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April 17, 2023 1:40 pm

PBS to Premiere Holocaust Documentary About Polish Singer and Auschwitz Survivor Co-Produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The sign “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work makes you free”) is pictured at the main gate of the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland. Reuters/Pawel Ulatowski

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom Hashoah, PBS will premiere on Tuesday a documentary about a Polish Jewish singer who survived two and a half years in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during World War II by singing for his Nazi captors, the TV network announced this week.

How Saba Kept Singing, executive produced by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, follows musician and longtime cantor David “Saba” Wisnia and his grandson Avi Wisnia as they travel back to Poland, during the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, to learn more about David’s experience during the Holocaust.

“Growing up I always knew little bits and pieces of his story. But I had a sense that there was more to the story than that,” Avi said in the documentary. “The little that my grandfather would talk about, it was not so clear. I think in order to survive, in order to keep going, he had to forget everything in the past … I want to fill in the missing pieces as much as we can. We always knew that he survived by singing. That he saved himself. But there must have been something else. He could not have done it alone.”

During their trip to Auschwitz, David shows his grandson the bunk bed he slept in and his name that he carved on the wall by the bed, as shown in the documentary. David also talks about the romantic relationship he developed with a fellow Auschwitz inmate named Zippi and explains how he discovered, in later years, that she changed Nazi transportation orders to save his life. The film was produced under the Clintons’ HiddenLight Productions company.

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David died on June 15, 2021, at the age of 94. He was born in the town of Sochaczew, Poland, on August 31, 1926, according to his obituary. After being transferred from Auschwitz to the Dachau concentration camp and surviving a death march in December 1944, he escaped into nearby woods and was shortly after found and rescued by the American 101st Airborne Division. He then joined with the 506th Parachute Infantry, turning from a survivor to a liberator, and actively took part in combat missions during the end of World War II.

Later in life, David served as cantor of Temple Shalom in Levittown, Pennsylvania, for 28 years, and then as cantor for Har Sinai Hebrew Congregation of Trenton, New Jersey, for 23 years. He released a memoir in 2015 titled One Voice, Two Lives.

Watch the trailer for How Saba Kept Singing below.

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