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More than 70 people attended a preview screening of “How Saba Kept Singing” on April 11 at Retro Report’s newsroom in Midtown Manhattan.

The film, directed by Sara Taksler, tells the story of David Wisnia, a Holocaust survivor who returns to the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau to uncover his past.

David had never told his wife, children or grandchildren the whole truth about how he survived nearly three years in the camp. The family knew that he had used his singing voice to entertain the Auschwitz guards, and that his musical gift had changed his fate.

“Music was my life right from the beginning,” he recalled decades later. “When I got into the camp, that’s what saved my life.”

But David’s grandson Avi Wisnia suspected that there was more to his Saba’s story.

“How Saba Kept Singing” reveals a touching firsthand account of David’s past as he travels with Avi to Poland to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. The story is also brought to life through dynamic animation and David and Avi Wisnia’s music.

The film was made in collaboration with Retro Report, HiddenLight Productions and Burnt Umber Productions, with support from Thirteen WNET’s Exploring Hate reporting initiative. Its world premiere was at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in April 2022, and later premiered at the 2022 Doc Edge Festival in New Zealand in May.

Kyra Darnton, Retro Report’s president and executive producer, began the evening by showcasing lesson plans and student activities now in development that will accompany the film. These resources will be published on Retro Report’s website after the film airs on PBS on April 18.

During the screening, viewers were moved to tears as Wisnia described his life as a prisoner at Auschwitz for more than two years.

As the credits rolled, Wisnia’s grandson Avi performed two songs, including one written by his grandfather that he had translated from Polish to English.

He continued, “The fact that now our music is intertwined in this way – not just in life with the music we shared with each other, but in this film – is really, really meaningful and speaks to the power of music to help us continue to keep his memory alive, to keep these stories of the Holocaust alive. And to keep telling our own stories and to carry them forward.”

“How Saba Kept Singing” will air on Tuesday, April 18, on PBS at 10/9c. Learn more here.

CAROLINE WATKINS is the audience engagement manager at Retro Report.
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