Holocaust Survivor David Wisnia leads the El Maleh Rachamim prayer during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp on 27 January 2015 (c) Shahar Azran / World Jewish Congress
NEW YORK—The World Jewish Congress and Auschwitz Birkenau Memorial Foundation President mourn the passing of Cantor David Wisnia at the age of 94. Born in Sochaczew, Poland in 1926, as a teenager he spent more than three years as a prisoner at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Reacting to news of Cantor Wisnia’s passing, WJC and ABMF President Ronald S. Lauder said, “I am deeply saddened to hear the news of David Wisnia’s passing. David personified the survivors’ spirit of looking forward rather than wallowing in the past. Over the years, he dedicated himself to creating not just a new life, but to perpetuating Jewish music and Jewish culture for future generations to come.
“Hearing him sing the words of El Maleh Rachamim for all those who perished one final time on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in front of the infamous death gate is a moment that I will never forget.”
Before Germany occupied Poland in the 1930s, David was a young singing star and child prodigy in his native Poland, having studied with renown Cantors Gershon Sirota and Moshe Koussevitzky, performing in synagogues and in theaters and on Polish radio.
When he was just a teenager, David’s entire family was murdered in the Warsaw ghetto. He was soon taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp, where he was held prisoner for nearly 3 years.
After experiencing several horrors in Auschwitz, David discovered that his singing voice would ultimately save his life by entertaining the Nazi guards. A death march and a daring escape lead him into the path of U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne who adopted “Little Davey,” taking him with them on their campaign of liberation through Europe. With US army’s help, Wisnia was able to immigrate to the United States after the war, where he created a new life and a beautiful family with his wife, Hope. He continued singing, serving as Cantor of Temple Shalom in Levittown, Pennsylvania for 28 years. Moving on to Har Sinai Congregation of Trenton, New Jersey, where he served as Cantor for another 23 years until his recent retirement.
Following his retirement, he continued to be a member of the American Conference of Cantors within the UAHC, and remained an active vocalist, educator, and congregational community leader. David’s recently published memoir “One Voice Two Lives” chronicles his journey as both a Holocaust Survivor and a WWII Liberator.
He returned to Auschwitz one final time for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the camp on 27 January 2020 where he sang El Maleh Rachamim, the prayer for the departed.
When asked the question, “What does Auschwitz mean to you?”
Auschwitz meant the end of life, the end of the world.
My message for future generations is…
Do away with hatred. Hatred leads to death. There is a saying in the Torah: God tells Abraham “You shall be a Blessing” and that is my message, that each and every one of us should “be a blessing.” We should do good in this world, and be good to one another. Live a life with meaning and purpose, and leave this world a better place than when you entered it.
David Wisnia is survived by his son Avi Wisnia, granddaughter Sara Wisnia, son Rabbi Eric Wisnia and daughter-in-law Judy Wisnia.
The World Jewish Congress extends its deepest condolences to Cantor Wisnia’s family on their and the entire Jewish people’ great loss.
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