Violins of Hope, instruments for tolerance and peace arrive in Birmingham

Violins of Hope Birmingham
Violins of Hope Birmingham
Photo of one of the restored Violins of Hope. Photo by Dick Byington for Bham Now

Beginning today, Violins of Hope, lovingly restored historic violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust will be featured in Birmingham.

Throughout the week, concerts, educational programs, and events fostering interfaith dialogue are planned. The first program starts this morning at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Later in the day, the Birmingham City Council will be welcoming and honoring  Amnon Weinstein, creator and founder of Violins of Hope. There will be a short violin performance during the Council meeting using one of the restored instruments.

According to the group’s news release, 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.

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.

As the project’s coordinator, Downs has garnered support from individuals and organizations across Birmingham, including the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center, the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the UAB Institute for Human Rights, Red Mountain Theatre Company, Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center, ABC 33/40, and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

Violins of Hope. Photo by Dick Byington for Bham Now
The Story

On the Violins of Hope Birmingham website, the moving 50 year story about the restoration of the violins is described.

Here is the excerpt:

Nearly 50 years ago, a man who had played the violin in Auschwitz visited Amnon Weinstein’s violin workshop in Tel Aviv. The survivor had not touched his instrument since leaving the death camp. He now wanted to get it restored for his grandson. The top of the violin was damaged from having been played in the rain and snow. When Amnon took the instrument apart, he discovered ashes inside that he could only assume to be fallout from the crematoria at Auschwiz. The very thought of what that violin and its owner had been through together shook Amnon to his core, but he quickly pushed those gruesome thoughts aside. It was still too difficult for him to think about the Holocaust.

By the 1990’s, around the same time he started training his son Avshalom, to craft and restore violins, Amnon was finally ready to reclaim his lost heritage. Five decades after his family had been destroyed, he started reflecting not only on the Holocaust but on the role that music – especially the violin – played in Jewish lives throughout that dark period. He began locating and restoring violins that were played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.

Violins Birmingham
Photo of Amnon Weinstein courtesy of Violins of Hope

“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.”

The events this week mark the first opportunity in Birmingham to experience the restored violins.

In anticipation of the Violins of Hope concerts and special events, Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director, Carlos Izcaray stated, “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.”

Violins of Hope
Photo of Violins of Hope by Dick Byington for Bham Now

Jeffrey Bayer, who is co-chairing the project with his wife, Gail, added: “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.”

For information about Violins of Hope public events and how you can support these unforgettable programs, visit www.violinsofhopebhm.org.

Apr. 11, 2018 – Dreams of Hope: A multi-arts, multi-faith performance to welcome Violins of Hope to Birmingham, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church

Apr. 12, 2018 – Concertmaster & Friends presents Quartet for the End of Time with Violins of Hope, Alys Stephens Center

Apr. 13, 2018 – Survivors’ Sabbath Service

Apr. 14, 2018 – “Violins of Hope” Concert by Alabama Symphony Orchestra

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.