My Polish Wisnia: Part II Day 1

Stopped in Vienna to take a Saba Selfie. The first of many, I’m sure.

You would never guess my grandfathers age. Especially not after taking a cross-continental red-eye. 10 hours, no sleep, still smiling. Another great thing about traveling with my grandfather: every time I go for a high-five, he never leaves me hanging.

Poland, here we come.

Hello, Poland! another Saba Selfie to celebrate landing safely. and a reunion with our dear friend Iza Rivka, our ambassador to the great Beit Polska Jewish community here, who will be sponsoring our concert.

Watch out Warsaw, The Wisnias are in town.

The first thing my grandfather wants to do when we get to the hotel is look out the window at the view. It’s not about the scenery. It’s about personal orientation.

Rivka points us toward Praga, the neighborhood where we will be performing a concert. Praga is where my grandfather ran to in 1941, after he came back at the end of a work day to find his mother, father, and younger brother shot and killed, piled in a human heap by occupying Nazi soldiers in the Warsaw Ghetto. At the age of 16, he had no more family and nowhere to go that was safe. He knew a non-Jewish neighbor that worked as a waitress in Praga. After waiting several hours for her to finish her shift, he was able to reach out to her. She risked her life meeting him and arranging to get him a train ticket out of Warsaw. I picture them parting, attempting to embrace like casual friends, without showing any emotion, so as not to draw any attention. When you’re fleeing for your life, there is no space for mourning.

“For 50 years I have been looking for Wanda. I wish I remembered her last name.” My grandfather does not know if Wanda is still alive. And if she is, would she even know that he is alive? That, in the end, he made it?

We rehearsed for hours and hours. Our concert is going to be a big undertaking. Two hours worth of programming, involving my grandfather’s repertoire, my repertoire, featured singers from the Beit Warszawa community, a Q&A portion, duets and collaborations, and all in just a handful of languages.

I have traveled enough to know what it feels like to be a stranger in lots of places. It is easy to be overwhelmed by everything. What makes a successful trip or tour always turns on the openness and generosity of the people who live there. People with such deep pride for where they live and what they do, people who look out for you and invest themselves in your well-being.

We could not have asked for a better host, organizer, friend and collaborator than our Iza Rivka. So, at the end of rehearsal, we surprised her with cheesecake. And honestly, if you haven’t been on the receiving end of a David S. Wisnia Happy Birthday, you haven’t lived.

 

#MyPolishWisnia

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