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Instruments Onced Owned By Concentration Camp Prisoners Will Be Played In Upcoming SWFL Performance

The Naples Holocaust Museum and Education Center is hosting an exhibit of violins once owned and played by victims of Nazi concentration camps. This week a performance featuring the restored instruments will honor their stories.

The exhibit is called Violins of Hope and has been on display since Nov. 14. It tells the story of how violin maker Amnon Weinstein from Israel, the son of Holocaust refugees, began collecting and restoring instruments that were once owned by concentration camp prisoners.

The imprisoned musicians were forced to play in punishing weather and brutal circumstances. They played as new arrivals to the camps were separated from their families, as prisoners walked to the gas chambers and sometimes simply for the entertainment of Nazi officers.

“The Nazis did use the orchestras in order to show visiting dignitaries 'look what we are able to do here,' said the museum president and CEO Susan Suarez. "But the prisoners themselves wanted to create music as a way to just feel human in a situation where they have been deprived of every type of human dignity.”

Suarez said she felt honored to have been able to bring the exhibit to Naples. She also said the restored instruments have been played  by orchestras and musicians from major cities in the U.S. and abroad. 

This week, a few of them will be played by local artists during a performance at the Ritz Carlton in Naples.

The music was selected by conductor, violinist, and educator Max Rabinovitsj, who said he feels a deep, personal connection to the Violins of Hope.

“I went through the Second World War," Rabinovitsj said. "I was a hidden child and members of my family perished in  the concentration camps so I think I am more than involved, I’m part of it."

For the performance, Rabinovitsj chose works by composers whose lives were cut short by the tragedy the instruments were able to survive.

“The music was really chosen by the idea that we would play composers that were in the concentration camps and didn’t survive," Rabinovitsj said. "One of the composers died in his twenties and the other in his thirties, so what they would’ve become is anybody’s guess of course, but this way, we can resurrect them.”

Rabinovitsj said the music he selected has never been heard before and would have been considered new and fresh during the era it was created. 

To finish off the performance, Rabinovitsj said he wants to play the song Schindler's List.

"Just by myself on one of those violins and I hope I can get through it,” Rabinovitsj said

Suarez said a local musician was brought to tears while playing the Violin of Hope the museum has on display during the inauguration of the exhibit.  

“During one of the pieces, you could see tears rolling down his eyes as he was playing," Suarez said. "He said that he could feel the decades of how it had been used because that violin was built in about 1860, and he just had all of these thoughts of how many different hands have held this beautiful instrument, and how many different audiences large and small have heard this playing. We just all broke down.”

The Violins of Hope exhibit will be on display until January 18 th.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Students from Dunbar Middle School watch an introductory video about the Violins of Hope before walking through the exhibit on a guided tour during a school field trip to the museum.
Andrea Perdomo / WGCU
Students from Dunbar Middle School watch an introductory video about the Violins of Hope before walking through the exhibit on a guided tour during a school field trip to the museum.

Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.
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