The students shuffled past the table of violins, many pulling out their phones to snap pictures of the painstakingly restored instruments.
After hearing the stories of the Holocaust victims who once owned the violins, the “Heil Hitler” inscription, alongside a swastika inside one, was particularly sobering.
Avshalom Weinstein presented the “Violins of Hope” to Manatee County students on Friday, telling the stories of different Holocaust survivors during assemblies at Braden River High School and Manatee High School, using the victims’ violins as an entry point into their stories.
Weinstein told the story of each owner, and then violinist Mariella Haubs, 21, would play a piece of music with it, accompanied on the piano by Matthew Graybil.
If the standing ovation at the end of the Braden River assembly was any indication, Weinstein’s storytelling combined with Haub’s and Graybil’s performance was an effective way to personalize a massive historic event.
I can really vibe with music, so just seeing her play and hearing him reading the stories before, you kind of think about putting yourself in that position.
- Hannah Rodriguez, 17
“It was really inspiring. I have never thought about how you could learn someone’s story just through an object they had owned,” said Hannah Rodriguez, 17. “I can really vibe with music, so just seeing her play and hearing him reading the stories before, you kind of think about putting yourself in that position.”
Rodriguez said she has read “Night” by Elie Weisel and studied World War II in history class, but linking the stories to victims through their violins was unique.
Christian Solorzano, 15, agreed.
“It made me think a lot better about the Holocaust and it made me understand it more,” Solorzano said. “It gives you a background to understand how some people survived.”
Weinstein’s father, an Israeli violin maker, collected the Holocaust-era violins, and for the past 20 years Weinstein has been sharing the violins and telling the stories of their former owners. The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee brought Amnon Weinstein and his “Violins of Hope” to Manatee and Sarasota for a series of concerts and talks.
The violins opened the window to some rarely seen aspects of life in concentration camps. Weinstein said every concentration camp had its own orchestra, which would perform as trains arrived to deceive new arrivals about the nature of their new home. Using the music as a “tool of deception,” the Nazis would also have orchestras play as people walked to gas chambers, Weinstein said.
Students really get engaged more when they have something real and tangible in front of them rather than just watching a video about the Holocaust or reading about it in a textbook.
- Manatee Schools’ Visual and Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist Zadda Bazzy
Manatee Schools’ Visual and Performing Arts Curriculum Specialist Zadda Bazzy attended the assemblies, and she said students learn more effectively when educators get creative in their presentation.
“What happens is, students really get engaged more when they have something real and tangible in front of them rather than just watching a video about the Holocaust or reading about it in a textbook,” Bazzy said.