WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) - Several minutes into his program at the Ohio County Public Library, Cantor David Wisnia begins to sing a song in Yiddish, one about “Mama.” Every culture, he explains, has a song about“Mama.”
That singing voice saved Wisnia from the fate of six million others murdered during the Holocaust. When the war erupted in August 1939, a 13-year-old Wisnia looked forward to a Bar Mitzvah. Instead,he found himself shuffled around a Europe in the midst of a dark,dangerous, and very real nightmare. Wisnia lived through the horrors of Jewish ghettos set up by Nazi occupiers. He wound up at the Auschwitz extermination camp.
When asked about his life, and experiences, Wisnia manages a brief chuckle. “It’s too long a story to tell, and it’s quite difficult to explain, because of my 1,500 people I came into Auschwitz to begin with – longevity there was about a month, at most for a prisoner.”
He goes on to explain he survived some two and a half years at Auschwitz. Singing made him a so-called "privileged prisoner.” Wisnia had a job entertaining Nazis who needed some relaxation after a day of torturing and killing innocent people. Before the Soviet Red Army overran the concentration camp, Wisnia went on a “death march” to Dachau. Realizing his scant odds of survival, he looked for every opportunity to escape. An Allied air raid gave him his chance. Wisnia headed west, where he bumped into a group of the most aggressive, intelligent, and resourceful infantry the U.S. Army ever fielded.
Wisnia had linked up with troops from the 101st Airborne Division.
The troops “adopted” the Polish kid who could speak several languages, and let him serve with them as their company interpreter. “They taught me how to use my Thompson,” he says as a faint smile cracks his lips. They welcome him at reunions.
For years, Wisnia kept his experiences as one of six survivors from 1,500 people to himself. Only when his then 13-year-old son,now a rabbi, wondered why the newspaper reporter had come to interview him did he reconsider. To preserve those memories, he wrote his book, “One Voice, Two Lives,” where he also summed up the lessons learned during his life.
"Remember to be human. Not hate. I didn't coin the phrase,but 'Hate kills.' It starts hating a person for whatever reason, but it winds up with death," said Wisnia.
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