FORT WAYNE — Violins of Hope is a collection of restored instruments played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. The instruments have survived concentration camps, pogroms and many long journeys and tell remarkable stories of justice and free expression.
Israeli violinmaker Amnon Weinstein has spent the last two decades locating and restoring these violins. He dedicates his work to 400 relatives he never knew, all of whom were murdered by the Nazis.
After growing up to become one of the most respected violinmakers in the world, Weinstein determined to reclaim his lost heritage. He started locating violins that were played by Jews in the camps and ghettos, painstakingly piecing them back together so they could be brought to life again on the concert stage.
Although most of the musicians who originally played the instruments were silenced by the Holocaust, their voices and spirits live on through the violins he has lovingly restored. Weinstein calls these instruments Violins of Hope.
“They couldn’t pray. The violins prayed for them,” he said.
For Jews enduring utter despair and unimaginable evil during the Holocaust, music offered a haven and a sense of humanity. In some cases, the ability to play the violin spared Jewish musicians from more grueling labors or even death.
Nearly 50 years ago, Weinstein heard such a story from a customer who brought in an instrument for restoration. The customer survived the Holocaust because his job was to play the violin while Nazi soldiers marched others to their deaths.
Violins of Hope has toured many of the most important cities around the world and comes to Fort Wayne Nov. 9-24. In honor of its presence and the many lives whose stories they tell, a Jewish-Catholic prayer service will take place Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, Fort Wayne. Rabbi Paula Jayne Winnig from Congregation Achduth Vesholom and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades will come together in a prayer service that focuses on the beauty of the Psalms and the religious connections shared and revered by the Jewish people and Catholics. Music will be performed on the violins, with selections from both Jewish and Catholic faith traditions.
The violin has formed an important aspect of Jewish culture for centuries, both as a popular instrument with classical Jewish musicians and as a central factor of social life, as in the Klezmer tradition. But during the Holocaust, the violin assumed an extraordinary role within the Jewish community. It is those stories Violins of Hope Fort Wayne will tell. It is the hope of all involved that these strings of the Holocaust will leave participants with a sense of purpose, strength and optimism for the future.
The sound, presence and stories of the violins also are driving the creation of music, visual art, theater, public conversation, interfaith dialogue, readings and educational activities throughout Northeast Indiana.
In an increasingly complex, interrelated world, the critical goal of Violins of Hope Fort Wayne is to impart an understanding of the Holocaust while highlighting human behavior “from ultimate evil to ultimate good.” The entire two-week commemoration of communitywide events focuses on themes of defiance, resilience and legacy, portraying stories of courage in the face of oppression and horrific persecution.
“The Nazis aren’t here anymore. The violins, they are,” said Weinstein.
For a complete list of activities visit https://violinsofhopefw.org/.
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