Cantor David S. Wisnia, a 92-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz Annihilation Camp and Dachau, spoke at the law school about his experiences during and after the war on Sept. 24.
Wisnia grew up in Warsaw with aspirations of being an opera singer and learned to sing in multiple languages. He was 16 years old when he was sent to Auschwitz soon after his parents and brother were murdered in the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto. To the group gathered at the Kline School of Law to hear his talk, he first spoke about his life in the U.S. before relaying his experiences at Auschwitz, which he described as a “cesspool of horror.
“It will not be a pleasant journey,” he said before telling his story of how he survived for nearly three years in a camp where most people died within two months. His first job was to collect bodies of those who committed suicide, but when S.S. soldiers realized he could sing, he became a “privileged prisoner,” and would entertain them by singing German songs.
In early 1945, on a transport from Auschwitz to Austria, where he was to build bunkers, he escaped a prisoner convoy and was rescued by the American 101 Airborne Division. He joined the 506th Parachute Infantry for the remainder of the war, after which he immigrated to the United States, where served as a cantor to Temple Shalom in Levittown, Pa. and Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation of Trenton, N.J.
Wisnia said that he didn’t speak about his experiences after the war. His son was 15 years old when he learned Wisnia was a Holocaust survivor, since he’d had a doctor remove his prisoner number removed from his arm after arriving in the U.S. As soon as he came to this country, Wisnia said, he became “150 percent American” and didn’t want to talk about the past. “For many years, people would ask me how old I was, and I would always tell them six years less than my actual age simply because I didn’t want to count the years of the Holocaust,” he said.
It wasn’t until a newspaper reporter found him that he started opening up about what he experienced, and in 2015, he published “One Voice: Two Lives, From Auschwitz Prison to 101st Airborne Trooper,” a memoir about his life.
“It is my hope and my faith in God that I still did not lose, believe it or not, that the human race will eventually come to its senses and learn to live in peace on this earth and never repeat such a tragedy,” he said.
The event was sponsored by the Drexel Catholic Law Society, the Jewish Law Student Association and the law school’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.