Benzion Moskovits

Benzion Moskovits1907 - 1968

Benzion Moskovits
1907 – 1968

(Many thanks to Jeffrey Lieuwen of the Netherlands
for this article)
Chazzan Benzion Moskovits was born on 3 February 1907 in Leordina, Hungary (modern day Romania). As a young boy he went to the Yeshiva of Pressburg (Bratislava). Before his Bar Mitzvah he was already a favoured soloist for the Viznitzher Rebbe He functioned as a Chazzan for the first time at the High Holiday service at the main synagogue of Kosice in 1923.Chazzan Moskovits studied music in Vienna and on advice of the Rebbe he also learned to be a goldsmith. As many Chazzonim in those days, he was also a Mohel.  He married F. Heinovits in 1931, with whom he lived in Pressburg, where he was  a Chazzan. Together with their children, Chazzan Moskovits and his wife fled from the Nazis in 1938. The Viznitzher Rebbe advised Chazzan Moskovits to find a profession overseas, so he applied for a position in Liverpool (could be Blackpool?). In the meantime he and his family found shelter with family in Antwerp.

One day in 1938 he saw an advertisement in a newspaper for a vacant position at a synagogue in Amsterdam. Chazzan Moskovits decided to apply for the position. He had to compete against 79 other Chazzonim for the post. Eventually a few candidates remained, among them Chazzan Moskovits. Chazzan Moskovits brought with him a letter of recommendation of a well-known Rabbi in Pressburg (the great-grandson of the famous Rabbi Chassam Sofer) and as he was a smart man, he went to Amsterdam a few days before the audition. This way he could practice with the choir and he managed to aquire sheet music of Dutch Chazzonus from a colleague in Haarlem, Chazzan Petzon, to favour the crowd. Not awaiting the results of his audition, Chazzan Moskovits returned to Antwerp to catch a boat to England (he had been offered a position there, unconditionally). On the train station in Antwerp he bumped into a friend, who asked him what he was doing in Antwerp, since he had gotten a position in Amsterdam. Chazzan Moskovits returned to Amsterdam and officially became the Chazzan Rishon of congregation Benei Teman (affectionately called the Lekstraat Shul) in 1939.

In 1940 the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and in 1942 Chazzan Moskovits was taken prisoner to Westerbork, a Dutch deportation camp. In 1944 he got deported to Buchenwald. Chazzan Moskovits sang for fellow prisoners and took notes of melodies he heard on a smuggled block-note. He led the prayers of Rosh Hashonoh in Buchenwald. He was forced to sing for the Nazis and his voice, together with his cababilities as a goldsmith, saved his live. In 1945 he was sent on a death march to Theresienstadt.

Eventually he managed to survive the Shoah, but his lungs were damaged from the forced labour in the asbestos mines. According to Chazzan Moskovits himself, his voice heavily deteriorated during the Shoah. When he returned in Amsterdam, he stated: “That’s what you get, when you don’t listen to the Rebbe (refering to the fact that the Viznitzher Rebbe advised him to seek a profession overseas)!”

Chazzan Moskovits resumed his position at the Lekstraat Shul and on the side worked as a engraver and designer of jewels. He eventually opened his own jewel shop in Amsterdam. His work in the asbestos mines resulted in him getting lung cancer.

Chazzan Moskovits’ last public service was a Musaf service on the seventh day of Pesach in 1968. His doctor would later state that medically he shouldn’t have been able to do that service. Chazzan Benzion Moskovits died on 18 September 1968, just a few days before Rosh Hashonoh. He was temporarily buried in Muiderberg and then reburried in Israel.

Chazzan Benzion Moskovits was a modest man with elegance and style. He was a real zoger with a lyric tenor voice (before the Shoah he was compared to Joseph Schmidt). He took his calling very seriously and received the greatest respect from his community. He may be considered as one of the greatest Chazzonim to ever serve in the Netherlands and is still greatly missed.