Telling About Auschwitz, Before It’s Too Late

A general winter sunset view of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II Birkenau. On Friday, December 6, 2019, in Auschwitz Camp, Oswiecim, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Keren Blankfeld‘s New York Times story about Holocaust survivors David Wisnia and Helen Spitzer being reunited in Manhattan before her recent death at 100 is so heartwarming, it’s easy to overlook a foreboding reality: Wisnia is one of scant few survivors remaining to tell their stories, at a time when we need them more than ever.

On her death bed, “Zippi,” as she was known, confessed that five times she’d used her position as a privileged inmate and a graphic designer at Auschwitz to keep Wisnia from being shipped to a worse camp. Now he’s telling his Holocaust story to keep the memory of it alive — and hopefully help keep history from repeating itself.

Now, about once a month, he gives speeches where he tells war stories, usually to students and sometimes at libraries or congregations.

“There are few people left who know the details,” he said.

In January, Mr. Wisnia plans to fly with his family to Auschwitz, where he has been invited to sing at the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. He expects to recognize only one fellow survivor there. The last big anniversary, five years ago, which he attended, included about 300 Holocaust survivors. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany estimates that only 2,000 survivors of Auschwitz are alive today.

As the Holocaust fades from public memory and anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, Mr. Wisnia finds himself speaking about his past with more urgency. This is quite a turn for a man who spent most of his adult life trying not to look back. Mr. Wisnia’s oldest son learned only as a teenager that his father wasn’t born in America. (His father worked hard to lose his European accent.)

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