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'Violins Of Hope' Give Voice To Voiceless Of Holocaust

Robin Sussingham
Daniel Jordan, concertmaster of the Sarasota Orchestra, with the Auschwitz violin

There is a violin shop in Tel Aviv, whose owner has spent the past two decades repairing violins that belonged to Jewish musicians during the holocaust.

These "Violins of Hope," he says, give a voice to the voiceless.

Amnon Weinstein has restored dozens of the instruments, and has brought them to Sarasota where they'll be played by members of the Sarasota Orchestra and other musicians in concerts and at schools around the Tampa Bay area for the next week.

The Jewish Federation in Sarasota-Manatee has brought the tour to the area. Its concertmaster, Daniel Jordan, is getting to play a violin that belonged to an inmate of the Auschwitz concentration camp. According to Weinstein, the man played in an orchestra at the camp, whose job was to provide music as Jews were unloaded from the cattle cars, or as they were led to the gas chambers.

The music calmed the prisoners , distracting them from the reality of their situation.

Weinstein  said the violin was central to the eastern European Jewish way of life that was destroyed during World War II, and it was common for Jewish children to play the instrument.  Weinstein's parents emigrated from Poland to Israel in 1938, which is where his father opened a violin shop.

He recalls holocaust survivors coming to his father's shop and relinquishing their violins.

"The families never knew that the man or the woman had played in the orchestras," Weinstein said.  "Because they didn't want to talk about it. Very few players continued to play after the holocaust. Because of what they had seen, it was impossible."

In addition to several venues in Europe, Weinstein has taken his violins to Cleveland, to Charlotte,  North Carolina, and most recently to Jacksonville before coming to Sarasota. All of the violinists rehearsing with the Sarasota Orchestra are playing with restored instruments from the Violins of Hope project, including famed Israeli violinist Shlomo Mintz.

In addition to the gala concert, the musicians are taking the violins into the community for  outreach programs and to several schools. Weinstein's son,  Avshalom Weinstein, said education is at the heart of the Violins of Hope project.

"No one can understand what it means: six million dead," said Avshalom. "But when you have an instrument, and you have a story, and you can touch the instrument and you can understand the journey of one person, you can understand what happened to him,  what happened with his family. You can not understand six million people. Six million stories."

Amnon Weinstein began the project in 1996 with just a few violins. As word has spread, more and more people are coming forward with instruments and the stories that accompany them. There are now more than 60 "violins of hope."

"The Nazis wanted to destroy Jewish culture, the Jewish nation, completely," he said. "But the Jewish tradition is there, Jewish culture is there, Jewish music is there. And the Nazis are not there. And this is our victory."


Robin Sussingham was Senior Editor at WUSF until September 2020.
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