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Cantor Joseph Cysner Collection

Identifier: MS-0589

Scope and Contents

The Cantor Joseph Cysner Collection comprises Cysner's personal papers before, during and after World War II. It includes a handwritten and translated diary from his detention at Zbaszyn, plus a signed and decorated farewell document handmade by other detainees for Cysner. There are programs, books, writings and music from his time as a cantor and teacher in Manila and his internment at Santo Tomas. It includes Holocaust artifacts, newspaper clippings, newsletters, books, handwritten music, photographs, correspondence, programs, and scrapbooks. There is material from his cantorial work in San Francisco and San Diego, including music he composed, photographs, scrapbooks, programs, correspondence and newsletters. There is a large digital collection as well, some of which only exists here in digital format.


  • Creation: 1930s - 1960s


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in some or all of these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creator(s) of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of archival collections is such that multiple creators are often applicable and copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine. In any case, the user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, obtaining publication rights and copyright infringement. When requesting images from Special Collections & University Archives for publication, we require a signed agreement waiving San Diego State University of any liability in the event of a copyright violation.

Biographical Note

Joseph Cysner was born in 1912 in Bamberg, Germany. In 1937 he was granted a life contract to the Hamburg Temple, but was deported within the year to Zbaszyn, a detention site on the Polish-German border, where he performed as a cantor and taught music to the other prisoners. He was allowed to leave in 1939 when he was granted a position at Temple Emil in Manila, Philippines. He taught music at De La Salle College and Centro Escolar University and performed regularly on the radio and gave concerts for Philippine President Quezon. When the Japanese invaded, he was imprisoned in Santo Tomas Internment Camp for eight months and then released to care for his elderly mother on the condition that he wear an armband and be under constant scrutiny. Temple Emil and Cysner’s house were burned by the retreating Japanese and many of his books and manuscripts were lost. After the war, Cantor Cysner conducted services for the U.S. Armed Forces in The Philippines where thousands attended his Kol Nidre Service in Rizal Stadium in 1945. After immigrating to the U.S., he served as a cantor in San Francisco from 1946 to 1949 and married Sylvia Nagler. They had three daughters. His last appointment was at Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego in 1951 where he remained until his sudden death in 1961. He was extremely prolific in his brief career and much loved. For those ten years in San Diego, besides his duties at Tifereth Israel, he sang at many venues, conducted several choirs, both secular and religious, and composed liturgical music. The Cysner Collection is JHSSD’s most requested collection. Dr. Bonnie Harris wrote her doctoral dissertation based on this collection and wrote a published book entitled “Philippine Sanctuary - A Holocaust Odyssey,” 2020.


2.42 Linear Feet (Two records cartons and one Hollinger box)

Language of Materials


Custodial History

This collection was donated to the Jewish Historical Society of San Diego in 2002 by Cantor Cysner’s widow, Sylvia Nagler Cysner (JHSSD #2002.03). The cantor had saved his pre-WWII and WWII materials from the destruction of Manila, Philippines. He had also saved his post-war materials from several pulpits he held.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Jewish Historical Society of San Diego transferred this collection to Special Collections & University Archives in January 2022.


January 2022

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Cantor Joseph Cysner Collection
Bonnie Harris
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Sylvia Cysner, in memory of her husband Cantor Joseph Cysner, and Stan and Laurel Schwartz

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US