The two groups of children gathered to hear Ed Mosberg speak on March 22 had little previous contact with one another; they attend different schools and, for the most part, have different religious backgrounds. But they will be united — together raising their voices in song — at the Yom Hashoa commemoration at Kean University on April 18, and Mosberg was there to give them more understanding of that event.
Mosberg, who lives in Hillside, was 13 when the Nazis came for him and his family in Cracow, Poland, just a little older than the students in the audience. He told them how his family members were killed, and about his own years of torment in the Plaszow and Mauthausen concentration camps.
“Because of the Nazis, my children have no grandparents, no aunts or uncles,” he told them. Some of the children tucked their chins in, frowning; some shook their heads as if to brush aside such a thought.
“Did you ever try to take revenge?” one boy asked.
“No,” Mosberg replied. “There was nothing we could do. We were totally under their control. Anybody who tried anything was killed.”
The gathering was at PS 12 in the Elmora section of Elizabeth. The choir from the school was scheduled to practice with their counterparts from the Jewish Educational Center Yeshiva in preparation for the Yom Hashoa performance, so their teachers had brought them together in the gym to listen to this slender, dapper man.
On a table in front of him he laid out photos of his lost relatives, coils of barbed wire from a concentration camp, a Nazi whip like one that was used on him, and a striped uniform that was worn by an inmate at a camp. The children fingered the objects with shoulders hunched, tentatively, seemingly horrified and fascinated.
Mosberg even had one boy try swinging the whip, to feel its weight. “There was an SS man who hated blond girls,” he told the children. “He hit them with a leather whip like this to knock out their eyes. He was sentenced to death after the war.” The boy swung once and hurriedly put the whip back down.
“I can’t imagine — it must have been so terrible,” a PS 12 student said, staring hard at their guest.
The JEC children listened just as solemnly, though they have heard such stories before, some from their own grandparents. One of them came up to Mosberg and asked if he remembered the name of the rabbi in his community before the war. Mosberg hesitated and then gave a name. Her face lit up. “He was my great-grandfather,” she said. There was a faint ripple of “wow” from the children clustered around them.
“Was there ever a Nazi who was kind?” a PS 12 girl asked. Mosberg nodded. He said there were some guards who showed glimmers of humanity.
A JEC child asked, “Do you cry every time you think about the war?”
“No,” Mosberg replied. “I cried until I had no more tears.” But he went on to tell them how deep his commitment is to telling and retelling his story, to speak up for all those who died. “As long as I live, it is my obligation,” he said.
He told the children, Jewish and non-Jewish, “Thank you for listening and for not forgetting. Remember. You are the future. The Holocaust will be long ago when you grow up, and I hope that one or two, or more will remember what I’ve told you.”