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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Violins of Hope in Wyoming

By Terryl Meador

Presenting at Wyoming High school were Avshi Weinstein, the speaker; Sarah Weiss, the Director of the Holocaust and Humanity Center; and Terryl Meador, the Social Studies teacher who organized the program in Wyoming.
All sophomores at Wyoming High School study the Holocaust. From the historical roots of antisemitism, to the rise of the fascists in Europe and the onset of World War II, students use survivor testimonies, letters and diaries, and government documents to trace the events that changed the world forever. For the past six years, the Holocaust and Humanity Center has been an integral part of that teaching and learning. From sponsoring survivors as guest speakers, to sharing curriculum and teaching strategies, this partnership with Wyoming High School and the Social Studies department has continued to impact students and their understanding of this critical period in history. This year, in partnership with the Holocaust and Humanity Center (HHC), students took part in a presentation by Israeli violinmaker Avshi Weinstein on Thursday, January 18.  

For decades, his father, Amnon Weinstein received violins that had been played by musicians during the Holocaust. In the 1990’s he began to restore these instruments with the help of his son, Avshi. These once silent violins were able to play again in concerts around the world and became known as the Violins of Hope. HHC was the first to bring one of the Violins of Hope to the United States in 2009 for a concert at Plum Street Temple. The concert attracted around 1,000 people, and the violins have continued to be of interest to the local community since that time. 

Wyoming senior, Spencer Shore, had the opportunity to play one of the violins.
Students listened to stories about the original owners of the violins and learned about their experiences in the Holocaust. When the presentation was concluded, students were invited to come to the front of the auditorium for a closer examination of the violins.  Several students were able to play these violins after the presentation and later in their orchestra class. This was truly an extraordinary opportunity to examine the past through an entirely unique lens. In addition to building on their love of music, Avshi shared the fact that his grandfather was one of the Bielski partisans, one of the most successful Jewish partisan groups in World War II. They worked out of Belarus and focused on providing a safe haven for Jews, particularly women, children, and elderly persons who managed to flee into the forests. Under the protection of the Bielskis, more than 1,200 Jews survived the war.  

The study of history can be complicated, and World War II and the Holocaust are still deeply personal for many families around the world. Opportunities for the examination of history outside of the classroom are crucial for students and lead to a greater understanding and appreciation of our shared experiences.  

Junior Aiden Holubeck was the first to play a full piece on one of the Violins of Hope.
Violins of Hope in Cincinnati
On January 23, the Holocaust and Humanity Center (HHC) brought a unique concert experience, Violins of Hope, to the Cincinnati community. The community performance featured nine Holocaust era violins, played by Cincinnati’s finest musicians at Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, downtown Cincinnati. 

“These violins witnessed the worst of humanity in ghettos and concentration camps but serve as symbols of hope and resistance; this was a once-in-a-lifetime concert event that proved that hope can be found in the darkest times,” said Sarah Weiss, Executive Director of HHC. “The powerful and inspiring stories of each violin were carefully woven into the concert.”

The Violins of Hope were displayed in Pendery Auditorium during and after the presentation at Wyoming High School.
Israeli violinmaker, Amnon Weinstein has been dedicated to restoring violins played by musicians during the Holocaust. With the help of his son, Avshi, these once-silent violins are able to be played again and became known as the Violins of Hope. Nine of these special violins traveled thousands of miles and were hand-delivered by Avshi Weinstein for the performance. 

“Introducing these violins, their music and their stories to the world is our mission,” says Avshi Weinstein. “My father and I are grateful to Cincinnati, the Holocaust and Humanity Center and all of its partners for making this visit and performance possible.”

Yu-Chia Cheng performed a song on one of the Violins of Hope during her orchestra class.
Evans Mirageas, Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director, served as the Artistic Advisor of Violins of Hope. The concert included performances by:
Members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), conducted by Louis Langrée
Members of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Eckart Preu.
The Ariel Quartet, CCM’s string quartet-in-residence, had a special connection with this performance in its shared history with Holocaust survivor and famed violinist Henry Meyer. Its origins can be traced to the CCM-based LaSalle Quartet that Meyer co-founded. Meyer, a survivor of four camps, lost his entire family in the Holocaust. His story was featured in the Violins of Hope concert.

Wyoming’s Sally and Gerry Korkin attended the Violins of Hope Concert.  Philip Groshong Photography.
ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST AND HUMANITY CENTER: The HHC exists to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust inspire action today. HHC educates about the Holocaust, remembers its victims, and acts on its lessons. Through innovative programs and partnerships, HHC challenges injustice, inhumanity, and prejudice, and fosters understanding, inclusion, and engaged citizenship. HHC impacts over 100,000 individuals each year.

In January 2019, HHC will relocate to Cincinnati’s Union Terminal. This unique partnership will be a first of its kind in the United States, putting Cincinnati on the map for bringing the lessons of the Holocaust into the civic conversation.   

Richard Kerstine and John Cohen enjoyed the Violins of Hope Concert and Reception.  Philip Groshong Photography.

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