A stirring testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of music, Violins of Hope tells the remarkable stories of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, and the Israeli violin maker dedicated to bringing these inspirational instruments back to life.
The violin has formed an important aspect of Jewish culture for centuries, both as a popular instrument with classical Jewish musicians—Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman—and also a central factor of social life as part of the enduring Klezmer tradition. But during the Holocaust, the violin assumed extraordinary new roles within the Jewish community. For some musicians, the instrument was a liberator; for others, it was a savior that spared their lives. For many, the violin provided comfort in mankind’s darkest hour, and, in at least one case, helped avenge murdered family members. Above all, the violins of the Holocaust represented strength and optimism for the future.
In Violins of Hope, music historian James A. Grymes tells the amazing, horrifying, and inspiring story of the violins of the Holocaust, and of Amnon Weinstein, the renowned Israeli violinmaker who has devoted the past twenty years to restoring these instruments in tribute to those who were lost, including 400 members of his own family. Juxtaposing tales of individual violins with one man’s harrowing struggle to reconcile his own family’s history and the history of his people, it is a poignant, affecting, and ultimately uplifting look at the Holocaust and its enduring impact.
Grymes traces the beautiful and haunting history of violins played by Jews in the Holocaust. Each chapter is dedicated to one violin and its players, places, and how it eventually came into the hands of Israeli violinmaker and repairman Amnon Weinstein. Across the board, the violins aided someone's survival or made their life more bearable. In Auschwitz, SS members formed orchestras for entertainment from the prisoners there. Often players received special treatment from the guards. They noted, "We played music for sheer survival. We made music in hell." It was by no means a guarantee of survival, and some orchestras were gassed immediately after their set. But some of the stories are accounts of hope, education, and joy. In the backwoods of Norway, the conductor Ernst Glaser headed an initiative where he played for the Norwegian resistance movement, hiding out in the wilderness to relay Norwegian history and pride. Motele Schlein's story describes using his musical prowess to sneak into an SS party and plant bombs. Motele muses, "I'll play so well tonight, that you'll be blown apart dancing." The accounts are unembellished, with plain, yarn-spinning language. They breath new life into history. Falling Into Heaven: A Skydiver's Gripping Account of Heaven, Healings, and MiraclesMickey RobinsonBroadStreet, trade paper (256p) As a 19-year-old skydiver, Robinson survived a plane crash but sustained major injuries, nearly all of which should have been fatal. Yet he lived to tell the story of his near-death visit to heaven, the visions of his own future that he experienced there, and the many developments that confused and astonished doctors as his healing defied medical expectations. He also tells of a second spiritual encounter with Jesus after his accident, and weaves in much information about how the 1960s set the stage for his own journey back to faith. While Robinson's descriptions of the sociopolitical ferment of the era provide good context for understanding his spiritual journey, the historical background is heavy at times. Much of the book's success may ultimately hinge on whether readers find Robinson's descriptions of his visions and the instantaneous healings he experienced credible. Unlike other books that have become bestsellers in the genre, the focus of Robinson's story is less on the inspirational lessons of his experience and more on a recounting of what actually happened to him. This adds little to an overpublished topic.