The Auschwitz Violin

This instrument was originally owned by an inmate who played in the men's orchestra at the concentration camp in Auschwitz. And survived.


Abraham Davidowitz, who fled Poland to Russia in 1939, later returned to post-war Germany and worked for the Joint near Munich, Germany, helping displaced Jews living in DP (Displaced People) camps. 


  

One day a man approached Abraham and offered him his violin, as he had no money at all. Abraham paid $50 for the violin, hoping that his little son, Freddy, would play it when he grew up. 


Many years later Freddy heard about the Violins of Hope project of the Weinsteins and donated his instrument. Since then this violin, now restored to perfect condition, has been played in concerts by the best musicians all over the world.

It is important to note that such instruments were very popular with Jews in Eastern Europe, as they were relatively cheap and made for amateurs. This particular violin was made in Saxony or Tirol in a German workshop. It carries a false label: J.B. Schweitzer, who was a famous maker in his day.

The Wagner Violin

A number of Jewish musicians and their families were rescued from Nazi persecution by Jewish violinist, Bronislaw Huberman (photo on left) when he founded The Palestine Orchestra  - now the world-famous Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. By helping the musicians and their families immigrate to Palestine, Huberman saved an estimated 1,000 lives between 1935 and 1939.



The Palestine Orchestra

The first official performance of the Palestine Orchestra was December 26, 1936, under the baton of celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini. Many musicians brought top-quality German-made instruments with them to Palestine. After the war, when they heard of the atrocities that the Germans committed during the Holocaust, the musicians refused to play their German-made instruments. Several violinists destroyed their instruments, others sold them to Amnon’s father, Moshe Weinstein. Moshe could not bear to think of any instruments being damaged – even German ones. The first violin Moshe bought was made by the German violinmaker Benedict Wagner. 

Wagner Violin

The German violins remained in Moshe’s workshop and were passed on to Amnon when he took over the business. In the late 1990s, Amnon became curious about the German violins and at the invitation of a German bowmaker, Amnon gave a lecture at a conference in Dresden. The success of the presentation, coupled with Amnon’s curiosity, inspired him to begin searching for other violins with connections to the Holocaust. This was the start of the Violins of Hope project.

The Erich weininger violin

In March 1938, butcher and amateur violinist, Erich Weininger, was 25 years old and living in Vienna when the German Army marched into Austria. By June 1938, Weininger, along with other prominent Jewish leaders in Vienna, was sent to the Dachau concentration camp. 


From Dachau, Weininger spent six years on a harrowing journey to Buchenwald, then Bratislavia, Palenstine, Mauritius and finally back to Palestine in 1945. Throughout all his travels, he managed to keep his violin with him. 

The Beau Basin Boys

While in Mauritius, Erich was confined to the Beau Basin Prison where he and other refugee musicians formed a group called the Beau Basin Boys (photo at right). The popularity of the Beau Basin Boys extended well beyond the prison walls. Their performances were broadcast over the radio and the musicians were allowed to leave the prison several times a week for performances which gave them their only moments of freedom.


Erich died in 1988, at the age of 76. His violin was passed down to his son Ze’ev who in turn left it to his daughter, Tova. In 2012, Tova considered selling the violin and asked her son to take the violin to Tel Aviv to get it appraised. Her son quickly learned about Amnon Weinstein. The violin was damaged from being played outside in the Mauritius’s tropical heat and was not worth much; however, Amnon quickly recognized the instrument’s historical significance. He agreed to restore the violin for free. All he asked was permission to maintain Erich Weininger’s Violin as one of the Violins of Hope.

   

the bielski violin

 This is a Klezmer's violin made by David A. German in 1870. The back of the violin features an in-laid mother-of-pearl Star of David.

 Most Klezmers were self-made and self-taught musicians with a natural talent for music. While many arts were not encouraged by Jewish tradition, music became one of the very few venues available to artists. It was quite common for young children to play violins, as told by I.L. Peretz, the Yiddish writer, who wrote in one of his short stories that one could tell how many boys were in a Jewish family by counting the number of violins hanging on the wall. This is probably the reason why so many Klezmer instruments were decorated with the most known Jewish symbol – a Star of David. Most Klezmer violins were cheap, made in Czechoslovakia or Germany, in shops that specialized in making ornamented violins.

The restoration work of this violin is dedicated to the Bielski partisans who lived, fought and saved 1230 Jews during the war. Assaela Weinstein, Amnon's wife, is the daughter of Asael Bielski (pictured right), one of the three brothers who formed the Bielski brigade in Belaru.

the moshe weinstein violin

Born in a shtetl in East Europe, Moshe Weinstein fell in love with the sound of the violin. It happened when a Klezmer troupe arrived in the shtetl to play at a rich man’s wedding. While all the other children gathered under the table to hide and steal sweets, Moshe was hypnotized by the sound of music. After a few festive days the troupe left and Moshe followed the Klezmers out of town.   Although he did not stay with the Klezmer troupe, Moshe did get a simple violin and taught himself how to play. He later studied at the music academy in Vilna, where he met Golda, a pianist. Both immigrated to Palestine in 1938.

Moshe and Golda

  

Before leaving Europe, Moshe went to Warsaw to study with Yaakov Zimmerman to repair string instruments. Since most Jews play violins, thought Moshe, they would need a violin maker in the new land. After arriving in Palestine, he first worked in an orchard picking oranges and a year later opened a violin shop in Tel Aviv.


Loyal to the tradition of helping out young prodigy kids making their first steps in music, he supported many talented Israeli children, among them Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and many others.

   

The zimmerman Krongold Violin

In the early 1920’s, Shimon Krongold was a wealthy Jewish industrialist in Warsaw as well as an amateur violinist. At the request of his friend, Yaakov Zimmerman, who was one of the first Jewish violin makers, Krongold would allow young Jewish violinists to practice in his house. One was Michael Schwalbe, who survived the Holocaust and eventually became the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic.

Shimon’s brother Chaim, migrated to Palestine in 1923 so the two brothers lost touch and would never see each other again. When the war broke out, Shimon escaped from Warsaw to Russia and then to Tashkent Uzbekistan, where he eventually died on typhus. 


In the late 1940's, a man came to visit Chaim in Jerusalem and asked if he was any relation to Shimon. After affirming that he was his brother, the man showed Chaim a violin and told him it belonged to Shimon. Chaim bought the violin and it stayed with the Krongold family in Jerusalem.

 In late 1999, Amnon gave a radio interview on the Motele Schlein violin. He asked listeners to contact him if they knew of any other violins connected to the Holocaust. The Krongold family brought Shimon’s violin to Amnon. 


The biggest surprise came when Amnon peered into the violin and found a label that reads, in a combination of Hebrew and Yiddish, “This violin I made to commemorate my loyal friend Mr. Shimon Krongold, Warsaw 1924.” The dedication is signed by Yaakov Zimmerman, the same man who taught Amnon’s father how to repair violins more than 60 years earlier.

the feivel wininger violin

Feivel Wininger lived in Romania with his elderly parents, wife and baby daughter, Helen. In October 1941 Feivel and thousands other Jews were deported by train to the swamp land of Transnistria and further into the Ukrain. The suffering and horrors of this exodus was harsh, but Feivel 

never gave up.  Finally, in the Ukrainian ghetto of Shargorod, he found a way to survive. A famous judge who was an amateur violinist recognized Feivel as the gifted child-violinist he was years ago and gave him his Italian Amati violin. Feivel, who labored chopping wood for local Ukrainians, tried the violin and his life changed. All of a sudden there was music and hope. A local Ukrainian peasant let him play at weddings and holidays in exchange of food and leftovers. Feivel lost his precious violin a short while later, but found a way to bring food to his family and some 17 people playing Ukrainian and Romanian music on another violin. Many years later, in Israel, Helen brought her father's violin to be repaired in the Weinstein's workshop in Tel Aviv. Upon hearing this incredible story, the Weinsteins repaired the violin and since then, it has been a part of Violins of Hope.

The Zimermann five Stars of David violin, Warsaw 1920's.

Yaacov Zimermann worked in Warsaw and had many clients, both Jews and Christians. He was known to support young violinists such as Michel Swalbe and Ida Haendle, the child prodigy who became a world renowned virtuoso.This hand-made violin is outstanding because it is unusually decorated by five Stars of David, four on the upper deck and one on the back. The decorations were made with glue mixed with black powder, usually made to order. The violin was found in very bad condition. The varnish was almost non-existent and it gave the impression of having been played most of the time in open air, rain and shine. It was repaired meticulously for a year and a half and now serves as a concert instrument.

The violin from Lyon, France, made in Germany around 1900.

 In July 1942 thousands of Jews were arrested in Paris and sent by cattle trains to concentration camps in the East, most of them to Auschwitz. On one of the packed trains was a man holding a violin. When the train stopped somewhere in the countryside, the man heard a few men who were working on the railways speaking French.  The man in the train cried out:


"In the place where I now go – I don't need a violin. Here, take my violin so it may live!"

  

The man threw his violin out the narrow window. It landed on the rails and was picked up by one of the French workers. For many years the violin had no life. No one played it. No one had any use for it. Years later the worker passed away and his children found the abandoned violin in the attic. They soon looked to sell it to a local maker in the South of France and told him the story they heard from their father. The French violin maker heard about Violins of Hope and gave it to the Weinsteins, so the violin will live on.

   

The Morpurgo violin: a refugee violin

  

A few years ago, a 90-year old lovely lady and her three daughters came to the Weinstein's workshop in Tel Aviv. Senora Morpurgo and her daughters brought them the much treasured violin of Gualtiero Morpurgo, the head of the family from Milan, Italy.


The Morpurgos are an ancient and respected Jewish family. They go back some 500 years in the north of Italy. When still a young child, Gualtiero's mother handed him a violin and said:


"You may not become a famous violinist, but the music will help you in desperate moments of life and will widen your horizons. Do not give up, sooner or later it will prove me right".

  

That moment arrived without warning. Gualtiero's mother was forced to board the first train, Wagon 06, at the Central Station in Milan. Destination: Auschwitz. Her son, Gualtiero, was sent to a forced labor camp and loyal to his mother, took the violin along. He often found hope and strength while playing Bach's Partitas with frozen fingers after a long day's work in harsh conditions.

  

Born in Ancona, Gualtiero graduated engineering school and worked in the shipyards of Genoa. When the war ended he volunteered to use his engineering skills to build and set up ships for Aliya Bet, helping survivors of the war sail illegally to Palestine. For this, he was awarded the Medal of Jerusalem by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.


Gualtiero never stopped playing. He was 97 when he put his life-long companion in its case. After his death in 2012, his widow and three daughters attended the Violins of Hope concert in Rome and decided that this is where it belongs – in the hands of devoted musicians in fine concert halls.

The Heil Hitler Violin

  

This is a non-distinguished instrument that was owned by a Jewish musician or an amateur who needed a minor repair job done in 1936. The "craftsman" opened the violin and inscribed on it's upper deck was a swastika and the words: "Heil Hitler, 1936."  


He later closed the violin and handed it back to the owner, who played on it for years, unaware of the inscription.

 A few years ago the violin was bought by an American violin maker in Washington DC, who opened it and was absolutely astonished to discover what was written inside.  His first instinct was to burn the instrument, but on a second thought he contacted the Weinsteins in Tel Aviv and donated it to the Violins of Hope project. Today it is a part of the collection of instruments, but  it will not be repaired or played. Ever.

  

It is important to note that the majority of German violins makers were not Nazis. Many were known to support Jewish musicians who were considered to be their very talented and devoted clients and friends.

   

Jacob Hakkert violin

This is the first hand-made violin by a famous Dutch Jewish violinmaker, Jacob Hakkert, who studied in the violin makers' school in Mirecourt, in the north of France. He joined the family business shop in Rotterdam, Holland around 1910. Hakkert was an active maker who made violins, violas and cellos. He also had a reputation for developing and selling good quality strings which were popular among many musicians. Hakkert was deported to Auschweitz where he died on May 22, 1944.


Pictured below is Joseph Hakkert (left) and Hakkert working in his studio (right).

The Buried Violin

Heinrich Herrmann grew up in Schwabach and Nuremberg, in the south of Germany, where he learned to play the violin on an old, inexpensive Gypsy instrument. During the war, when he and his family tried to secure visas to leave Eurpoe, he used his savings to buy an expensive 150-year-old instrument handmade in the famous atelier of the Klotz family in Bavaria, Germany.


Heinrich thought he could sell the extraordinary violin and support his family. His plan was thwarted when all Jews in Holland were forced to register with the Nazi police and relinquish all of their valuables. He brought his violin and told the clerk that he had no problem giving away all his valuables but he wanted to keep his violin. “Go home with your violin,” said the clerk, “and come back tomorrow with another. But don’t tell anyone I said so.”

   

The Herrmanns asked a Dutch friend, Yan Molder, to keep the valuable violin for them. Yan was afraid the Nazis would find out that he had held on to Jewish property, so he gave it to a musician friend for safe-keeping. This friend also feared the police and buried the violin in his garden.

   

Miraculously, Heinrich and his family survived and in 1944 they were exchanged for German citizens being expelled from British-held Palestine. A year later, after the end of the war, the badly-damaged violin was brought to Heinrich in Palestine. It was repaired and stayed close to Heinrich, who played it for the next 40 years.

more violins

The Haftel Violin

This violin belonged to Zvi Haftel, the first concert master of the Palestine Orchestra, later to become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a French instrument made by famous violinmaker, August Darche, in the town of Mirecourt around 1870.

 

Heinrich (Zvi) Haftel was one of about 100 musicians gathered by Bronislav Hubermann from all over Europe in 1936 and brought to Palestine. Haftel was a distinguished violinist before the war and joined Hubermann after he lost his job in a German orchestra. Hubermann's vision to create an all Jewish orchestra in Palestine saved the lives of many musicians and their families.


Haftel's violin is one of the best in the collection of Violins of Hope. 

The Friedman Violin

This is a typical story of a Jewish family in Romania. Two sisters, ages 9 and 11, shared the same violin. Both took music lessons while their mother watched over and made sure they practiced every day. During the war, being transported from one place to another, they lost touch with their parents who kept the violin as a souvenir of their little talented girls. 


When the war ended the girls were taken by Aliyat HaNoar (child immigration organization) and were sent by boat to Palestine. This was not the end of their travels and troubles. British police, then in control of Palestine, sent the boat and all immigrants to a camp in Cyprus. 


Months later the sisters were reunited with their parents and their violin when they arrived in Israel with thousands other survivors who were interned in Cyprus until the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948.

   

American Soldiers Violin

The reconstruction work of this violin is dedicated to the memory of all soldiers who fought alongside the Allies against the Nazis; to all those who died so that we can live in a world free of fear. It was repaired in 1899 by J. Panzram in Elmdale, Kansas

The Wedding Violin

This violin arrived from Switzerland with a history all its own glued inside the instrument: “The second violin, Wedding violin, made by Leopold Reininger-Delz, an Austrian, during the time he spent as a refugee in Switzerland in the year of the Han-World-War 1944.”

The Sandor Fisher Violin

Sandor Fisher was born in 1919 in Romania. He started violin lessons at age six and studied singing and acting for 12 years. At  age 18 he changed his name to Farago Sandor to avoid persecution as a Jew and he became a part of the local opera company. When the situation worsened and his father was conscripted to hard labor, Sandor replaced him and brought his violin along to the work camp. Soon Sandor was ordered to play for the officers during dinner and so was able to smuggle some leftovers for his friends.


In 1944 he managed to escape the labor camp and join the Soviets. He stayed in Hungary for some years until immigrating to Israel, marrying his wife and raising a family of three daughters, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. According to his daughters, he never parted with his violin. He played to the end of his days.