NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- Moshe Avital's life could fill volumes...and it does.
The Holocaust survivor, who divides his time between New Rochelle and Israel, has written 15 books, most about Jewry, Zionism, Jewish education, the Holocaust and the Bible. And, at age 86, he's still going.
But the number that gets him the most is 11. He was the youngest of 11 growing up in Bilke, a village on the Eastern part of the former Czechoslovakia, and one of his immediate family's only survivors (two other siblings survived). And now, thanks to his three daughters, he now has 11 grandchildren, who he calls the "miracle children."
It's a blessing he thought he would never experience after the horrors of the war, years of hard labor, starvation and pervasive death, in ghettos and concentration camps including Auschwitz, Plaszow, Gross Rosen, Reichenau, and Buchenwald.
He was 14 when he was sent with his family to Auschwitz where most of them perished immediately. He remembers standing in front of Dr. Josef Mengele, the German doctor known as the "Angel of Death," as he pointed in which direction people should go.
"Of course at this point, we had no idea what going to the left or right meant," said Avital. "I saw my father go to the left, my brother to the right. And then Mengele hesitated for a minute, and then pointed me towards my brother."
That would be the last time he would see his parents, sisters and many small nieces and nephews. (In total, he lost 200 relatives.)
Luckily, he and his brother figured out, as long as they stuck together and stood in the same formation every day, they could be together.
That changed late at night a few months later when the SS came into their barrack unexpected and in the confusion, he and his brother, then 16, got separated. His brother died at a later date at Plaszow (which Dr. Avital wouldn't find out until much later).
Living among the almost-dead, standing in the freezing weather for hours on end with little clothing, eating almost nothing yet being forced to march and do hard labor, not to mention the thousands of atrocities he saw everyday, gave Avital the strength, he said, to make it his mission to live and tell the world what happened.
"Everyone at the time said to me, 'Who will believe us? They will kill us all. Someone must tell the world what truly happened,'" he said. "So what could I say? Of course the world must know."
And though he almost gave up many times along his arduous journey, he said it was almost as if a phantom hand would lift him up or something lucky would happen to him that day and he would go on.
For him telling the Holocaust horrors is especially important now as the numbers of survivors has dwindled.
A longtime speaker -- he works with the White Plains-based Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center--he's traveled the world telling his story. (He speaks half a dozen languages.)
He was even awarded a proclamation by County Executive Rob Astorino for his outstanding endeavors and personal service.
And the list goes on...he fought in the War of Liberation in Israel, was a member of the Hagannah, a Zionist military organization which later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces, was the official Hebrew to English translator for ABC during Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's historic trip to Israel, and later did the same when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin went to Egypt.
As he writes in his book, "Not to Forget, Impossible to Forgive:" "A commanding voice speaks to us from Auschwitz; it commands us to remember the Jewish victims, lest their memory perish."
Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, he hopes you remember.
Go to his website, www.mosheavital.com/ for more information.
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