Why Amnon's violins carry the sounds of the Holocaust

AMNON Weinstein is heading to Monaco. But it is not for a holiday or to relax in the wealthy principality.

For the Israeli will be at a concert called Violins of Hope, in which musicians play violins that were used by Jewish violinists - the majority of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.

The instruments have undergone renovation and been restored to their previous condition in Amnon's luthier shop in Tel Aviv.

For more than 20 years he has devoted his life to researching and collecting violins from the Holocaust period.

His collection includes 45 violins from the Holocaust.

"It is like a tombstone to the six million," Amnon said.

"They cannot talk to us, but they can be heard in another way.

"When you listen to those violins you can hear something from the past - a certain sound.

"But with it comes hope for the future. There is a strong and emotional impact."

The Holocaust has played a central role in his life.

Around 300 members of his family - who came from Lithuania on both his mother and father's side - were murdered during the Shoah.

The 73-year-old said: "My father, Moshe, studied the violin in Vilna, where he met my mother, Zahava.

"But he was a Zionist and wanted to go to then-Palestine.

"My grandfather told him that it would be sacrilege for him to go and he must wait for the moshiach. But he left in 1938 with my mother.

"Once he arrived there he realised he would not be good enough to join the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra.

"He was a good violinist, but the orchestra contained the best of the best of the best, most of them violinists who had escaped Europe, so he decided to learn how to repair the instruments instead."

Countless Jewish heirlooms were destroyed during the Holocaust, including many musicians' instruments.

The Nazis confiscated every violin, viola and cello they could find. Many of the instruments bore the Magen David.

Moshe later established a workshop to restore and repair violins.

Amnon recalled: "The house that I grew up in was home to my father's workshop, so I grew up with it and with famous violinists in the house. It was like one big family.

"But some of them had gone through the Holocaust and when my mother used to make food, some of them would hide bread, like they did in the ghettos. I would hear the sobbing."

He followed in his father's footsteps and learned how to make violins, violas and cellos in Cremona, in Italy, and in Paris.

Amnon's son Avshalom has also followed in his family's footsteps by taking up the same profession.

Amnon is married to Assi Bielski, whose father was famous Jewish resistance fighter Asael Bielski, who was portrayed in the 2008 film Defiance.

Moshe never talked about the Holocaust after he discovered how his family died.

"It caused him to suffer a heart attack and he never mentioned it again," Amnon continued.

"My parents tried to get their families out of Europe and to then-Palestine, but it was impossible."

Violins of Hope came about after a student from Dresden, in then-East Germany, visited his workshop.

Amnon recalled: "It was the first time he discovered what the Germans had done during the war.

"For two years he begged me to deliver a lecture to the Association of Bow Makers, in Germany.

"The violin tradition in Europe pre-war among the Jews was huge - and almost all of them were German or Austrian-made."

Amnon later teamed up with his friend, the Russian-born virtuoso Shlomo Mintz to form Violins of Hope.

He put out a call for violins from the Holocaust and began to restore artefacts which had been played by Jewish prisoners in concentration camps, as well as ones which had belonged to the klezmer music culture.

"Each violin is dedicated to a different individual or a city," Amnon said.

The first of the Violin of Hope concerts took place in Turkey in the mid-1990s, at Istanbul's Neve Shalom synagogue.

Amnon is a close friend of the Turkish violinist Cihat Askin, who encouraged him.

"It snowballed from there and we have since performed the concerts in Paris, in Jerusalem at the Western Wall and in London and Sion, Switzerland," he added.

"We also ran concerts and lectures at the university in Charlotte, North Carolina, which included a huge exhibition."

In Monaco next month Askin will play Drancy Violin, named after the internment camp from which French Jews were sent to their deaths.

Amnon said: "I don't know the identity of the owner of the violin, but I do know that he was on a train to Drancy or to Auschwitz.

"During the journey he threw the violin out the window and shouted to one of the people on the platform: 'Catch it, because it won't have a chance in the place where I'm going.'

"The violin broke and it was given to a violin maker, who kept it.

"Then a French Jewish woman got hold of it and now I have it.

"It is the biggest repair I have made to a violin and it will be played for the first time in Monaco."

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph