Res­cued vi­o­lins bring back Holo­caust ‘es­cape’ tales

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

TUCK­ING the vi­o­lin be­neath his chin, the in­stru­ment’s wood glis­ten­ing un­der the packed au­di­to­rium’s spot­lights, Guy Braun­stein’s hand trem­bled from the weight of his­tory.

“I have done thou­sands of con­certs, but I have never been as emo­tional and trem­bled the way I did when I took that vi­o­lin from Auschwitz in my hand,” Braun­stein said back­stage after the event.

The soloist, along with a group of Jerusalem cham­ber orches­tra mu­si­cians, per­formed in Tel Aviv as part of a project that col­lects and re­stores vi­o­lins from the Holo­caust.

The one that Braun­stein played be­longed to a man forced to per­form at the Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp as in­mates left each morn­ing for forced labour else­where and re­turned in the evenings.

At the au­di­to­rium in Tel Aviv, some in the au­di­ence were in tears as the mu­si­cians played a Gus­tav Mahler com­po­si­tion.

“Its smell was dif­fer­ent,” said Braun­stein, who has made his ca­reer with the Ber­lin Phil­har­monic Orches­tra and has now per­formed twice as part of the project.

“I had the feel­ing while play­ing that some­one was stick­ing a stake through my heart be­cause I knew its story.”

The “Vi­o­lins of Hope” project is the brain­child of 76-year-old Is­raeli Am­non We­in­stein, with other con­certs hav­ing also been per­formed in Ger­many and the United States.

We­in­stein is a luthier born into a fam­ily of Lithua­nian Jews who es­caped from the Holo­caust.

He has spent the past 20 years in his base­ment workshop in Tel Aviv, where the smell of var­nish hangs heavy in the air, restor­ing the vi­o­lins which are of­ten handed over to him in poor con­di­tion.

He hopes his son Avshalom, a third-gen­er­a­tion luthier, car­ries the ba­ton long into the fu­ture.

“That vi­o­lin has been played be­fore piles of hu­man corpses,” We­in­stein said of the in­stru­ment played by Braun­stein. “What it has seen can make you crazy.”

His mis­sion was to find “any vi­o­lin that es­caped the Holo­caust, bring it in, re­pair it and end up with a vi­o­lin ca­pa­ble of be­ing played in a con­cert”.

“I want th­ese vi­o­lins to be played, that what they have to say be heard,” said We­in­stein.

His col­lec­tion cur­rently in­cludes 60 vi­o­lins and cel­los, each with its own story, many of them tragic, about Euro­pean Jews dur­ing the Holo­caust.

Most were made in Ger­many and the for­mer Cze­choslo­vakia, in­clud­ing those car­ry­ing a Star of David or a name in­scribed in­side them.

We­in­stein spends hours in search of vi­o­lins on his com­puter, the only sign of moder­nity in his cramped workshop that harks back to an­other era.

He is some­times con­tacted by peo­ple with a vi­o­lin they think may in­ter­est him.

A French­man re­cently handed him an in­stru­ment that he had in­her­ited from his fa­ther.

His fa­ther had been given the vi­o­lin by a Jew be­ing sent to Drancy in­tern­ment camp in France, who told him, “I can do noth­ing with it where I’m go­ing.”

Vi­o­lins, along with clar­inets, were popular in Jewish com­mu­ni­ties at the time in cen­tral and eastern Europe, where the Klezmer mu­si­cal tra­di­tion of the Ashke­nazi Jews thrived.

The Yad Vashem Holo­caust me­mo­rial and re­search cen­tre in Jerusalem has its own col­lec­tion and has worked with We­in­stein in the past.

“In all tes­ti­mony on the Holo­caust, there is a vi­o­lin story, of a man who grabs a vi­o­lin and, de­spite the cold and the hunger and the fleas, plays,” We­in­stein said.

“And those who lis­ten to him can es­cape. They are trans­ported. They fly – like in a Cha­gall paint­ing. There is noth­ing else that can res­ur­rect their voice and that will re­main after us.” –

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