When master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein of Tel Aviv decided to share his collection of instruments that survived the Holocaust, to be played in concerts around the world, he named his organization Violins of Hope.
"All instruments were symbols of hope and a way to say: remember me, remember us," his website states. "Life is good, celebrate it for those who perished, for those who survived. For all people."
Amnon, who was born in Palestine in 1938, and his son Avshalom have restored dozens of violins, violas and cellos that belonged to Jews before and during World War II. Many of the instruments came from survivors or their families with a poignant story. Some have an embedded Star of David indicating they were played by the often self-taught klezmers.
My son who lives in Berlin has a piano built in the early 1900s by Stern Berlin with a Star of David in the logo above the keyboard. He was unsuccessful in learning anything about its history since, he was told, Berlin had hundreds of piano manufacturers in this era.
It was common for Jewish children in Europe at the time to play the violin, so many of the Violins of Hope were inexpensive, made for beginners. But the Weinsteins turn them into quality instruments deserving of concert halls.
Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend a Violins of Hope concert in Southern California hosted by the Jewish Collaborative of Orange County and Chamber Music OC, held in its large performance space in a Lake Forest business park.
The instruments were also displayed and we could inspect and touch them. A small violin had left Germany with a child in the Kindertransport program, which evacuated some 10,000 Jewish children from the German Reich before the borders were sealed in 1940.
One of the organizers placed a violin in my hands and took a photo. I was moved, thinking of its owner similarly holding it, and I hoped it had been a comfort when the nightmare began.
I learned about the concert and attended it with my friend Ilana, who grew up in Latvia and lost almost her entire family to the Holocaust. Ilana's story brings the Holocaust home to me as personal tales always do, and sitting by her side added emotion to the evening.
The music was by Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Shostakovich, Schumann and Dvorak. Plus one especially meditative work, "Quatuor pour la fin du Temps," composed by Olivier Messiaen when a prisoner at the German camp at Gorlitz in Silesia in 1940-41; it premiered at the camp before fellow inmates and German officers.
After the performance I asked the young musicians about the experience of playing the violins, a viola and a cello. They were fine instruments, they agreed, refurbished to the highest quality, and it was an honor to play them.
Violins of Hope will be in the Tri-Valley in early 2023, sponsored by the East Bay Holocaust Education Center and the Bankhead Theater. They anticipate having 16 to 20 violins and cellos and hope to present three concerts by the Livermore-Amador Symphony, to include educational segments.
"We also plan to have free one-hour educational and musical programs which we will bring to middle schools and high schools in the Tri-Valley," said EBHEC president Larry Lagin in an email. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event that we hope will be educational, memorable and inspirational for all the thousands of students, teachers and others in our community experiencing it."
It was a once-in-a-lifetime event for me. These instruments represent two things I find incredibly moving: history with its frequent suffering and stumbling march forward; and music with its ability to bring joy in unbearable times and to unite disparate people.
Thank you, Violins of Hope -- and thank you, Ilana.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly.