by Joe Gruberman
Amnon Weinstein’s “Violins of Hope” is a traveling exhibit of Holocaust-era violins that we attended in Phoenix, AZ in February 2019. It is an ongoing show, whose next incarnation will be from January 17th to March 13th at the Veterans Gallery at the Veterans Building in San Francisco.
“Violins of Hope” is a thoughtful and thought-provoking mix of actual violins owned and used by Holocaust victims and survivors, along with accompanying photos that document their origins, their usage within the ghettos and concentration camps, and the sometimes heart-rending stories of how these instruments survived, even while their owners often did not.
Each violin has a unique history while collectively sharing a heritage that started years, even centuries, before. That any one of these delicate instruments was able to be salvaged and displayed in this exhibit is, in no small way, a tribute to the dedication and labor of Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshalom.
At the Phoenix exhibit, which took place at the Cutler Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, we begin by walking through a makeshift gallery of photos documenting each exhibit piece. From the point of recovering a violin, we work our way backward to its role in providing somber backdrop to the atrocities within the ghettos of Poland, the labor camps, and finally, the death camps. From there, we go forward again, this time watching the restoration process until the fine instrument is brought back to its original condition. This exhibit is titled “Amnon Weinstein, the Man behind the Music” and is prelude to a special performance — also part of this show — at the Scottsdale Center for the Arts.
The Scottsdale Center for the Arts is a large exhibit space which actually dwarfs the Jewish Heritage Center — which is, itself, actually a small, converted synagogue. In the exhibit’s main room, many of the “violins of hope” are on display. Scenes of the Holocaust fill the walls, along with other fragmentary evidence of the horrors that transpired. A large section of the space is devoted to the workshops and lab spaces used by the Weinsteins to reconstruct and refine each instrument.
“Violins of Hope” is a multiday exhibit that culminates in a series of orchestral and chamber concerts, wherein the actual restored violins are played, along with their modern counterparts. The violins are introduced as if they are living, breathing members of the orchestra. In some sense, they are. Certainly, they speak with unique voices and have their own personal histories. With so few survivors of the Holocaust remaining, that we can preserve these voices of the past is a testament to the enduring nature of the music of our collective cultures.
(Photo credits: Copyright 2019 Valerie Noel. Used with permission.)