Thursday, February 2, 2012

Violins of Hope Signal Wondrous Transformation

By Meg Freeman Whalen

“Wondrous, my child, is the transformation of anguish.” Yiddish poet Abraham Sutzkever presents this testament to redemption more than once in a book of poetry called The Fiddle Rose. In Sutzkever’s poems, words of suffering are transformed into words of healing. “Wondrous transformation” is likewise the story of the “Violins of Hope,” a collection of violins recovered from the Holocaust and painstakingly restored by the master Israeli violinmaker, Amnon Weinstein.

The son of a violinist/violinmaker who fled Vilna, Lithuania for Palestine in the years before the Holocaust, Amnon Weinstein never met his Lithuanian relatives. Knowing that, like his family, many Jewish musicians and their instruments had been silenced by Nazi brutality, he began a quest two decades ago to find and repair violins from the Holocaust.

In 1996, he discovered the first violin; now nearly 30 instruments have found their way into Weinstein’s shop in Tel Aviv Israel. Some he discovered at flea markets; some were brought to him by family members of the musicians who had owned them. Many of the violins were so damaged from being played outside in rain and sun and snow, that it often took him more than a year to bring each to playing condition. One was filled with ashes.

In April, UNC Charlotte will bring 18 of the Violins of Hope to Charlotte. First played in Jerusalem in 2008 and never before exhibited and played together in North or South America, the violins have extraordinary histories of suffering and survival. Some were played in concentration camps, while others belonged to the Klezmer musical tradition that was nearly destroyed in the Holocaust.

Presented by the College of Arts + Architecture, in partnership with nearly 20 academic and cultural institutions, the Violins of Hope will be exhibited in the new UNC Charlotte Center City Gallery April 9-24. An international array of professional musicians will give voice to these extraordinary instruments in a series of five performances, culminating on April 21 in a concert with the Charlotte Symphony featuring renowned soloist Shlomo Mintz. Related programs, from film screenings to lectures, will explore the history of music in the face of oppression.

Details of the many Violins of Hope events are available at

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Meg Freeman Whalen is director of communication and external relations for the College of Arts + Architecture

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