Holocaust Survivor Speaks of His Time at Auschwitz at Ohio County Public Library
Presentation in conjunction with World War II exhibit
WHEELING — Cantor David Wisnia received a standing ovation after speaking to a packed house about his experiences being a Holocaust survivor.
Barbara Lewine said Thursday night’s special program at the Ohio County Public Library was in conjunction with the “We Can Do It! WWII” traveling exhibit that was donated from the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and on display on the library’s main floor.
Wisnia, 91, began the program singing two songs in Polish and Italian that he said he had written about his experiences during the Holocaust. He said his memories of that time are so painful that he tries to block it out and even tells people he is six years younger than he is.
“I believe I had two lives,” said Wisnia. “One before World War II and one after it.”
He said the only thing that makes his story unique is that he survived, because 11 million people died in the Holocaust.
“I was in Auchewitz two and half years, and I was there when there was gassing and burning of bodies,” said Wisnia. “My claim to fame is I made it.”
The average prisoner, he said, lived only a month in Auschwitz. Wisnia said his singing kept him alive.
As a child, Wisnia’s father thought he was going to be an opera star, but instead he ended up singing at Auschwitz at the German’s drunken parties to stay alive.
Wisnia said his singing was what made him a privileged prisoner, which meant he “got to live another day.” However, he said he didn’t get better food or sleeping quarters.
Wisnia said he can recall the two worst times in his life. One was the day he returned to his home in a Warsaw ghetto to see a pile of Jewish bodies, and then found out his younger brother and parents were among them.
The other was the day he overslept at Auschwitz and the Nazi’s made him stand on the gallows for punishment.
“I kept saying, ‘one more day,'” said Wisnia.
“Fifteen-hundred people and 580 were selected to work,” he said. “Everyone else was murdered in the crematory that I helped build.”
Wisnia simply described Auschwitz as a “cess pool, where evil ruled.”
He said he had a girlfriend, named Tippy, who was another privileged prisoner that oversaw the general’s records.
When he saw her in New York not long ago, she told him that she saved his life five times.
Wisnia said he tried to escape twice. The first time, he tried to organize a group, but they were recaptured. The second time, he went alone and ran into the 101 Airborne Trooper. He stayed and served with those men.
After the war, he emigrated to the United States to find his mother’s younger sister, the only family he had left.
Wisnia ended the evening saying his message to everyone in attendance was to “be a blessing. Hate ends up being death.”
He also said that his hope is that “we can learn to live in peace, never to repeat the tragedy.”
At the end of the program, Wisnia was available to sign his book, “One Voice, Two Lives: From Auschwitz Prisoner to 101st Airborne Trooper.”