Friday, June 25, 2021

Another Survivor Passes: RIP David Wisnia

A Polish Jew arrested in 1942, David Wisnia survived the camps and lived a long life, returning to Auschwitz at the very end to sing for fellow survivors: 

In Auschwitz, Mr. Wisnia became a privileged prisoner when his Nazi captors discovered his talent and forced him to sing for them. In spite of the horrors of the death camp, Mr. Wisnia found clandestine moments of love with another privileged prisoner, an older woman known as Zippi. This was Helen Spitzer, a graphic designer from Bratislava, Slovakia, who he would learn decades later had saved his life on numerous occasions. In hidden nooks where she arranged for them to meet, the two sang to each other and found moments of humanity. 

As the Allies drove the Nazis into retreat, Mr. Wisnia and Zippi were forced apart: She was ordered on a death march north to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, and he marched south to Dachau. He soon escaped and stumbled upon a regiment of American soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division who adopted him, using him as an interpreter. By the time Mr. Wisnia and Zippi (who escaped from the Nazis in May 1945) reunited 72 years later in Manhattan, the two had lived long, diverging lives filled with marriages, families and travel. . . .

(This spawned a Times headline: Lovers in Auschwitz, Reunited 72 Years Later)

Mr. Wisnia wanted to put his life in Europe behind him. For the most part, he did. It took him years to talk to his family about what he’d been through. But once the floodgates opened, he couldn’t stop. In 2015, he published a memoir, One Voice, Two Lives: From Auschwitz Prisoner to 101st Airborne Trooper. He began to speak about his experience, and with his grandson, a musician, he performed songs he’d composed as a prisoner.

He was first taken to Auschwitz, in December 1942, in a sealed cattle car with dozens of other prisoners and a bucket that served as their communal latrine. In January 2020 he arrived on a first-class ticket, flown in by a delegation who had invited him to perform to fellow survivors. With him were family members, second-and third-generation Wisnias.

Never one to talk about feelings, Mr. Wisnia let his singing voice carry his emotions. But in Auschwitz, as his grandson helped him prepare for his performance, Mr. Wisnia abruptly turned to him and said, “You’re the proof that Hitler did not win.”

NT Times obituary 

No comments: