Perspectives: An older man with a faded tattoo

OPINION – I never realized that the word “reverence” could be associated with a tattoo. That was before I met Alex Moskovic.

Alex was a guest on my radio show in connection with a documentary being screened at the DocUtah film festival. He came prepared to discuss his role as a holocaust survivor in the film “Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald.” The documentary features Alex and three other men who return to Buchenwald 65 years after its liberation.

In early 1944, at age 13, Alex Moskovic found himself and his family in the infamous Nazi death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald during WWII. When a guard learned Alex’s age, he was told that he should claim to be 16, no matter what anyone one said. At that time, 16 years of age was the minimum age allowable for forced labor. Those prisoners who were too young or too elderly to work were among the first to be exterminated.

During our interview, Alex described losing forty members of his family along with other friends, neighbors and acquaintances during his captivity. He described how starvation, disease, forced labor, and threats of abuse or death at the hands of camp staff were his constant companions. Prisoners were expected to live on a meager 600 calories a day. Alex was among those who survived the hellish experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele. Alex doesn’t exaggerate when he states that for many occupants of Birkenau the only way out was “through the smokestack.”

The secret to enduring such unthinkable conditions, according to Alex, was to focus on making it through but a single day at a time. But he did survive against nearly impossible odds.

Hearing Alex’s story firsthand is an eye-opening experience. He relates his experiences without a trace of self-pity. By every appearance, he is just another well-ordered octogenarian with a trace of an accent. He could be just another retiree from Florida who found his way to Southern Utah to enjoy the sun and the scenery. Nothing about Alex outwardly suggests that this is a man who survived the type of ordeal that few of us can comprehend.

Nothing, that is, except for a fading tattoo of the number B14662 on the inside of his left forearm. It’s the first and only tattoo I’ve ever seen that inspired an attitude of reverence and reflection.

The occupants of Kinderblock 66 at Buchenwald | Image courtesy of 2012 DocUtah International Documentary Film Festival

During our brief interview, Alex Moskovic shared two powerful insights that deserve both widespread sharing and contemplation.

The first was about the power of forgiveness. Watching his loved ones being systematically stripped of their humanity, their dignity, and ultimately their lives could produce a justifiable thirst for vengeance in anyone. But Alex spoke of how anger and hatred would only serve to perpetuate the kind of hatred that led to the holocaust in the first place. Instead, there is peace in this man’s demeanor and it’s real peace that stems from the kind of inner strength that only forgiveness can bring.

If Alex Moskovic could emerge from some of the greatest horrors of the 20th century without giving in to hate, why do we allow petty things to stir us up?

The second insight Alex provided was in response to a question about what he considered the most important truth he could leave with our audience.

Without hesitation, he called for teaching our young people to thoroughly understand history in order to avoid making the same mistakes others have made. Specifically, Alex referred to the importance of having a depth of understanding of history that would enable us to clearly recognize the initial danger signs of despotism early enough to stop it.

His message is crystal clear, “It can happen again.”

The steps that led up to Alex and his family arriving at an extermination camp did not happen all at once. They were preceded by incremental, observable measures that led in that direction little by little. If we are tempted to indignantly maintain that such things could never happen here, we should remember that most Europeans felt exactly the same way until it was too late.

Those who warn of the potential dangers that accompany any government’s increasingly inward focus on national security are too often scorned as being paranoid.

But that tattoo on Alex Moskovic’s forearm is not so easily dismissed.

Editor’s Note:  Kinderblock 66: Return to Buchenwald and all the films screened during DOCUTAH 2012 are available to the public at the Dixie State College library.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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