When we arrive in Auschwitz – or Oswiecim, as the town is known in Polish – our liaison from the Auschwitz Memorial & Museum had a surprise waiting for my grandfather… Copies of documents relating to his time in Auschwitz, documents with his name, and his number 83526 (which ultimately became his name during his time at the concentration camp). As the Nazis realized they were losing the war, they quickly and systematically burned as many of the documents as they could. Amazingly, some of those documents survive. The people that house the archives estimate that they have only somewhere between 3-5% of what originally existed. This document is one of them.
This is a record of the day (March 19, 1943) my grandfather, David Wisnia, overslept roll call at Auschwitz. His transgression was noted on this list, and his punishment was that he was led to the gallows. A noose was put around his neck. Then, the platform was kicked out from under him. Instead of his neck breaking, he fell to the ground below. It was a joke. The SS guards were teaching him a lesson, and also giving themselves some amusement.
The Nazi guards were so meticulous in their running of the camp that they kept records of everything. Prisoners. Punishments. Transports. Death certificates. And in the most twisted way, this sick accounting of everything they did – each horror and torture and inhumanity endured – provides the very proof of that reality for us today.
The phrase NEVER FORGET is often repeated when talking about the Holocaust. But to say NEVER FORGET, we have to first – each and every one of us – acknowledge the reality of what happened here.
Nobody can accuse my grandfather of being shy.
There was a press conference for journalists to ask survivors how they felt about returning to Auschwitz and being there for the 70th Anniversary of the liberation of the camp – which coincides with International Holocaust Remembrance Day. David S. Wisnia commanded over 70 journalists – from Belgium & Brazil to Slovenia & Australia – telling them stories, singing them songs, describing for them the horrors of the camps, showing them the scars he still has. He never slowed down, and he never got tired. He spoke his mind, and he did not hold back, and he was funny. He held court for nearly 2 hours straight, and even at the end, they did not want to let him go.