For the past two decades, Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein has restored dozens of violins from the Holocaust. Each one tells a story of someone silenced.
“Violin is talking, violin is singing,” Weinstein said. “And if you have a good way to listen, you can hear all the stories.”
Violins of Hope, a traveling project that features the instruments and stories of musicians who died during the Holocaust, makes its Phoenix debut in February as a project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. The first event will be on Feb. 3, with the opening of the exhibit, “Amnon Weinstein, the Man Behind the Music,” with photographs by Daniel Levin. In addition, throughout February and March, Violins of Hope will feature lectures, films, educational activities and musical performances.
The free photo exhibit runs through March 26 at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center and documents Weinstein in his Tel Aviv workshop restoring violins that survived the Holocaust.
The Israeli luthier has devoted the last 20 years of his life to finding and restoring violins that belonged to musicians who died during World War II.
Weinstein was born 1939, just one year after his parents emigrated from Europe to escape the Nazis. When he grew up, he followed in his father’s footsteps as a luthier and violinist.
The first time Weinstein restored a violin from the Holocaust period was in the late ’80s, when a survivor requested his services. It quickly became a passion.
Now, Weinstein works with his son, Avshalom. Together, they have restored more than 60 violins that survived the Holocaust. Many of the instruments came from Jewish ghettos, forest hideouts and concentration camp orchestras. The violin is a lightweight instrument that is easy to travel with, so many Jews in that dark time brought them along as a way to continue playing Jewish music and remain connected to their culture.
“When we talk about the Holocaust and the numbers, it’s impossible to understand,” Avshalom said. “But when we talk about these violins and their journeys, it gives everything a bit more of a personal touch. The main thing we want people to understand is that music is an international language that can always allow us to talk to each other.”
The violins have been featured in several books, articles, lectures and even a PBS documentary, “Violins of Hope: Strings of the Holocaust,” narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Adrien Brody. The restored violins have been played in concerts and exhibited in museums globally.
Photographer Levin, an associate professor at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, was asked to document Weinstein’s work with the violins. He visited Weinstein in his workshop in Israel and spent a few days observing his craft.
“I realize now that what he’s been doing is a very simple idea,” Levin said. “He’s been doing what he loves for decades, but I see it as kind of an epiphany. This is something he must do kind of as a way to beat Hitler.”
The violins will be a part of an educational outreach program in more than 40 different schools across the Valley. Avshalom will speak at the schools. There will also be student matinee programs.
Rachel Hoffer, co-chair of Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet, saw a Violins of Hope performance in Tel Aviv a few years ago and has since devoted herself to bringing the event to Phoenix.
“This event has been in very few places in the United States,” Hoffer said. “This is probably one of the most comprehensive programs for Violins of Hope.”
For Avshalom, Violins of Hope is about bearing witness.
“I don’t think we are in any position to say which story is more important,” he said. “The most important thing is that we educate people with these stories and instruments. We try to explain to them and convince them that there is always another way than violence and hate.” JN
For more information on Violins of Hope in Phoenix, visit violinsofhopephoenix.com.