Violins Rescued from the Holocaust Will Be Played in Online Concert

November 17, 2020
Ammon Weinstein

Celebrating instruments rescued from the Holocaust and lovingly restored by Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein at their workshop in Tel Aviv, the traveling multi-format Violins of Hope project was to take place at concert venues, synagogues and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust in March and April. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the event’s cancellation, and after seven carefully stored months under the stage at The Soraya in Northridge, the 60 violins were returned to Israel. But before the flight, The Soraya commissioned and videotaped a concert inside the empty venue. The performance, featuring violinists Niv Ashkenazi, Lindsay Deutsch, and Janice Mautner Markham, will premiere virtually on Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. PT.

Ashkenazi, a Juilliard-trained L.A. native and the son of Israeli parents, has been involved with the Violins of Hope project for several years, making appearances at associated events and concerts. “I’d met Amnon Weinstein before at a music festival in Israel and I reconnected with him and met Avshi, who lent us a violin, and It’s the one I still have, on long-term loan,” he said. The instrument belonged to a Holocaust survivor who made it to America.

“It’s early 1900s, perhaps from Yugoslavia. It’s a very fine instrument that would have gone to a wealthy family or a professional musician. The front is darker than the back, and that’s because in Jewish Orthodox tradition you can’t have representative artwork on the wall. They’d hang violins and one side was exposed to sunlight. This violin took months to repair. It wasn’t in good shape.”

Niv Ashkenazi (Photo: Ricki Quinn/The Soraya)

The Weinsteins have 87 Shoah violins in their collection, in varying stages of playability. “We chose not to repair all of them. We left a few in their original condition, for people to see what happened when the violin was played outside. There is an old German violin from the 1770s and there’s one with a swastika inside. We decided not to touch that one. The rest are restored or will be restored,” Avshalom Weinstein said.

“Every [concentration] camp had an orchestra. Playing the violin was a way for people to survive. But many of the survivors never spoke about it and the instruments were sold. Many of the people were sent on death marches, and left the instruments behind. We don’t know how many were destroyed. Most of them are lost,” he said, noting that his father acquired his first survivor violin in 1979. The owner had played it in Auschwitz on the way to the gas chamber.

“Every [concentration] camp had an orchestra. Playing the violin was a way for people to survive.”—Avshalom Weinstein

The Weinstein collection began with instruments from Germany and Austria. “Nobody wanted to touch anything German after the war. They were very good instruments and it was a pity to sell them for nothing. So many of them sold their instruments to my grandfather. No one wanted to buy them either, so they had no value,” Avshalom said. His father put out the word that they’d love to rescue others, and he received them.

Avshalom revealed his own Holocaust connection, a famous one. His maternal grandfather was Assael Bielski, who fought the Nazis with the partisans during the war. He and his brothers were the subject of the movie “Defiance.” “The part in the movie where he got beaten in the camp never happened,” he said. “He had to join a Russian unit because he killed someone he wasn’t supposed to kill, then he ran away from that unit. My mother never met him. He died before she was born.”

Projects like Violins of Hope are vital now because the clock is ticking, Avshalom noted. “Most of the survivors have passed away and in the next few years we will have no more left,” he said. “These violins speak for them.”

The virtual concert is free to stream and will be available on The Soraya’s website and YouTube channel.

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