Chazzan Alter Dovid Yitzchok (David) Werdyger zt”l


david-werdyger-1[Shivah info below.] It is with great sadness that we report the passing of Chazzan ALter Dovid Yitzchok (David) Werdyger zt”l.

Born on October 30, 1919 in Poland, Reb Duvid was considered one of the pioneers of contemporary Jewish music.

A Holocaust survivor who was incarcerated in several Nazi concentration camps, including the factory run by Oskar Schindler, Reb Duvid moved to Brooklyn, New York, after World War II and began recording albums featuring the music of the Bobov, Boyan, Skulen, Meilitz, Radomsk and Ger, recording 60 albums in all.

Reb Duvid founded and operated a successful travel agency, Werdyger Travel, and established the record label Aderet Records, which is now managed by his son, Reb Mendy.

Reb Duvid was the youngest of four sons and four daughters born to Reb Yisroel Aryeh Werdyger, a prominent member of the Gerrer community of Krakow, to which the family moved shortly after Reb Duvid’s birth.

The Werdyger family was known for its musical talent, and as a youngster, Reb Duvid’s singing ability was readily apparent. At the age of six, he became the soloist in the choir of the Eizik Yeikeles Shul in Krakow, and at age 12 he was invited by Yankele Talmud, the leader of the Gerrer choir, to be a soloist in that choir in the town of Ger. On Rosh Hashanah, he sang before the Gerrer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes, and thousands of chassidim.

With the Nazi occupation of Poland in September 1939, Reb Duvid was subject to frequent arrests and forced labor on the streets of Krakow. In the summer of 1940, when the Nazis ordered all Jews to leave the city, Reb Duvid’s family moved to an uncle’s home in Proszowice. In response to rumors of a mass deportation, Reb Duvid, his unmarried sister Yettie, and his parents went into hiding with 16 others in a bunker in their uncle’s warehouse, where they were cared for by a Polish employee. Three weeks later, they sneaked into the Podgórze ghetto of Krakow.

From there, Reb Duvid’s parents bought their way out of the ghetto into Sosnowice, where one of their married daughters was living. Reb Duvid never saw them again.
In the ghetto, Reb Duvid worked in forced labor battalions, and when a mass deportation took place in the Podgórze ghetto, he went into hiding with 15 others. Two weeks later, his group was ferreted out of their hiding place and taken with 180 other ghetto residents to the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp to be shot by firing squad. Each man passed before German Nazi camp commandant Amon Göth; when it was Reb Duvid’s turn, Göth asked him what type of work he did. “I am a professional singer, and I have a trained soprano voice,” Reb Duvid replied. “Would you like to hear something?” Momentarily taken aback, Göth replied, “Sing the song you Jews chant when you bury your dead.” Reb Duvid began singing the traditional Keil Molei Rachamim with great feeling and power, ending with a thunderous “Amein.” His voice so moved Göth that the commandant directed him to the camp rather than to the firing squad; he was one of the 40 men saved from execution that day.
Reb Duvid was an inmate in the Płaszów for five months, after which he was transferred to the nearby factory under the direction of Oskar Schindler. He also spent time in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp and the Linz labor camp, where he was liberated on Shabbos, May 5th 1945.

After the war, Reb Duvid found his eldest brother, Yaakov Meir, and youngest sister, Yettie, still alive. He traveled to Makova to attend Yaakov Meir’s wedding and was there introduced to Malka Godinger (1923-1980), daughter of Meir Godinger. They married shortly after.

Several months later, Reb Duvid and his wife left for Paris, France, where their first son, Yisroel Aryeh, was born. Four years later, in February 1950, they sailed to New York.
The couple had three more sons in America: Mordechai (born 1951), Chaim (born 1954), and Mendy (born 1959).

Upon arrival in New York, Reb Duvid began working as a chazzan in the Warshever Shul on Rivington Street. After a year, he moved to the Chasam Sofer Shul on the Lower East Side. His fame as a chazzan spread, and he signed a contract with the New Lots Talmud Torah Shul, which was famous for the high-caliber chazzanim it attracted. Within a few months of this appointment, he began receiving invitations to appear in concert, and he performed before audiences of thousands in Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other cities. He also started training with a voice coach, who taught him how to create his own cantorial compositions. During this time, he also opened Werdyger Travel in Brooklyn.
Later, Reb Duvid moved to the Rabbi Meir Simcha Hakohein Shul in East Flatbush, headed by Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht. Rabbi Hecht tapped him to sing cantorial selections on his weekly radio program, Shema Yisrael, which exposed Reb Duvid to even larger audiences. Rabbi Hecht also advised him to make a record. In 1959, Reb Duvid went to a professional recording studio to record his first record, Tefillah L’Dovid, which sold out its first production. In 1960, Reb Duvid recorded another album, Mizmor LeDovid, which was also favorably received.
After that, Reb Duvid started his own recording label, Aderet Records, to record niggunim that were unknown to Yidden in America. He asked Yankele Talmud to provide him with the best Gerrer melodies and released Songs of the Gerer Chassidim Loi Sevoishi in 1962. His next album, A Melitzer Oneg Shabbos, introduced Melitzer niggunim, including several tunes composed by the Melitzer Rebbe, Rav Yitzchok Horowitz, whom Reb Duvid met while in Miami. Reb Duvid’s third album, A Gerer Melava Malka, featuring a solo by his young son, Mordechai, sold over 30,000 copies. Subsequently, Reb Duvid recorded the niggunim of the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zusia Portugal, on Skulener Chassidic Nigunim Vol. 1 and Skulener Nigunim 2, and of the Bobover Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Halberstam, on Bobover Niggunim.

Reb Duvid’s successful albums led to concert appearances in the United States, Canada, and England, where he sang both cantorial and Hasidic melodies. Unsure of how his repertoire would be received at a yeshiva benefit concert in London, he requested accompaniment by a boys’ choir. Forty boys accompanied him, and he discovered the value of adding child vocalists and soloists to his music. Thereafter, he produced an album for Boyan on which he and his son Mordechai sang together, accompanied by the Boyaner’s men’s choir.
Reb Duvid continued to sing on albums produced by Aderet Records, including two Shabbos with the Werdygers collections produced by his son, Chaim.

Following the passing of his rebbetzin in 1980, Reb Duvid remarried Sarah Wercberger, widow of Wolf Wercberger and daughter of Rabbi Osher Zelig Marton, a dayan and shochet in pre-war Romania.

In 1993, Reb Duvid published his autobiography, Songs of Hope, as part of the Holocaust Diaries series published by CIS Publishers.

Reb Duvid passed away today at the age of 94, leaving behind his four sons and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who carry on his legacy.

The levaya is taking place beginning at 1 p.m. at Shomrei Hadas Chapels in Boro Park.

Update: The Werdyger family informed that they will be sitting shivah until next Tuesday morning at 1447 48th Street, between 14th Avenue and 15th Avenue, in Boro Park.

Yehi zichro boruch.

{Noam Newscenter/Photo: Boruch Ezagui}


  1. The man that created the heimishe chassidishe music industry. True that R’ Ben Zion Shenker “zol zein gezunt” was 1st, but R’ Dovid “made it happen”.
    For that he will always be remembered.
    He was an amazing person, always with a smile and a “gut vort”.
    He will be misssed. Yehi zichro boruch

  2. When i was a kid in the sixties, Chazan Werdyger oh was almost all we had to listen to. He was unbeatable, melodious, warm, clever with one of the greatest voice ranges I have ever heard. His clarity of diction was also amazing. There are a few great names in Jewish music in the last 50 or so years. and he was out there on the top. By all accounts he was a special Yid too. Yehi zichro Boruch.

  3. mishlai (3,9) ‘kabaid es hashem mahonechah’, see the yalkut there that speaks the tremendous zchus that Navos had because he was a beautiful chazzan, and brought people closer to hashem through song. and likewise touches upon the avairah of not using this talent when you have it.

  4. For a number of Years Chazan Werdyger z”l led Yomim Noraim tefilos in Young Israel of Flatbush. His tefilos and lively niggunim were very inspiring and the whole shul sang along and enjoyed it. I was a young boy and it chnged the way I would daven from then on. He has left a great legacy – his songs and his talented family, yehi zichro baruch

  5. BD’E. The generation of malachim that wenre in the old world and went through the War is being summoned to the kisei hakavod. We mist chap arein and take advantage of them while they are stiil with us. It is well known
    that the Satmar Rebbe said that anyone with a tattoo should be a destination for brachos. Reb Duvid in particular was a scion of a choshuve family and was the surviving link that perpetuated the musical dynasty and preserved the holy niggunim from the chassidishe courts in Europe. More than for his talents he will be remembered for his unvanquishable faith through the most difficult of times. Who else that went through what he did could dedicate their lives to music? Only someone who said Dayan Haemes asHatov Vhameitiv. Yehe Zichro Boruch.