Holocaust violins play again

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Upshot

What did the Holocaust sound like? For many who came to the death camps, it sounded of violins.

The exhibit of 18 stringed instruments from the Holocaust, "Violins of Hope," is now on display at University of North Carolina, Charlotte: College of Arts + Architecture.

Israeli violin maker Amnon  Weinstein, who lost relatives in the Holocaust, has made it his mission to search out these instruments of unspeakable musical memories, often from families who wanted to forget, and restore them to working condition.

The instrument maker brought this rare collection of violins from Israel to the U.S. for the first time. The series of events around the instruments include exhibitions and  performances.

Music at the death camps and in the ghettos was more common that most people realize. Exhibit curator Wendy Fishman, whose mother is a Holocaust survivor, said she had no idea that music was part of the everyday experience in the camps. She told Yahoo News, "This was completely unknown to me. I was really eager to learn."

Many camps, including Theresienstadt, Dachau, and Buchenwald featured orchestras at some point. Auschwitz Birkenau had a both men's orchestra and a women's orchestra that were called upon to play when prisoner roll call was taken twice daily. "The orchestra would play for hours," Fishman said. Marching music was played when prisoners walked or worked.

After the war, many refugees wanted nothing to do with the instruments. But the instruments' legacy is simply another reminder of the Holocaustwhat that time sounded like.

Bret Werb, music curator for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, told Yahoo News in an email  that music had a complicated legacy, with prisoners forced to play. "Sometimes orchestras accompanied 'showcase executions,' the arrival of prisoner-transports to a camp, andaccording to some accountsthe 'selection' process of newly-arrived prisoners. "

But Fishman said the meaning of the 18 violins is also about the people who once played them. She said, "The legacy is restoring and bringing back to life the souls who can speak no more, who were murdered." She added, "The players never are fully gone. They resonate in the instruments still."