Story of man who sang to survive Auschwitz to premiere on Nine PBS Tuesday


David “Saba” Wisnia in a lighter moment. “My father’s personality is effervescent,” said his son Eric. “He sparkles, which I find amazing considering his life story.” After his family was killed by Nazis, Wisnia was imprisoned at Auschwitz at age 16, and survived by singing for guards. After a daring escape, he was rescued by U.S. Army troops and went on to flourish in America. Photo credit: Retro Report

(JTA) — Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have produced a documentary about a Holocaust survivor that will debut on Nine PBS on Tuesday, April 18th at 9 p.m. CST.,timed to Yom Hashoah, or Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“How Saba Kept Singing” tells the story of David Wisnia, a cantor who survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for nearly three years, helped in part by his operatic singing voice, which entertained the Nazi guards.

The film also tells of how Wisnia, who grew up singing in his synagogue’s choir in Poland, struck up a relationship with an older woman named Helen “Tzippi” Spitzer during their time at Auschwitz. Her skills as a graphic artist allowed her to move between men’s and women’s quarters, and the two shared intimate moments as fellow inmates watched out for guards.

The two lost track of each other after surviving the experience and did not come in contact again until 2019, when they shared “their account of their unimaginable memories,” a PBS statement reads.

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

Music was part of David’s life from an early age when he was a soloist in his synagogue’s choir as a child. He believes his singing voice earned him a more privileged existence in the camp. Music, Avi learns, is also what brings together David and fellow prisoner Helen “Zippi” Spitzer, a musician and artist tasked with creating a scale model of the camp. Zippi’s role allowed her to move freely between the women’s and the men’s camps and enabled her to orchestrate their encounters. David and Zippi promised to find each other if they survived but they lost contact. “How Saba Kept Singing” reunites David and Zippi 70 years later, sharing their account of their unimaginable memories.

David Wisnia, who served congregations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, died at 94 in 2021, a year after traveling to the former camp to commemorate the 75th anniversary of its liberation, despite a series of injuries. His grandson Avi Wisnia, a musician, composed a musical tribute to his “Saba,” or grandfather, which is heard over the film’s closing credits.

The film was produced under the Clintons’ HiddenLight Productions company, which launched in 2020 and specializes in global content that in their words highlights “the best of the human spirit and help our audiences see the world in new ways.”

“David Wisnia’s remarkable story of love in ‘How Saba Kept Singing’ is inspiring and I hope you will find it as uplifting as I do,” said Chelsea Clinton, who is listed as an executive producer, in a statement.

“The pain and horror of the Holocaust must never be forgotten,” added Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state.

The project was co-produced by Retro Report, a nonprofit that makes news documentaries.

| RELATED: St. Louisan Rachel Miller to tell her Holocaust survival story Monday on Nine PBS