The cruelties of the Third Reich have been well-documented in countless Holocaust studies. This report contemplates the crimes of the Nazis from a special point of view.
Grymes (Musicology/Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte) traces the histories of seven violins and their Jewish owners throughout the murderous German campaign. At first, talented musicians, barred from playing in Aryan orchestras or for Aryan audiences, were able to find a venue in Nazi-sanctioned Jewish Culture Leagues in several cities in occupied Europe. From those leagues, the renowned Bronislaw Huberman recruited members for his Orchestra of Exiles. The great violinist spent his energies delivering players from sure death to Palestine and the ensemble that became the famous Israel Philharmonic. Toscanini conducted the initial official performance, and a German violin remains from that concert. In Norway under Vidkun Quisling, a riot ensued when a Jewish virtuoso was scheduled to play an instrument once owned by national hero Ole Bull. Another violin accompanied its owner on a nearly six-year escape from Vienna, via Mauritius and prison, to Haifa. An Auschwitz violin survives from one of the several camp orchestras that marched prisoners to their tasks and back again. The violinists played, as well, for those headed to death and for the entertainment of their captors. (Primo Levi, for one, would never forget or forgive those mad voices of the labor camp.) Grymes interweaves the detailed stories of unremitting terror—some evocative of Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird (1965)—with accounts of the music and descriptions of the violins. Those recovered instruments are part of the Violins of Hope Project, a program founded by the esteemed Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein.
A special Holocaust study of the unique link that violins, klezmer or classical, have continuously had with the Jewish spirit.