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These violins survived the Holocaust. Now they’re coming to Louisville


A collection of elegant instruments with a tragic history has arrived in Louisville, carrying with it a message of hope, compassion and human rights.  

More than 50 restored violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust will be on display at the Frazier History Museum, 829 W. Main St., for 10 days beginning Oct. 16. The violins will also be played at a variety of concerts and free programs at various locations around the city during October.

The Violins of Hope collection was brought to Louisville after Miriam Ostroff watched a PBS documentary about Israeli violinmaker Amnon Weinstein and his efforts to restore violins that survived concentration camps, pogroms, and other long journeys to tell remarkable stories of injustice, suffering, resilience, and survival.

“Some prisoners in the camps were musicians and had their instruments with them,” Violins of Hope Louisville Program Director Ostroff told The Courier Journal. “They were very sought after and often made to play as people were marched into the death chambers. Many of the musicians only survived the camps because they could play the violin.” 

It’s a scene reminiscent of “Schindler’s List,” but for many, it wasn’t just artistic license — it was a reality. Many of the 50 violins in the traveling collection survived the Holocaust.

Many of their owners did not.

According to the Frazier History Museum, “Weinstein has spent the last two decades locating and restoring violins that were played by Jewish musicians killed in the Holocaust. His aim was to restore these violins, working along with his son, Avshi, painstakingly piecing them back together to hear them play again, restoring the memory of the nameless millions, including the musicians and artists who were lost.”

Concertmaster Gabriel Lefkowitz with the Louisville Orchestra had the opportunity to play one of the violins owned by a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp at an event earlier this month.

“Playing a new instrument is best described as getting to know a new person,” he said. “The first thing that strikes me about this violin is that it’s in pristine condition, simply because of the importance of this collection and project.”

The 10-day program in Louisville consists of more than 30 community events, exhibits, performances and educational experiences. The collection will also make a stop in Fort Wayne, Indiana from Nov. 9 to Dec 1 and Los Angeles between March 22 and April 25, 2020.  

“My hope in bringing Violins of Hope to Louisville is that people will give more thought to the lessons these instruments represent,” Ostroff said. “Individual rights are important, bigotry is not good and everyone has a right to live in their own way. These violins survived the Holocaust even though many of their owners did not, to remind us to never let all that happen again.”