The Violins of Hope will be on view March 26-May 27 at the Main Public Library, 615 Church St. in downtown Nashville. Learn more.

JHV 2: The Krongold Violin


Shimon Krongold was a wealthy Jewish industrialist in Warsaw. He bought this violin, which was probably a special order from Yaakov Zimmerman, who was perhaps one of the first Jewish violin makers. The instrument is labeled, in Yiddish, “I made this violin for my loyal friend Shimon Krongold. Yaakov Zimmerman Warsaw 1924.” It also has a beautiful Star of David inlaid on the back.

Before the war, Shimon helped Michel Swalbé — later the concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic — take violin lessons in the music room at his house. Swalbé later remembered both Shimon and Yaakov, the latter of whom gave him instruments and strings free of charge. When the war broke, Shimon fled to the east and later died from illness in Taskent, Uzbekistan. A few years later, someone in possession of the violin came to the Krongold family home in Jerusalem, asking them if they know Shimon. Understanding it was their lost uncle, they bought his violin, one of the only surviving memories of him.

JHV 4: Yaakov Zimmerman Violin, Warsaw 1920s


Yaakov Zimmerman worked in Warsaw and had many clients, both Jews and Christians. He was known to support young violinists such as Michel Swalbé and Ida Haendel, the child prodigy who became a world-known virtuoso.

This handmade violin is outstanding because it is unusually decorated by five Stars of David, four on the upper deck and one on the back. The decorations were made with glue mixed with black powder, usually made to order.

The violin was found in very bad condition. The varnish was almost nonexistent, and it gave the impression of having been played most of the time in open air, rain and shine. It was repaired meticulously for a year-and-a-half and now serves as a concert instrument.

JHV 6: The Moshe Weinstein Violin, made by Johann Gottlieb Ficker around 1800


This violin was a lifetime friend of Moshe Weinstein (pictured at left, with his wife Golda), our first-generation violin maker. Born in a shtetl in East Europe, little Moishale fell in love with the sound of the violin. It happened when a klezmer troupe arrived in the shtetl to play at a rich man’s wedding. While all children gathered under the table to hide and steal sweets, Moishale was hypnotized by the sound of music. After a few festive days the troupe left, and so did Moishale, who followed the klezmers out of town. His mother, Ester, looked for the boy to no avail.

When he was found and dragged back home, he was first punished — and then got a very simple violin! This was a turning point in our family history. Moishale learnt to play by himself and later studied in the music academy in Vilna, where he met Golda, a pianist. Both immigrated to Palestine in 1938.

Before leaving Europe, Moshe Weinstein went to Warsaw to study with Yaakov Zimmerman to repair string instruments. Since most Jews play violins, thought Moshe, they would need a violin maker in the new land. After arriving in Palestine, he first worked in an orchard picking oranges and a year later opened a violin shop in Tel Aviv.

Loyal to the tradition of helping out young prodigy kids making their first steps in music, he supported many talented Israeli children, among them Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman and many others.

JHV 7: The Feivel Wininger Violin


Feivel Wininger lived in Romania with his elderly parents, wife and baby daughter, Helen. In October 1941 Feivel and thousands of other Jews were deported by train to the swampland of Transnistria and further into Ukraine. The suffering and horrors of this exodus was harsh, but Feivel never gave up.

Finally, in the Ukrainian ghetto of Shargorod, he found a way to survive. A famous judge who was an amateur violinist recognized Feivel as the gifted child-violinist he was years ago and gave him his violin, an Italian Amati model. Feivel, who labored chopping wood for local Ukrainians, tried the violin and his life changed. All of a sudden there was music. And hope.

A local Ukrainian peasant let him play at weddings and holidays in exchange for food and leftovers. Feivel lost his precious violin a short while later, but he found a way to bring food to his family and some 17 people playing Ukrainian and Romanian music on another violin.

Many years later, in Israel, Helen brought her father’s violin to be repaired in the Weinsteins’ workshop in Tel Aviv, so her old father could play again. Upon hearing this incredible story, the Weinsteins repaired the violin and since then, it is a part of Violins of Hope and serves as a memorial to a man of courage and industry, a man of vision and kindness.

JHV 9: German Violin with Star of David

This violin came to the collection in very bad condition. The signs on it show that it was played in the worst conditions you can imagine. The top has no varnish. The inside parts are glued and nailed in an unprofessional way. We believe it might have been played in a camp or ghetto and was repaired in any way possible, just to give the owner a bit more time to play.

We decided to leave it as is, so people can see how some of the instruments look like when we get them — and maybe, by seeing it, imagine what some of the instruments and their owners had to go through.

JHV 13: The Violin of Moshe Amiran

Here’s the story, as told by Moshe Amiran in Israel:
“In 1972-75, I lived in Santiago, Chile, where I met with a man who survived the war and found shelter in Chile. He was about 60 years old, spoke a broken Spanish typical to immigrants from Eastern Europe, and seemed rather lonely and poor. One day, he asked me to buy his old violin. I visited his home, where he showed me the number tattooed on his arm, but unfortunately, his name and address I don’t remember. The man told me that the violin belonged to his grandfather, who gave it to him in his childhood and swore him to keep it no matter what. Which he did. In all his travels and troubles, he never parted with the instrument.

“In 1942, he was sent to a labor camp and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, which he somehow survived with his violin. I paid him for his violin, feeling that I’m doing a mitzvah. As time went by, I put the violin away and forgot all about it. Three years later, I returned to Israel and discovered the violin inside one of my many crates. For a moment, I felt that the violin was following me so that one day it could tell its sad history.

“Many years later, when my grandchildren grew up, I remembered the violin lying in the attic and decided to bring it to a violin maker I heard of, Amnon Weinstein in Tel Aviv. The rest is history, you may say. This violin does not play, but allow me to be poetic and sentimental and say that its silence is powerful, its silent strings touch hearts, and it is an authentic tombstone to many unknown and nameless violinists who died lonely and forgotten.”

This violin wasn’t made by hand, but rather by using machines. Although it looks like a violin, it doesn’t produce any sound. This type of violin usually belonged to beggars who made believe they played, but actually sang the music.

JHV 16: The Bielski Violin


This is a klezmer’s violin, likely made around 1870. Most klezmers were self-made and self-taught musicians with a natural talent. While many arts were not encouraged by Jewish tradition, music became one of the very few venues available to artists.

It was quite common for young children to play violins, as told by Yiddish author I.L. Peretz, who wrote in one of his short stories that one could tell how many boys were in a Jewish family — by counting the number of violins hanging on the wall.

This is probably the reason why so many klezmer instruments were decorated with the Star of David. Most klezmer violins were cheap, made in Czechoslovakia or Germany, in shops that specialized in making ornamented violins.

The klezmer tradition was almost lost during World War II, but lately there is some revival in Europe as well as in Israel and the U.S.

The restoration work of this violin is dedicated to the Bielski partisans who fought and saved 1,230 Jews during the war. Assaela Weinstein, Amnon’s wife, is the daughter of Assael Bielski, one of the three brothers who formed the Bielski brigade in Belarus.

JHV 18: German Violin Played by Shlomo Mintz

Sponsored by Bob Eisenstein, Jill and Dan Eisenstein and Nan Speller

This is clearly a violin that survived the Jewish fate – either a ghetto, a hard labor camp or worse. We don’t have a clue as to the name of the person who played it, but in the documentary film Le Voyage d’Amnon (Amnon’s Journey), it was played by Shlomo Mintz at the gate to Auschwitz. We took it back to where it once maybe belonged and now symbolizes. When Shlomo Mintz played “Ba’al Shem” by Ernest Bloch, we felt as if the violin had gone a full circle.

JHV 21: German Violin with Star of David

This is the most beautiful klezmer violin of the collection, a first-class handmade instrument. The Star of David is simply magnificent! It is made of mother of pearl, and we believe it was owned by a wealthy klezmer musician, as it probably was more expensive than the regular instruments. It is around 120 years of age.

JHV 23: The Auschwitz Violin


This instrument was originally owned by an unnamed inmate who performed in the men’s orchestra at the concentration camp in Auschwitz — and survived.

Abraham Davidowitz, who fled from Poland to Russia in 1939, later returned to postwar Germany and worked for the Joint near Munich, Germany, helping Jews living in displaced people’s camps. One day, this former inmate — sad and impoverished — approached Abraham and offered him his violin. Abraham paid $50 for the violin, hoping that his young son, Freddy, would play it when he grew up.

Many years later, Freddy heard about the Violins of Hope project and donated his instruments — including this one — to be fully restored. Since then, this violin has been played in concerts by musicians all over the world.

It is important to note that such instruments were very popular with Jews in Eastern Europe, as they were relatively cheap and made for amateurs. This particular violin was made in Saxony or Tirol in a German workshop by J.B. Schweitzer, who was a famous maker in his day.

JHV 24: The Wagner Violin


This fine, high-quality instrument belonged to a member of the Palestine Orchestra, created in 1936 by Bronislav Hubermann (pictured at right). Along with other instruments in this collection, it tells the story of the musicians who after 1948 became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).

Most members of the IPO were first-rate musicians in European orchestras, but lost their positions when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and racial laws were enforced in Germany. When the war ended, there was a general boycott of German goods in Israel. So much so that the word “Germany” was boycotted on the radio.

In this atmosphere, musicians refused to play on German-made instruments, and many came to Moshe Weinstein and asked him to buy their violins. “If you don’t buy my violin, I’ll break it,” said some. Others threatened to burn their instruments. Weinstein bought each and every instrument, as for him a violin was above war and evil. Yet he knew he would never be able to sell them.

JHV 29: A Violin Dedicated to American Soldiers

The reconstruction work of this violin is dedicated to the memory of all soldiers who fought alongside the Allies against the Nazis; to all those who died so that we can live in a world free of fear. It was repaired in 1899 by J. Panzram in Elmdale, Kansas.

JHV 32: The Erich Weininger Violin


Erich Weininger was a butcher in Vienna as well as an amateur violinist. When the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938, he was arrested and sent to Dachau, where he managed to bring along his violin. He later was sent to Buchenwald and though he was not allowed to play there, he still kept his violin, which was made in the workshop of Schweitzer around 1870.

Miraculously, Erich was released from Buchenwald by the help of the Quakers. He then returned to Vienna, only to be one of the very last Jews to escape Nazi Europe. He boarded an illegal boat to Palestine, but was soon arrested by British police, who did not allow Jews to come into the country. Erich, with a violin in hand, was deported to the island of Mauritius off the coast of East Africa, where he stayed till the end of World War II.

While in Mauritius, Erich did not go idle. He started a band with other deportees, playing classical, local and even jazz music. He reached Palestine in 1945. His violin was given to our project by his son, Ze’ev.

JHV 33: Violin from Lyon, France


Sponsored by Shirley Zeitlin and Scott & Lynn Ghertner


In July 1942 thousands of Jews were arrested in Paris and sent by cattle trains to concentration camps in the East — most of them to Auschwitz. On one of the packed trains was a man holding a violin. When the train stopped somewhere along the sad roads of France, the man heard voices speaking French. A few men were working on the railways and walking at leisure. The man in the train cried out:

“In the place where I now go, I don’t need a violin. Here, take my violin so it may live!”

The man threw his violin out the narrow window. It landed on the rails and was picked up by one of the French workers. For many years the violin had no life. No one played it. No one had any use for it. Years later, the worker passed away and his children found the abandoned violin in the attic. They soon looked to sell it to a local maker in the south of France and told him the story they heard from their father. The French violin maker heard about Violins of Hope and gave it to us, so the violin will live.

JHV 34:  The Heil Hitler Violin


This is a non-distinguished instrument — yet a puzzle. It is presumed to have been owned by a Jewish musician or an amateur who needed a minor repair job for it in 1936. The craftsman doing the repairs opened the violin for no apparent reason and inscribed on its upper deck the words “Heil Hitler, 1936,” alongside a big swastika. He then closed the violin case and handed it back to the owner, who had played it for years, unaware of the inscription.

A few years ago, the violin was bought by an American violin maker in Washington, D.C., who was absolutely astonished to discover its insides. The maker’s first instinct was to burn the instrument — but on second thought he contacted the Weinsteins in Tel Aviv and donated it to the Violins of Hope project.

Today, it is part of the collection of instruments, but it will NEVER be repaired or played. It is important to note that the majority of German violin makers were not Nazis. Many were known to support Jewish musicians, who were considered to be their very talented and devoted clients and friends.

JHV 35: A Violin with a Star of David

This is a lovely violin made originally for a klezmer musician. The restoration work is dedicated to siblings Wolf and Bunia Rabinowitz, both wonder-kids and talented violinists. Both played multiple concerts in the ghetto of Vilna during World War II, and both were killed with the last members of the ghetto, most probably in the forest of Ponar, about 10 km outside the city.

JHV 39: The Haftel Violin


This violin belonged to Heinrich “Zvi” Haftel, the first concertmaster of the Palestine Orchestra, later to become the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. It is a French instrument by a famous maker: August Darte from the town of Mirecourt around 1870.

Haftel was one of about 100 musicians gathered by Bronislav Hubermann all over Europe in 1936 and brought to Palestine. He was a distinguished violinist before the war and joined Hubermann after he lost his job in a German orchestra. Hubermann’s vision to create an all-Jewish orchestra in Palestine saved the lives of many musicians and their families.

Haftel’s violin is one of the best in the Violins of Hope collection.

JHV 40: Jacob Hakkert Violin

From 1906, this is the first handmade violin by a famous Dutch Jewish maker, Jacob Hakkert, who studied in the violin makers’ school in Mirecourt, in the north of France. He joined the family business in Rotterdam, Holland, around 1910. Hakkert made violins, violas and cellos. He also had a reputation for developing and selling good-quality strings that were popular among many musicians.

Hakkert was deported to Auschwitz, where he died on May 22, 1944.

JHV 46: The Barns Violin

This violin is a gift donated to the project by Ana, Eli and Ben Ehrenpreis. The restoration work is dedicated to the memory of outrageous pogroms conducted by Polish citizens against their neighbors of the Jewish community in a few villages and shtetels throughout Poland. Those atrocities took place in Jedwabne, Radzilow, Szczuczyn and Kolno.

The pogrom in Jedwabne (the name means “silk”) took place on July 10, 1941, when local people gathered the Jews, humiliating them all, killing the men and dragging women, children and old people into a nearby barn, burning them all. 1,600 Jews were killed that day. Only seven people survived.

JHV 47: Wedding Violin


This violin arrived from Switzerland with a history all its own glued inside the instrument:
“The second violin, Wedding violin, made by Leopold Reininger-Delz, an Austrian, during the time he spent as a refugee in Switzerland in the year of the Han-World-War 1944.”

JHV 48: Sandor Fisher Violin

She was born in 1925 as Valeria Teichner in Hungary, but in 1944, Auschwitz, was named A 12763. She started violin lessons at age 6 and stopped playing only when life became unbearable. On the cattle train to Auschwitz, she forgot her violin. Getting off the train she went through a “selection,” where she lost her mother. When sent to the music barrack, she cried, unable to play. She was sent back to the laundry barrack, only to go through another “selection“ and end up in Gorelitz, another hard-labor camp, to work in a munition factory. The sadistic capo there used to play his violin every evening. He played well, she said.

On Christmas Eve, all prisoner-musicians were to play and sing for the commanders. She sang “Lorelei,” accompanying herself on the violin. The next day, the officers’ cook threw a piece of cake for her over the fence. Terrible crime. The capo sentenced her to be hanged in Gross-Rosen, the main camp. When the car came for her, the capo called out, “Geigerin heraus” (“violinist – out!”), but then changed his mind, hit her hard on her face, and let her stay. She was liberated by the Soviets May 8, 1945. She soon met with Sandor Fisher and married him.

Sandor Fisher was born in 1919 in Romania. He started violin lessons at age 6 and studied singing and acting for 12 years. At 18 he changed his name to Farago Sandor to avoid persecution as a Jew, and he became a part of the local opera company. When the situation worsened and his father was conscripted to hard labor, Sandor replaced him, and his violin went along to the work camp. Soon Sandor was ordered to play for the officers during dinner and so was able to smuggle some leftovers for his friends.

In 1944 he managed to escape the labor camp and join the Soviets. He stayed in Hungary for some years until immigrating to Israel, marrying Valeria and raising a family of three daughters, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All along, said his daughters, he never parted with his violin. He played to the end of his days.

JHV 50: The Morpurgo Violin

Sponsored by Rick and Lynn Scarola


A few years ago, a lovely lady in her 90s came with her three daughters to our workshop in Tel Aviv. Signora Morpurgo and her daughters brought us the much-treasured violin of her husband, Gualtiero Morpurgo.

The Morpurgos are an ancient and respected Jewish family. They go back some 500 years in the north of Italy. When still a young child, Gualtiero’s mother handed him a violin and said:

You may not become a famous violinist, but the music will help you in desperate moments of life and will widen your horizons. Do not give up, sooner or later it will prove me right.

That moment arrived without warning. Gualtiero’s mother was forced to board the first train, wagon 06 at the Central Station in Milan. Destination: Auschwitz. Gualtiero was sent to a forced labor camp and, loyal to his mother, took the violin along, often finding hope and strength while playing Bach’s Partitas with frozen fingers after a long day’s work in harsh conditions.

Gualtiero graduated from engineering school and worked in the shipyards of Genoa. When the war ended, he volunteered to use his engineering skills to build and set up ships for Aliya Bet, helping survivors of the war sail illegally to Palestine. For this he was awarded the Medal of Jerusalem by Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

Gualtiero never stopped playing. He was 97 when he could play no more and put his lifelong companion in its case. After his death in 2012, his widow and three daughters attended the Violins of Hope concert in Rome and decided that this is where it belongs — in the hands of devoted musicians in fine concert halls.

JHV 54: The Friedman Violin


This is a typical story of a Jewish family in Romania. Two sisters, ages 9 and 11, shared the same violin. Both took music lessons with a nice teacher while their mother watched over and made sure they practiced every day. During the war, being transported from one place to another, they lost touch with their parents, who kept the violin as a souvenir of their talented little girls.

When the war ended, the girls were taken by Aliyat HaNoar (the children’s immigration organization) and sent by boat to Palestine. But this was not the end of their travels and troubles. British police, then in control of Palestine, sent the boat and all immigrants aboard to a camp in Cyprus. Months later, the sisters were reunited with their parents and the long-gone violin when they arrived in Israel with thousands other survivors who were interned in Cyprus until the establishment of the state of Israel on May 15, 1948.

JHV 55: The Berlin Violin / The Gypsy Violin

On January 27, 2015, International Holocaust Day, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra held a concert celebrating the Violins of Hope. Sponsored by Franz-Walter Steinmeier, then the Foreign Minister of Germany and today the president of the German Republic, the occasion marked 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets. That day the Violins of Hope received an instrument with a unique history. Donated by Sabine Conrad, a young German woman, the violin was given to her many years before by Erich Winkel, an 80-year-old committed communist and a devoted violinist.

Sabine took care of Erich, who gave her his beloved violin as a token of gratitude and appreciation. He bought the violin from a Gypsy when he played in the communist youth orchestra. The orchestra used to play in the early ’30s in north Berlin and was often attacked by the Nazis, even before they came to power. Erich was very proud of his instrument, which he said survived many ferocious attacks by Nazi hoodlums. Now it plays in concerts the world over, telling his personal story, as well the sad story of that era.

JHV 56: The Dachau Violin

This violin belonged to Abram Merczynski. In August 1944 Abram and his two brothers, Isak and Zysman, were deported from the ghetto in Lodz, Poland, to Auschwitz and then to Dachau concentration camp. Abram was 21 years old and played his violin wherever he was, even in Kaufering, a subcamp of Dachau. Abram and his brothers survived, as did his violin. Before they emigrated to the United States in 1955, the three brothers rented a room with a German family, Sesar, in Loichinger Street, Munich.

Abram soon bought himself a new violin and gave his old instrument, which accompanied him through all his troubles, to the young Julius Sesar, then 14 years old. Abram lived to be 88, and his daughter Eleanor said he never stopped playing the violin. Julius Sesar, now an old man himself, gave the historical violin to a friend, Eberhard Thiessen, a violin maker who gave it in turn to the Violins of Hope project, so that the violin will continue to play and tell the story of survival, music and also friendship.

JHV 61: AIPAC Violin


This lovely violin belonged to Dr. Leon Schatzberg-Sawicki, 1918-2008. He was born in Colomja, Poland, and died in New York. Graduated the Lviv Conservatory, 1938. Studied medicine at Lviv University and graduated May 1941. Married a fellow student, Ella Schrenzel. During Nazi occupation, 1941-1944, he changed his name to the Polish, Sawicki, with the help of false identity papers. He played this violin all over Poland in street corners, restaurants and impromptu bands, while Ella tutored Polish kids. They were liberated by the Soviets in July 1944. Both lived long lives and saw children and grandchildren.

The Buried Violin


Heinrich Herrmann grew up in Schwabach and Nuremberg, in the south of Germany, where he learned to play the violin. He studied law and became a judge, but following the Nuremberg laws, he lost his position. He fled to Amsterdam, where he became a typewriter salesman and met his wife, Ilse. Heinrich clung to his old, inexpensive Gypsy violin and often played chamber music with friends. In the mornings, he tried to secure a visa to Cuba or any other country that would grant him and Ilse a chance to leave Europe. With this plan in mind, he used all his savings to buy a 150-year-old instrument handmade in the famous atelier of the Klotz family in Bavaria, Germany.

Heinrich thought that once he immigrated to Cuba, he could sell the extraordinary violin and support his family. His plan was thwarted when all Jews in Holland were forced to register with the Nazi police and to hand in all valuables. He brought his violin and told the clerk that he had no problem giving away all his valuables, but had a hard time parting with the violin. “Go home with your violin,” said the clerk, “and come back tomorrow with another. But don’t tell anyone I said so.”

The Herrmanns asked a Dutch friend, Yan Molder, to keep the violin. On June 23, 1943, they were imprisoned by German police and sent to Bergen-Belsen. Yan was afraid the Nazis would find out that he had held on to Jewish property, so he gave it for safe-keeping to a musician friend. This friend also feared the police and buried the violin in his garden.

Miraculously, Heinrich and Ilse Herrmann survived, and in 1944 they were exchanged for German citizens being expelled from British-held Palestine. A year later, after the end of the war, the violin, now badly damaged, was brought to Heinrich in Palestine. It was repaired and stayed close to Heinrich, who played it for the next 40 years.

The Hecht Violin


This violin belonged to a German woman, Fanny Hecht, whose family fled to the Netherlands in an attempt to escape the Nazis. There she befriended her neighbor, Helena Visser, and sometimes played music with her. During the German occupation of the Netherlands, Fanny realized that her family would be taken by the Nazis and asked Helena to take care of her violin until she was able to return.

Helena snuck into the Hecht family’s apartment — against her husband’s wishes — and retrieved the violin, which she then passed down to her children and grandchildren. Years later, the grandchildren learned of the Violins of Hope after watching a documentary on television late one night. Inspired by the project, they traveled to Israel, where they were able to learn the fate of the Hecht family — all of whom perished in concentration camps — and to deliver the violin personally to Amnon Weinstein.

“We’ve received a lot of violins in different ways,” Weinstein says. “Usually it’s from relatives with whom the violin ended up, and they know it belonged to a relative who was killed in the Holocaust. Or it comes from people who have some interest in this musical memorial we are making. But with this Dutch family, this is the first time I’ve encountered such a story. It’s a good violin, German-made, valuable. It’s in excellent condition because it was hardly touched over the decades. They kept it for more than 70 years in order to keep their promise, and they wanted to return it to someone who will honor the memory of its legal owners.”

Read the full story in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.