Apsha (Czechoslovakia), Gyor, Budapest
Mr. Moskovitz is the son of Zelig and Esther Moskovitz who were farmers in lower Apsha. Apsha is located in a region known as Carpathian Ruthenia, then in the southeast corner of Czechoslovakia, but now part of the Ukraine. He had two sisters and three brothers, and the family observed Orthodox Judaism. Ben attended public school in the morning, which was conducted in the Czech language, followed by Hebrew school afterwards. He describes his family as poor, but very comfortable. The language spoken at home was Yiddish. In 1939 the family moved to the nearby town of Bogdan where he believes about 150 Jewish families resided among the primarily Ukrainian population.
After Germany occupied Czechslovakia in March 1939, the area where Mr. Moskovitz lived was ceded to Hungary. Not wanting to continue in a school which was now using the Hungarian language, he went to work at age 16 in the shoe business, making and selling shoes.
Initially the Hungarian government only posted notices restricting Jewish activities, but in the spring of 1941 his parents and two brothers were picked-up for deportation to Poland. Mr. Moskovitz saw them at the railroad station where his mother predicted that they were going to be killed, a prophecy which turned out to be true except for one of his brothers, Jack, who escaped. When ordered by the police who were searching for Jack, to report to the station, he ignored the summons and instead fled by train to Budapest. Although he had purchased a ticket, Ben boarded the train outside of the station while it was moving in order to avoid the control checks by the police. For the same reason, he jumped off the train before its arrival in Budapest.
Mr. Moskovitz was able to find work in Budapest in the shoe business, surprisingly working for a member of the Hungarian Secret Police. He kept a low profile for about two years. Following a general mobilization of all men, including Jews, he was assigned to work on a farm during the planting season for about two months.
From there Mr. Moskovitz was shipped in a boxcar to Gyor, Hungary, where a labor camp existed to supply manpower for a factory. He states that the floor of the boxcar was covered with a white powder which he identified as “carbide,” used to keep the floor clean. The powder was inert until it came in contact with water, in which case it would become caustic and cause one’s skin to burn.
The factory formerly had produced railroad components but had been converted to manufacture ammunition. He worked the night shift and, during their “lunch” break, was given a good meal. According to Mr. Moskovitz, this was not authorized but, nevertheless, done by the factory to keep its workers in good health. The factory treated its workers very humanely. There were no guards in the factory.
In the Gyor labor camp, the housing was in basic barracks with few facilities. The camp was surrounded by a brick wall and Hungarian guards covered the entrances. Hungarian guards were also used to march the inmates to and from the factory, a distance of about two to three miles.
Fearing a deportation from the camp, Mr. Moskovitz and a friend escaped and were able to head for Budapest in 1944, avoiding the police. Ben found refuge in Sashalom, a suburb of Budapest on the Pest side. There he was reunited with his brother, Jack. Eventually Ben was picked up by the police, but again managed to escape and find refuge in another home. Mr. Moskovitz emphasized that all of his problems were with Hungarian police and military and that he had no contact with Germans at all.
On Christmas day in 1944, Russian troops entered Sashalom and within one week occupied Budapest. Trying to enter Budapest with a friend, the two were arrested by Russian soldiers and taken to the basement of a building where other detainees were being held. These included Germans and Hungarians and, according to Mr. Moskovitz, also Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who had been active in Budapest. Shortly after Mr. Moskovitz’s arrival, Raoul Wallenberg was taken away and Ben does not know what happened to him.
Mr. Moskovitz was used by the Russians to repair war damage to bridges and railroads. He stated that there was not much difference between forced labor under the Hungarians and that of the Russians. A person who now also lives in the Detroit area, Martin Weiss, was with him during part of that time..
After the war, Mr. Moskovitz made his way to Germany and was placed in a displaced persons camp (DP Camp) near Munich. There he was once again reunited with his brother, Jack. There, too, Ben married and he and his wife had a son, Morry.
The family came to the United States in 1949 and, after a short stay in Pittsburgh, lived in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, for about 20 years. There he owned and operated a butcher shop. The Moskovitzes have two more children, both born in the United States; Esther and Brenda. They now reside in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, where Mr. Moskovitz owns the Star Bakery.
Interview and Synopsis by: Hans Weinmann
Date of Interview: May 22, 2005
Length of Interview: 1 hour 50 minutes