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Poland Part III: Day 4

5 weeks ago

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, my grandfather sang in front of this stone building, the Death Gate to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a profound experience to be here in Auschwitz, commemorating the Holocaust, as a family. We are three generations bearing witness to the horrors my grandfather survived. And as hard as it is to be here, as hard as it has been to make this journey, it is important. If the Nazis were successful, none of us would be here. But we are here. And we are here for all those who cannot be here. We will not be erased.

“Children and grandchildren walked beside survivors or pushed their wheelchairs into buildings made of brick and hatred, proof that the Nazis couldn’t turn every family, every future, to ash.

‘I feel a great responsibility,’ grandson Avi Wisnia said at a survivor dinner Sunday night in Kraków. “My grandfather’s story is my story. It’s the story of my family. I’m very aware that when he dies, I need to keep the memory alive, and the story alive, and these experiences alive.’

David Wisnia, a longtime cantor, stood before the crowd, the gates of Auschwitz behind him. Long ago, the Nazi guards took a liking to his voice, and it kept his future alive. He sang a prayer for the dead, then the Mourner’s Kaddish. Survivors sang along and cried.

Avi stood beside him, a singer like his grandfather.” [READ MORE]

It is important to hear about the Holocaust from those who experienced it, now, while we still can.

You can still watch the 75th Anniversary ceremony. Use this english-language LINK to watch the entire event. Listen to several survivors speak about the Holocaust, in their own words, and hear my grandfather sing at hour 2:25 [WATCH]

David Wisnia & Family, featured on PBS News Hour [WATCH]

 

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Poland Part III: Day 3

5 weeks ago

January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. Dignitaries, heads of state, and 200 survivors will attend to commemorate the event in Poland, while millions will watch the live broadcast around the world. Cantor David S. Wisnia will return to the site of his imprisonment to sing a memorial prayer – to sing as he did many times when he was a prisoner in the camp, now 75 years later as a survivor.

the event can be live-streamed at www.auschwitz.org

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Imagine Hell. Now imagine being rescued from hell, and returning. I can’t. I am trying very very hard, and I can’t. I am on a bus about to enter Auschwitz-Birkenau, watching my grandfather pass by the wooden-shelf bunks where he slept as a prisoner in the concentration camp for 3 years of his life, and I can’t even imagine. Can you?

This will be my grandfather’s last visit to Auschwitz. It has been a hard journey and there are many times we thought our Saba was not going to be able to make the trip at all. But it was important for him to visit once again. 75 years later.

There were many years where he did not talk about the horrors of the Holocaust. Not to his family. Not to anyone. But slowly, over time, he has been willing to tell the story. and as he has gotten older, there has been a growing necessity to finally talk about all that happened to him. There is a sense of urgency, that he be able to tell his story with his own voice. Most of all, he wants you to know he was here.


Auschwitz at Night

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Poland Part III: Day 2

01.25.20

Today is the concert at the POLIN Museum.
Performing with #MyPolishWisnia in Warsaw.

My grandfather was a singing star, a child prodigy of Poland. He studied with famous Cantors Gershon Sirota and Moshe Koussevitsky; he sang in opera houses, in theaters and on Polish radio; he performed at the notorious Tlomackie Synagogue as a featured soloist, backed by an 80-person choir. Whatever bright future lay ahead for little David was snuffed out, suddenly and violently, by the war.

We will never know the magnitude of what was lost in the Holocaust – not just the lives, but the careers, the achievements, the dreams, the art, the ideas. But for a moment, when David Wisnia returns to Poland 75 years later to sing to rapt audiences in crowded auditoriums, he becomes the star of Poland he was always meant to be.

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Music is a natural entry point to talking about the Holocaust.
Because music can express things that can’t be articulated in words.
Because music can help us explore the unfathomable.
Because music connects us, all of us.


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Poland Part III: Day 1

01.24.20

After sleeping for about a day, The Wisnias are ready to roll. And we’re rolling deep, joined by Holocaust Professor Doug Cervi and reuniting with our dear friend Rivka from Warsaw. Our first day is a big one, so we rented a bus to take us to my grandfather’s actual hometown, the place where he was born and raised, the town of Sochaczew. Let’s start at the beginning.

My grandfather remembers a happy childhood growing up in Sochaczew, a suburb of Warsaw, before the war. He was a child singing star. He cooked with his mother and aunt. His father made it home from work every week for shabbat. He still remembers the address: 17 Staszica.

There is nothing there now. Just remnants of a house that probably wasn’t even his because the street numbers have changed over time. There is nothing there.

There is a Jewish cemetery down the street from my grandfather’s childhood home in Sochaczew. It has been there for nearly 600 years, an extension of the town’s once thriving Jewish population.

During World War II, the Nazis devastated the cemetery. Jews were forced to carry away gravestones which were then used as building support. The cemetery was the site of numerous executions. It has been repeatedly vandalized, as recent as 2015.

It is customary for Jews to place a rock at a gravesite. As a sign you were there.

*

The Kaddish is a prayer recited in memory of those who have died. My family has been saying Kaddish all over Poland. We recited the prayer outside my grandfather’s house in Sochaczew, at the town cemetery, at the monument to the Warsaw ghetto, at the spot in Warsaw where my grandfather’s entire family was shot by Nazi police.

On Friday night, we said Kaddish yet again. But this time it was during a Shabbat service, with a Jewish community that is very much alive. My father gave the sermon. We prayed together, we sang together, we drank together. We are still here.

#MyPolishWisnia


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Poland Part III: Day 0

01.23.20

Music saved him in Auschwitz.
Now, David Wisnia returns to Poland with his family to sing in memory of those lost.
[Read More]

my grandfather and his entourage.
Poland, here we come

with My Polish Wisnia on the plane
a Saba Selfie, the first of many

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