Stories of the Violins of Hope

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Storch Violin, Phoenix, AZ

This violin belonged to the Katzenstein family of Hamburg, Germany.  The violin was played by Daniel Storch’s grandmother, Elsa, and his mother, Ruth.


Daniel’s grandfather, Paul Katzenstein, was a prominent physician and violist in the Jewish community. Paul’s wife, Elsa, was an accomplished violinist.  Shortly after Kristallnacht, on January 10, 1939, Daniel’s mother Ruth (11 years old at the time) was sent on a Kindertransport to Antwerp.  A Christian family cared for her there until the family could send for her and bring her safely to the United States.

The Katzenstein family owned two violins and one viola but they had to sell these, along with other valuables, to acquire money to immigrate to the United States.


 Only one violin made the trip with them. This violin is the only remembrance that Daniel Storch has of his grandmother, Elsa and his mother, Ruth. 

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Auschwitz Violin

This violin was owned by an inmate who played in the men’s orchestra at the concentration camp in Auschwitz and survived the war. Abraham Davidowitz, an Israeli soldier who served in the (British initiated) Jewish Brigade, was approached by the survivor and asked to buy the violin. Davidowitz payed $50 for the instrument hoping his son, Freddy, would play it when he grew up. 


Many years later Freddy heard about the Violins of Hope project and donated it to be fully restored. Since then this violin — which is now in perfect condition— has become a symbol of Violins of Hope and has been played in concerts by the best musicians all over the world. 

 

This type of violin was very popular amongst many Jews in Eastern Europe, as they were relatively cheap and made mainly for amateurs. They were made in Saxony or Tirol 150 years ago in a German workshop. 

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The Erich Weininger Violin, Schweitzer, Germany, 1870

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. 


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. 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 greatgranddaughter who brought it to the Weinsteins for restoration. Amnon quickly recognized the instrument’s historical significance and 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

The restoration work of this violin is dedicated to the Bielski partisans who lived, fought and saved 1230 Jews during the war. Amnon’s wife, Assaela, is the daughter of Asael Bielski, the second of the three Bielski brothers (made famous by Edward Zwick’s 2008 film “Defiance”). Asael Bielski, along with his two brothers Tuvia and Zus, fled from Poland into the Belarusian forest in 1941 after the Einsatzgruppen had begun the mass slaughter of Jews that marked the first phase of the Holocaust. The Bielski Brothers managed not only to hold off the German Army but also to recruit Jewish civilians and keep them concealed for three years in the forest, where Assaela was born.


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, it was quite common for young Jewish children to play the violin. This is probably the reason why so many Klezmer instruments were decorated with the most known Jewish symbol – a Star of David. 

The Sandor Fisher and Haftel Violins

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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 and he played to the end of his days.


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The Haftel Violin, Miracourt, France@1870

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

The Violin Thrown from a Train

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 and called out to them: “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. Years later, the worker passed away and his children found the abandoned violin in the attic. They sold it to a local violinmaker in the South of France and told him the story they heard from their father. The French violinmaker heard about Violins of Hope and gave the violin to the Weinsteins.

Heil Hitler Violin

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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 he inscribed 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 violinmakers were not Nazis. Many were known to support Jewish musicians who were considered to be their very talented and devoted clients and friends.

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The Morpurgo Violin

A few years ago, Senora Morpurgo, a 90-year old lady, along with her three daughters, brought the violin of Gualtiero Morpurgo, (playing in photo above) the head of the family from Milan, Italy to the Weinsteins.


The Morpurgos are an ancient and respected Jewish family with a history dating back 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 when Gualtiero’s mother was forced to board the first train to Auschwitz. Gualtiero was sent to a labor camp and being loyal to his mother, took his 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 the violin. 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.

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The Buried Violin, Hecht

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 Europe, 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 their valuables. He brought his violin and told the clerk that he had no problem giving away everything else 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

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

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Feivel Wininger lived in Romania with his elderly parents, his wife and baby daughter, Helen. In October 1941, Feivel and thousands other Jews were deported by train to the Ukrainian ghetto of Shargorod. A famous judge, who was an amateur violinist, recognized Feivel as the gifted child-violinist he knew years ago and gave him his Italian Amati violin.


 Feivel played this violin in exchange for food for his family and many other people living in the ghetto. Many years later, 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 Weichold and Wagner Violins

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

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Both of these fine, high quality instruments belonged to members of the Palestine Orchestra created in 1936 by Bronislav Hubermann.  They tell the story and history of the musicians who after 1948 became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO). Most members of the IPO were first rate musicians who had played in European orchestras but lost their positions when the Nazis came into power in 1933. When the war ended there was a general boycott of German goods in Israel.  So much so that the name: “Germany” was boycotted on the radio.


In this atmosphere, musicians refused to play on German made instruments and many came to Moshe Weinstein, Amnon’s father, and asked him to buy their violins.  “If you don’t buy my violin I’ll break it”, said some.  Others threatened to burn their instruments. Weinstein bought each and every instrument – even though he knew he would not be able to sell them. He bought them because he felt that violins were above war and evil.   


After 50 years of silence, these two extraordinary instruments can now be heard in Violins of Hope concerts.

Zimmermann Krongold Violin, Warsaw 1924

Feivel Wininger Violin, Shobach, Germany 1880

Zimmermann Krongold Violin, Warsaw 1924

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Yaacov Zimermann was one of the first Jewish violin makers in Warsaw.  Shimon Krongold was a wealthy industrialist there and an amateur violinist, who ordered a violin made by Zimermann.  Zimermann made him a fine instrument with a lovely Star of David inlaid on the back.


When the war broke out in 1939, Shimon escaped to Russia and eventually ended up in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he died of Typhus at the end of the war. A few years later, a survivor of Tashkent brought Shimon’s violin to the Krongold family in Jerusalem and told the story of his death. 

In late 1999, Amnon gave a radio interview and 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.