitzva.
As a Holocaust survivor and philanthropist determined to preserve history and remind family members of his personal past, Mosberg returns frequently to his Polish birthplace and often endows memorials to those who have perished.
The synagogue building has been totally restored since its desecration during the Nazi era.
“During the war it was used as a stable,” Mosberg recalled. “When I walked into the synagogue in 1945 I almost died. The stink was unbelievable.”
“His bar mitzva was wonderful,” said Zachary’s mother, Caroline, as she sat beside her father, leafing through stacks of photographs of the family trip to Poland. “He made us very proud, and he was very proud of himself. He came back here and told everyone in school about it.”
Zachary and his younger brother, Matthew, are students at the Nathan Bohrer-Abraham Kaufman Hebrew Academy of Morris County in Randolph; their 15-year-old sister, Jordana, attends the Morristown-Beard School.
Matthew’s 13th birthday is more than two years away, and he is already eager for equal time.
He, too, wants to become a bar mitzva in Cracow; his grandfather said he will be happy to oblige.
“Why not?” said Mosberg.