David Wisnia and son Avi Wisnia at Death Gate in Auschwitz.

Singing for Survivors

Pennsylvania resident David Wisnia offers his voice to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Ninety-three-year-old Holocaust survivor David Wisnia has a voice and a story that demands to be heard. Not only is he the author of the book “One Voice, Two Lives”, but he is also a talented cantor who has been able to find expression in music.  It’s fitting that he has been selected to serve as cantor during the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the January 27th, 2020 Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the largest and most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps.  

David Wisnia, who moved to Pennsylvania after escaping the Nazis, is one of a delegation of 120 survivors who traveled to the former death camp to be recognized for their resilience and bravery on the 75th anniversary of liberation. The delegation’s travels were sponsored by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation (at a cost of more than two million dollars) as part of the foundation’s ongoing mission to increase awareness about the impact of hatred and to preserve the former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.

It is a testament to the strength and power of human resilience that, after being released from a concentration camp, this man went on to become a soldier in World War II and to fight for liberty.  Survivors are coming from all across the world to celebrate the 75th anniversary of liberation and this powerful and dynamic man with a compelling voice and a compassionate heart has been chosen to be cantor.

Wisnia will be singing “El Molay Rachamin — God, full of compassion” in memory of the eleven million who were murdered during the Holocaust, some of whom include members of Wisnia’s own family.  Wisnia is not the only survivor whose voice will be heard in a place where, 75 years ago, the Nazis set out to permanently silence Jews and others.  

David and son, Avi.

Lewis Gantman, a Philadelphia board member of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, says of the survivors who have chosen to travel to Auschwitz to participate in the events “These survivors are strong people who, at this late stage in their lives, feel it important to bear witness and preserve memory for generations to come.  It couldn’t be a more beautiful statement by them that they’re here and the regime that tried to destroy them is not.”

Gantman points out that “This may well be the last five-year anniversary that survivors will be able to travel to Auschwitz because the average age of the survivors going is 93 years old.”

The events at Auschwitz will be live-streamed from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m., EST on January 27th, 2020 on the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation’s official YouTube Channel under the title “The 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz” and on television channels throughout the world. 

Later that day, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., EST, here in Philadelphia, there will be a related reception at the National Liberty Museum sponsored by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the National Liberty Museum.  This event will include a viewing of recorded portions of the morning’s ceremony, the opportunity to see some of the forbidden art created in the camps at Auschwitz, the chance to meet local survivors, and performances by award-winning 7-12th grade students from the Mordechai Anielewicz Competition. Like 93-year-old Wisnia, these young musicians will sing for the living, in honor of the dead.  And it is up to us to listen with open hearts and to encourage those with powerful messages to sing out, speak up and convey powerful messages of triumph, even in the face of tragedy. 

Images: Courtesy of David Wisnia, author of “One Voice, Two Lives.”

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