David Wolnerman

January 27, 2020
Iowan of the Week

Madam Speaker, I rise today to honor David Wolnerman, a survivor of Auschwitz, Birkenau, and Dachau — and Iowa’s last known Holocaust survivor — in recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Those extraordinary men and women, like David, who survived the Holocaust have blessed us by sharing their stories and memorializing their experiences for future generations so that we never forget. Today, I am entering just part of David’s story into the Congressional Record so it may be preserved for our children and their children.

David was born in Poland. When the Nazis invaded, David was just 13 years old. He was told he needed to report to a work camp in order to save his family, including his mother, Hannah, his brother, Abraham, and his sister, Gertrude. The promise was a false one, as David’s family would not survive.

When David first arrived in Auschwitz, he waited in line like so many others did — awaiting an uncertain fate. Some were selected to go left, some selected to go right. David says that God gave him the right words to say that he was 18 years old, and he was sent to the right. Had he told the truth, that he was 13 instead of 18, he would have been sent left with the younger children and those who were ill to be sent to the gas chamber.

David’s survival was a miracle. He contacted illnesses like typhus. He was so starved that he weighed 80 pounds when he was liberated on April 29th, 1945.

After liberation, he lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany where he met his wife, Jennie. Together, they began to physically recover from the malnourishment, but the mental scars of concentration camps have never left David.

David and Jennie came to America in 1950. They didn’t speak English, but began working at a printing plant. When they had their two sons, Michael and Allen, all David and Jennie wanted for them was a good education. Both Allen and Michael went to Drake University in Des Moines for pharmacy school, and their parents followed them to Iowa.

In 2016, Jennie passed away at age 91. She often shared her memories with Iowa schoolchildren, working to ensure that her story – and the stories of her friends and family who perished – would live on. Jennie is remembered for her loving and generous spirit, her matzo ball soup, and as a loving grandmother and mother. Now David remains the last Holocaust survivor in Iowa.

Jennie and David have shared their stories and wisdom with Iowans for years. We must honor them in return by sharing their stories and taking this day to remember the atrocities of the Holocaust. We must remember those who survived, and those who did not. We must remember the sacrifices made by children, just like David.