Vio­lins of Hope: Vio­lins of the Holo­caust — Instru­ments of Hope and Lib­er­a­tion in Mankind’s Dark­est Hour

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By – April 30, 2014

Of the many cru­el­ties and atroc­i­ties in the Nazi death camps, the use of music was a par­tic­u­lar­ly dev­as­tat­ing pun­ish­ment to the Jew­ish inmates, both men­tal­ly and emotion­ally, inflict­ed to fur­ther humil­i­ate and degrade them. Jews were required to sing while march­ing to their work details and the Nazi guards would use this as an excuse to beat them if they did not sing to their lik­ing, which could be very arbi­trary in nature.

Addi­tion­al­ly, Jews who could play instru­ments were cho­sen from the gen­er­al prison pop­u­la­tion to form camp orches­tras and play dur­ing pris­on­er march­es, beat­ings, and execu­tions. At night these pris­on­er orches­tras would play for the Nazi offi­cers selec­tions accept­able to the offi­cers such as Brahms or Beethoven, but nev­er Mendelssohn.

As pris­on­ers arrived at the camps they were asked if they played musi­cal instru­ments. If they replied yes, they were select­ed for spe­cial work that was eas­i­er so they could pro­vide musi­cal enter­tain­ment in the evenings. It was a means of sur­vival for many. Some­how instru­ments made it into the camp and what was not avail­able, was pro­vid­ed by the camp offi­cers. The vio­lin, the musi­cal instru­ment most asso­ci­at­ed with the Jews, was the prize instru­ment and most played in the camps. The sto­ry of the camp orches­tras, and the vio­lins in these orches­tras, is the basis for this book that details how the vio­lins came to sur­vive and become a sym­bol of healing.

Amnon Wein­stein is an Israeli vio­lin­mak­er who first encoun­tered a Holo­caust vio­lin fifty years ago. The first encounter with this rem­nant of the Nazi death camps was emo­tion­al­ly too much for him and it was not until many years lat­er that he began the project known as Vio­lins of Hope. He has restored more than thir­ty of these vio­lins from sur­vivors who have brought the instru­ments to his shop in Tel Aviv. In addi­tion he has scoured the world look­ing for, and restor­ing these vio­lins. Many will nev­er be able to be traced to their orig­i­nal own­ers, but he con­tin­ues the labor of restora­tion and remembrance.

James Grymes, pro­fes­sor of Musi­col­o­gy, has researched many of the sto­ries of these Vio­lins of Hope and col­lect­ed them in a book, weav­ing the per­son­al sto­ries of the own­er, the vio­lin, and their jour­ney into the skilled and lov­ing hands of Amnon Weinstein.

Relat­ed content:

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

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