Concert features Holocaust violins

Column: Living Proof
May 3, 2022
BJU to renovate residence halls, grounds over break
May 3, 2022

Concert features Holocaust violins

The Violins of Hope collection, begun by Weinstein's father, contains more than 60 stringed instruments.
Submitted: Miki Koren

Violins have been compared to the human voice because of their ability to communicate emotions such as sorrow and hope.

Violins that belonged to Holocaust survivors will share both of these emotions in a Violins of Hope concert at the Peace Center in Greenville at 7:30 p.m. on May 4.

Program’s Mission

Violins of Hope is a project created by Amnon and Avshalom (“Avshi”) Weinstein, a father and son team that collects and restores violins, violas and cellos owned by Jews during the Holocaust. Violins of Hope then uses the instruments in concerts around the world to commemorate the poignant stories of the Jewish owners.

Avshi Weinstein said that the violins help personalize the stories of the Holocaust. “A statistic doesn’t penetrate,”he said. “The numbers are so over- whelming. But when we are talking about single people’s stories and families, it’s something that is useful for people to understand … and to realize that it actually happened.”

The Performance

Ellen Thompson, the liaison for Violins of Hope in South Carolina, said she is excited to bring the concerts to the Palmetto State.

“During the dark years of the Holocaust, … Jewish musicians played to bring hope to their communities,” Thompson said. “The Violins of Hope are a story of hope because many did survive.”

The concert will feature works by award-winning Bulgarian composer Georgi Andreev who will attend the concert and perform a solo on a traditional Bulgarian folk instrument.

Other concert pieces will include compositions by Jewish composers Bloch, Copland, Gershwin, Mendelssohn, Saint Saëns and Wieniawski.

The concert will also include soloists from the world-renowned “Philip Kutev” Female Folklore Ensemble of Bulgaria. Directed by Donald Portnoy, the group will perform their distinguished, unique harmonies in authentic, colorful costumes.

Avshi Weinstein said he wants to tell his family’s story because this generation needs to learn from the grave failures of the past. His grandmother survived the Holocaust, but his grandfather did not.

“We don’t really have many more survivors, especially ones that can go around and talk to people and tell their own stories,” Weinstein said.

Program’s Origins

Avshi Weinstein said the idea for Violins of Hope sprang from his family’s profession; they are violin luthiers—makers of stringed instruments.

Furthermore, violins stood as a major element of the Jewish Holocaust experience. Nazis often forced prisoners to play music or sing to further humiliate and degrade them.

“[Holocaust survivors] would come and stop at [Weinstein’s] shop because they didn’t want to play their violins anymore, because they had to play their violins when their family members and friends went to the gas chambers,” Thompson said.

“But the violin also gave them hope. … The violin was the closest to the Jewish heart. It was the Jewish soul,” she said.

“Our concerts are the ultimate answer to [the Nazis’] plan to annihilate a people and their culture, to destroy human lives and freedom,” Violins of Hope states on its website.

Every instrument came in a different condition. However, virtually all the surviving instruments are very simple. “The good, valuable instruments were confiscated by the Nazis,” Weinstein said.

The father and son luthier team tried to use the violins’ original parts while repairing and refining damaged areas or imperfections. “The instrument can often sound better than ever before, even though the core of the violin re- mains the same,” Weinstein said.

Thompson first connected with the Weinsteins through her work with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A presentation by Ammon Weinstein deeply impacted her. “There was a violinist in Auschwitz with his back toward the camera, playing one of those violins that had been restored, and it just made me weep,” Thompson said.

Thompson also attended a Violins of Hope concert held in Knoxville, Tenn. in 2019, where she met Avshi Weinstein. She immediately wanted to bring the group to perform in South Carolina.

“I know that [God] has prepared me, most of my life—I’m 67 years old—to do this,” Thompson said. When Thompson first spoke to Ashvi Weinstein in 2019, he told her to plan the concert for 2022. Thompson was taken aback to find out she would have to wait several years. However, she said planning to perform in 2022 avoided any disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Significance

Thompson also pointed to the timeliness of the Ho- locaust’s timeless lessons.

“If you don’t know what’s happened in the past, then you’ll keep doing it over and over and over again,” Thompson said. “And we see that in America today … anti-Semitism is arising.”

She referenced the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue in Colleyville, Tex- as, where a man took four hostages during a standoff with police in January. Weeks later, anti-Semitic flyers were left in nearby communities, as well as other cities around the United States.

The Greenville concert forms part of a larger tour throughout South Carolina. The concerts take the South Carolina motto, Dum spiro spero (“While I breathe, I hope”), for their theme. “It’s more than music,” Thompson said. “Their sounds bring lost strings to life, creating beauty from ashes and strength for future generations.”

Students and community members interested in attending the concert can find more information and purchase tickets at violinsofhopesc.org.