SLOAN COLUMN: Sound of Hope coming to S.C.
Something incredibly special is coming to South Carolina this spring.
The Violins of Hope will tour the Palmetto State April 18 through May 19. Myrtle Beach, Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, Spartanburg, Abbeville, Greenwood, and Sumter are scheduling and planning concerts, educational, and cultural events. More locations will be added as they are confirmed. With a little luck we can add Florence to the list.
For those not familiar with Violins of Hope, it is a collection of violins, violas and cellos that were owned by Jewish people, and played by Jewish musicians, before and during World War Two. The instruments have endured the atrocities faced by their owners during the Holocaust. They poignantly carry the memories, scars and stories of the survivors, those lost, and those family members and others who have handed them in to the collection.
Violins of Hope began and continue in large part to the efforts of a father and son from Israel, Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein. Together they have built a collection of 87 violins (and counting) that survived the Holocaust. Those violins will be coming to South Carolina in the spring.
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. As one person has pointed out, 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.
Amnon Weinstein, a luthier in Tel Aviv, is the son of Holocaust survivors from Lithuania. He 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. His son, Avshalom, inherited his father's love of violin-making. He also inherited his father’s 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,” says Avshalom.
“Every camp had at least one orchestra.
" Each violin has a story, though not all the violins come with family members who know of it. Sometimes, the story is one of resilience and survival against the odds. Sometimes, the story is one of inevitable tragedy. When the Weinsteins don’t know to whom the violin belonged to, they name it after a survivor they do know. One restored violin is named, for instance after Amnon’s wife's grandfather, one of the three brothers who formed the Bielski brigade in Belarus who inspired the movie Defiance.
The Weinsteins began touring in 2008, combining stories they know of with performances by local musicians. Both Weinsteins feel these violins must be played, not just put on display.
Touring along with Violins of Hope will be Varna International’s “Songs of Life.” “Songs of Life” presents the little-known story of Bulgarians who rescued their 49,000 Jewish citizens from Nazis in 1943. Also, synagogues, churches, opera houses, libraries, schools, and universities will have the opportunity to host six visiting authors of Holocaust-era stories, museum exhibits of the 80-year-old violins, and an art exhibit called “The Auschwitz Album Revisited.” Making the visit even more memorable will be that the tour will coincide with Passover (April 15-23), Easter (April 170, and Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 28).
“The violins,” states Amnon Weinstein on the Violins for Hope web page, “represent the victory of the human spirit over evil and hatred.