Levittown Cantor, Whose Auschwitz Captors Forced Him to Sing for Their Pleasure, Dies at 94

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David Wisnia, Levittown resident, Auschwitz survivor
Image via Danna Singer at The New York Times.
David Wisnia, cantor, Levittown resident, Auschwitz survivor.

David Wisnia, Levittown resident, Auschwitz survivor and baritone singer, has died at age 94. His story is particularly compelling because first-hand accounts of World War II atrocities are getting increasingly rare, reports Keren Blankfeld for The New York Times

Wisnia had a happy childhood in Warsaw, Poland, his birthplace. He dreamt of coming to New York as an opera singer. 

The 1939 German invasion of Poland dashed those hopes. Wisnia was held captive at Auschwitz, where officers learned of his singing talent and exploited it for their own enjoyment. 

In the waning days of the war, SS camp commanders marched Wisnia and other prisoners to Dachau. En route, he saw an opportunity to escape. American soldiers eventually picked him up and found value in his translation abilities. 

He came to the U.S. in 1945, just after the end of the war. He launched a career, married, and eventually moved to Bucks County to raise his family. 

Last year, he vowed to return to Auschwitz, despite his failing health. He felt it was important, his family said, to go and bear witness to what had happened to him. 

A delegation of concentration camp survivors arranged a special performance for Wisnia. He sang a prayer for an audience comprising former captives and second- and third-generation family members. 

As he finished, he turned to his grandson and said: “You are the proof that Hitler did not win.” 

Wisnia returned to the U.S. and continued singing, this time for the people at the assisted living facility in which he lived. 

“To the nurses and doctors and staff at his residence, and every time we spoke on the phone, still singing,” his grandson wrote in a text message. “Always singing.” 

More on this remarkable, inspiring musical life is at the The New York Times

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