Ask a musician: every instrument has a story behind it. Who played it, where, why and how. One father and son team in Israel has built a collection of 87 violins (and counting) that survived the Holocaust. Now they’re in the San Francisco Bay Area through mid-March, sharing those violins and their stories.
Most of the violins have been restored: revarnished, restrung, the bridge, chin rest and other parts replaced. But some have been left untouched, so you can see they’ve been to hell and back, literally. Violins are light enough to carry, even on a death march; valuable enough to bury in the backyard, or sell, if you’re starving.
Many musicians in the concentration camps could lengthen their lives by playing in orchestras there, because many Nazis liked to listen to classical music and forced their prisoners to entertain them. A surprising number of violins survived the Holocaust, even though their owners didn’t.
Tel Aviv luthier Amnon Weinstein, himself a son of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania, began collecting these violins after another Holocaust survivor brought him one to restore. When Weinstein opened up the man's violin, he found ashes inside from the concentration camp the man had once played in.
Initially appalled, Weinsten began to lovingly restore them as vehicles for the transmission of history. His collection expanded on that of his father's, who held on to instruments other Holocaust survivors were desperate to discard as they sloughed off all things German to start life anew in Israel.
Weinstein's son Avshalom inherited his father's love of violin-making, as well as his passion for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive as the world's collective memory of it fades with passing of the last generation of survivors. "There was music everywhere. Every camp had at least one orchestra," he said.