I heard about the Violins of Hope about a year ago, but it wasn’t until I attended a presentation about the project two weeks ago, that I fully understood the significance it. The culmination of all of the work to bring Violins of Hope to Birmingham comes together this week when four days of concerts, educational programs and interfaith dialogue surrounding historic violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. Yesterday, I got a glimpse of the events when I attended Karim Shamsi-Basha’s Hope, Harmony and History exhibit at the Levite JCC of Birmingham.
Creator and Founder, Amnon Weinstein, whose restored “Violins of Hope” have become literal instruments for tolerance and peace around the world, said he is especially pleased to bring them to one of the key battlegrounds for civil rights in the America.
“It is my hope that these restored violins can be played in Birmingham, Alabama, so that those who helped change the story of civil rights in America can hear their messages of hope for the future of all humankind,” Weinstein said.
Both Weinstein’s wife, Assi, and their son, Avshi, will join him in Birmingham. Following in the footsteps of his father, Avshi has developed a passion for this work and has restored many of the violins coming to Birmingham.
Weinstein’s invitation to Birmingham came from Sallie Downs, who saw a segment on television about the violins and felt compelled to bring them to her hometown. Downs traveled to Tel Aviv to ask Weinstein to bring “Violins of Hope” to Birmingham.
Local musicians, philanthropists, civil rights workers, and others will participate in four days of performances, lectures, and dialogue about social justice and free expression. “We are especially gratified that the faith-based communities have responded so favorably to ‘Violins of Hope’,” Downs said. “Many churches, synagogues, and mosques will use these violins as focal points to exchange ideas about the need for actions that advocate tolerance and peace among people of different belief systems. The lessons of the Holocaust are not just for Jewish people but for all who aspire to live in harmony and with mutual respect for one another.”
Nearly 50 years ago, a survivor first brought a violin into Amnon Weinstein’s shop for restoration, saying he had played the instrument while Nazi soldiers marched others to their deaths. When Weinstein opened the violin’s case, he saw ashes and could go no further with the restoration. He was overwhelmed at the thought of his own relatives – 400 in all — who perished in the Holocaust.
In 1996, though, Weinstein put out a call for violins from the Holocaust and began restoring them, hoping to honor the memories of those who died in concentration camps and to give voice to their stories.
“Music connects us to history in a way we can relate to, and that’s particularly true of the violin, considered to be the closest instrument to the human voice,” Weinstein said. “Just thinking about the role violins played during the Holocaust makes us shiver as we feel, think, and identify with the victims.”
Birmingham residents will get to experience the restored violins when they will be played in a number of concerts scheduled throughout the week.
“The ‘Violins of Hope’ project reminds us that when we speak of incredible atrocities like the Holocaust, we speak of people, not numbers or situations,” said Tina Kempin Reuter, director of the Center for Human Rights at UAB. “The ‘Violins of Hope’ remind us of their lives, their humanity, and their legacy.”
Carlos Izcaray, Music Director of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, said: “Birmingham is one of history’s epicenters of human rights developments and, as such, is a unique and special place where ‘Violins of Hope’ can prove the power of music. This is an opportunity to connect with the deep stories of our past and will give us a moment to reflect on an ever-brighter future. We at the ASO are honored to participate in these very meaningful events.”
One of the deep stories of the past will come to life onstage on Wednesday at the 16th Street Baptist Church when for the first time when Sonia Becker’s father’s violin will be played. Music kept Sonia Becker’s father alive during the Holocaust, giving him inspiration and the means to survive in one of the darkest periods of history. Sonia heard about Amnon and Avshi Weinstein’s Violins of Hope, how they were restoring violins that had been through the Holocaust. She recently attended a Violins of Hope concert at the Dachau concentration camp, where she gave her father’s beloved violin to Avshi.
Jeffrey Bayer, who is co-chairing the project with his wife, Gail, said: “These extraordinary instruments have the potential to make a lasting impact on a world that often seems torn by division and hatred. A profound personal story lives within each violin, and together, they have the potential to leave an indelible imprint on every person who sees and hears them.”
To purchase tickets www.violinsofhopebhm.org.
- April 8, 2018 – Karim Shamsi-Basha’s Hope, Harmony and History Art Show, Levite JCC of Birmingham
- April 11-13, 2018 – Giving Voice to the Voiceless – a presentation for students and teachers about restoring silent voices and finding our own, Alys Stephens Center
- April 11, 2018 – Dreams of Hope: A multi-arts, multi-faith performance to welcome Violins of Hope to Birmingham, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
- April 12, 2018 – Concertmaster & Friends presents Quartet for the End of Time with Violins of Hope, Alys Stephens Center
- April 13, 2018 – Survivors’ Sabbath Service
- April 14, 2018 – “Violins of Hope” Concert by Alabama Symphony Orchestra
- April 14, 2018 – Donor Reception and Violins of Hope Exhibit, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts