Restored violins from Holocaust keep history alive

Apr 25, 2019

During the Holocaust, some six million Jewish people were killed. Some of them were musicians. 

Currently, the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra has a violin which made it through the Holocaust. The violin is a rich brown color and has a beautiful inlaid Star of David decorating the back of it.

Libor Ondras, the music director of the GLCO, says instruments like this one offered a little bit of normalcy for Jewish prisoners in concentration camps all over Europe.

“Being able to hear some music gave them strength to go on, and perhaps hope that this once will be over,” Ondras says. 

The Nazi’s would sometimes spare Jewish musicians headed for the gas chambers because of their musical talent.

“They had orchestras that played in the morning when prisoners were going out to the work camps,” says Judy Zorn, the executive director of the GLCO. “They played when they were coming back in, they played when they were in line for the gas chambers, they played for executions, they played for a lot of things.”

The violin at the GLCO was restored by a man named Amnon Weinstein, a violin maker in Israel. Decades ago, he came across a violin which made it through the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. When he opened up the case, he found ashes from the crematorium inside.

After that, Weinstein began collecting other instruments from the Holocaust and started a project called 'Violins of Hope.' He’s collected and restored over 60 instruments, and now he loans them to musicians and orchestras around the world.

“What this project certainly means to Amnon Weinstein is to give a voice to the musicians who were silenced, and now these instruments speak again,” Zorn says. 

On Sunday night, Libor Ondras will open the Violins of Hope concert in Petoskey with a solo called “t’filah” by Lera Auerbach.

When he’s done performing, Ondras will pass the instrument on to the concertmaster, who will then take a turn playing it. And so the violin will get passed down through the entire violin section of the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra.

This story was featured on Points North. Listen to the full episode here.