A new life for the ‘Violins of Hope’ rescued from the Holocaust

New concert enchants--and educates

ViolinsofHope image
Amnon Weinstein, co-founder of Violins of Hope, restores a Holocaust era violin in his workshop. (Image courtesy of Miki Koren.)

A violin can inspire unmatched emotional heat and historical power. Just ask anyone who has heard the heartbreakingly beautiful score for Schindler's List, as played by Itzhak Perlman.  

In fact, it was the violin that kept some Jewish musicians alive during their captivity in Nazi concentration camps, as many of their monstrous overseers had a taste for classical music. And somehow, a number of those musicians' violins managed to survive, even if many of those who played them did not, and now are traveling the world as "Violins of Hope." 

Hosted by JCC Chicago, "Violins of Hope" is a grand-scale, multi-faceted project, that will be shared with the Chicago community and across Illinois from April through September. This private collection of 70 stringed instruments that were played by Jewish musicians in the concentration camps have been lovingly restored over the past two decades by master violinists and violin makers Amnon Weinstein, and his son, Avshalom. 

Excitingly, JCC Chicago is the first JCC in North America to take on the project which is arguably the largest program to date in terms of both duration and scope. During the six-month residency, more than 85 events will take place, including a wide range of concerts, exhibitions, and community education programs. There will be performances by symphonies, programs and exhibits at libraries, schools, synagogues, churches, and civic centers, as well as films shown at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center--all relating to the power of music to inspire hope, resistance and resilience. 

"The focus of this project is not only on the Jewish community that is familiar with the Holocaust tragedy, but on the larger part of the general population that has not really been taught about it," said Avshalom Weinstein, principal behind the project. "Essentially we are applying a beautiful lens of humanity onto the horrors of the Holocaust as a way of educating the youth and the community." 

Importantly, the timing of bringing Violins of Hope to the community is incredibly salient given the highly visible rise of antisemitic sentiment being espoused by popular entertainers and athletes in addition to recent events in certain Chicago's schools. Despite Illinois being the first state in the country to mandate Holocaust education in its public schools, there is still significant work to be done, particularly amongst our youth. 

With a mission of "growing good kids," the JCC has focused significantly on instilling the kinds of values they hope for in the adults who will be leading our society going forward. "Leading a state-wide experience and discussion about the Holocaust, focused on the human story and in service to students of all ages, is how the J is responding to rising antisemitism in Chicagoland and throughout the world," said Addie Goodman, JCC Chicago President & CEO. "With so many young people engaged in JCC Chicago programs, the agency is poised for significant reach and impact that aims to increase empathy, acceptance, and activism," said Goodman. 

A special opening night concert will take place on April 20 as JCC Chicago hosts an inspiring program performed by highly acclaimed and accomplished musicians, plus an exhibition at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe. 

In many communities, Holocaust era instruments have been found and have been authenticated by tracing the family lineage. This was the case recently in Paris where a violin belonging to Violette Silverstein was found and donated to Violins of Hope. Violette played for her life as part of the women's orchestra in Auschwitz-Birkenau. This special violin is being restored and will be part of the collection that will travel to Chicago. 

"Every one of these instruments has a story--and their family's legacy lives on through the music," said Avshalom Weinstein, noting that they have been showcased and played in cities throughout the world, from Tel Aviv, Rome, Berlin, and London, to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Cleveland, and now Chicago. 


To learn more about JCC Chicago's Violins of Hope or to see the most updated list of confirmed events across Illinois, visit jccchicago.org/violins of hope. 

Hedy Weiss, a longtime Chicago arts critic, was the Theater and Dance Critic for the  Chicago Sun-Times , and currently writes for WTTW-TV 's website and contributes to the  Chicago Tonight program. 


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