In Part One of this two-part series, we examined the power of music, the Nazi rise to power, and Nazi views. In this final part we will explore the legacy of victims and survivors of the Holocaust who used music, or simply a song, to bring hope and courage to people who had none left…
First, let us take a look at a man whose legacy was neither as a singer nor a musician, yet managed to bring forth music from his words.
Born on May 19th, 1902 in Lodz, Poland, Israel Cendorf was expected by his family to become a Rabbi—a leader to be admired within their community—yet, Israel had other ideas. When he was 16 he apprenticed himself to a printer, removing any lingering hopes by his family that he might pursue rabbinical training.
Yet, Israel soon found that despite his apprenticeship as a printer, he had developed a love for the written word that would propel him. He began writing poetry and even songs. Soon, he had a book of poetry published. But when Hitler rose to power in 1933, Israel chose to move to Paris where his work would not face stringent Nazi censorship.
Paris, however, was not what Israel had expected. Unemployment was common, since France, like many countries around the world, was still facing a recession. Because of the scarcity of employment, immigrants, particularly Jews, were in constant danger of being deported to allow the country’s native-born population greater access to these scarce jobs and resources. Indeed, times were so hard for Israel in Paris that, despite his writing—even being a member of Writers’ Union and working for News Press—he was peddling wood door to door to sustain himself and his family.
Existence, while hard, was attainable until Germany occupied Paris in June of 1940. Then, after seven years within the city, Israel’s life altered dramatically. He began to work for an underground movement until, only eleven months later, he was captured and deported to the Nazi transit camp, Pithiviers.
Still, Pithiviers did not dampen his spirits. He organized underground movements, continued writing, and even put on cultural evenings in secret to improve moral. Additionally, Israel would go from shack to shack reading his poetry and bringing hope to his fellow detainees.
It was at Pithiviers that his most famous work came to light. Israel wrote a poem, “Our Courage is Not Broken,” and soon, those in the camp began singing it. It became an unofficial anthem of hope within the camp—a beacon and a call to remember who they were.
Roughly translated, the words of his song…
“Our courage is not broken, life is marvelously beautiful.
Victory will soon be spoken, we will triumph over all.
See the world once more in flowers, just as in the month of May.
Brothers all we have the power, ‘free the world’ is what we say.”
This anthem was sung by many, and in 1942, when Israel and countless others from Pithiviers were transported to Auschwitz—knowing they were being taken to die—they sang Israel’s song, showing their courage one last time, letting their oppressors know that mere death was not enough to hinder them nor take away their hope.
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”—Deuteronomy 31:6
Israel, a victim of Auschwitz, is remembered through his writing, but perhaps even more so for bringing courage to thousands when there was none to be found. He wrote words of hope that would become a banner of courage—he found the power of a song.
David S. Wisnia:
David S. Wisnia, known today through his talks on the Holocaust, his book, “One Voice, Two Lives,” and his singing, grew up in Warsaw, Poland.
In Poland, as a young boy, David was trained by famous director/composer Maestro A.Z. Davidovich, as well as several well-known cantors of the day. With the musical training he received, he sang in choirs, performed on-stage and even on a Polish radio station.
Yet, the German invasion and Nazi rule quickly took away many freedoms, such as performing outside the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto… but that was only the beginning. Returning home one day after his father had asked him to take his place at work—possibly a ploy to keep his son, David, safe—he found that not only could he not return home because that section of the ghetto had been closed off, but his father, mother, and brother had all been massacred after David’s father resisted their being sent to Treblinka.
Soon the 16-year-old Jewish boy made man, who had once merely faced persecution and not been allowed to share his talents, found himself alone in the most horrific place of all—Auschwitz. There, out of 1,500 arrivals on his transport, David was one of only six not to have immediately been sent to the gas chambers.
There David struggled to survive as he was forced to carry bodies to the crematorium, but only a few weeks after his arrival he was given an in-camp occupation that was less demanding, all because his captors learned that he could entertain them with live music—singing and playing the piano for them. Through his God-given talents, David became a privileged prisoner and even managed to help boost the morale of his inmates through songs—songs only allowed because of his privileged status.
For nearly three years David lived in Auschwitz, his privileged position giving him comfort, but not guaranteed immunity, against death. Yet, through it all he managed to survive and bring a ray of hope to those around him.
While interned in Auschwitz, David wrote two songs, ‘Oswiecim’ or ‘Auschwitz’ and ‘Dos Vaise Haizele’ or ‘The Little White House in the Woods,’ both of which had to do with the horrible nature of Auschwitz. These songs, while dealing with darkness, held for the prisoners of Auschwitz a sense of unified hope.
In late 1944, as the Allies were closing in, prisoners of Auschwitz were marched or transported to other camps such as, Dachau. These trips caused many sickly prisoners to die in the cold December snow. David quickly realized that he needed to escape if he was going to survive. He knew that while Auschwitz had been horrible for him, he could not survive when he was no longer a privileged prisoner.
While being transported, David escaped. Yet, upon escape David did not stay away from danger. He joined the 506th Parachute Infantry where he helped the Allies win the war in 1945.
Upon the close of the war he immigrated to the United States of America in an attempt to find his last surviving relatives. There, David continued not only his singing career, but worked to bring awareness to the Holocaust through his songs of Auschwitz, such as ‘Oswiecim’—only recently translated—through his talks, and through his writing.
The Importance Today:
Decades have passed since the horrors of the Holocaust and every year the number of survivors dwindles. Survivors, and even victims of the Holocaust, leave us many legacies, such as music, and the lesson to never forget… to never forget the strength of people pushed to the breaking point, and to never forget the Holocaust so that we will never have another.
In this hour it is important to leave a legacy, not only for ourselves and for those who came before, but also for those who are yet to come. Through Curt Landry Ministries YOU can support Holocaust survivors who are living their golden years without many of the basic comforts they so deserve. When you give you are not only helping Holocaust survivors, you are telling them, their children, and the people of Israel that you remember what they have suffered… you can leave a legacy of life and remembrance! You can remember victims by showing the love of God to survivors!