Violin reclaimed from Holocaust

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'You get to keep that voice alive': Violin reclaimed from Holocaust will be played at Ottawa event to mark Kristallnacht anniversary


Concert violinist Niv Ashkenazi and a Violin of Hope, an instrument reclaimed from the Holocaust. ELYSE FRELIGEROTTWP


The notes played on a violin reclaimed from the Holocaust will have special resonance Wednesday evening in an Ottawa synagogue.

It will be played to mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the name given to a state-sanctioned pogrom that signaled a murderous new phase in the Nazi campaign against the Jewish population in Germany.

“Kristallnacht was a pivotal event of the Holocaust: it was the end of the beginning,” renowned Holocaust scholar and rabbi Michael Berenbaum said in an interview. “Before, it had been about destroying the Jewish community in Germany and, after that, they destroyed the people.”

Prof. Michael Berenbaum.OTTWP


Berenbaum will speak at Wednesday’s commemoration event organized by Carleton University’s Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship.

He will be joined at Kehillat Beth Israel Synagogue by concert violinist Niv Ashkenazi, who will perform using an instrument that played during the Holocaust.

Ashkenazi, 28, will use an instrument donated by a U.S. Holocaust survivor; the instrument has an inlaid Star of David made from abalone shells on its back.

“I think it’s so meaningful to get to play these instruments,” Ashkenazi told this newspaper. “It’s extremely emotional and sometimes difficult from that perspective: You hear the story of these instruments and then you have to play.

“You feel the connection with the former owner. You understand that this instrument was this person’s voice during the war — and that you get to keep that voice alive.”

Ashkenazi will be performing with an instrument refurbished as part of the Violins of Hope program founded in 1996 by Israel’s Amnon Weinstein, who lost hundreds of relatives in the Holocaust. His emigrated from Poland in 1938, one year before the start of the Second World War.

Weinstein, one of the world’s foremost violin makers, began collecting string instruments that were played by Jews in wartime camps and ghettos, then painstakingly restored them so that they could be played on concert stages around the world.

Weinstein’s quest began after a Holocaust survivor brought him a violin to restore: The man said his job was to play while Nazi soldiers marched Jews to their deaths. Weinstein was overcome with emotion when he found ashes inside the violin case.

The instrument has an inlaid Star of David made from abalone shells on its back. AMNON WEINSTEINOTTWP


There are now more than 50 instruments in his Violins of Hope collection.

Carleton’s Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship chose to commemorate the Kristallnacht anniversary with music, director Mina Cohn said, in order to pay tribute “to the six million whose voices were silenced forever by the Holocaust.”

Kirstallnacht — it literally translates as “night of crystal” — is often referred to as “the Night of Broken Glass,” a name taken from the shattered glass that littered German streets after the pogrom of Nov. 9 and 10, 1938. Thousands of Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes were smashed and plundered in a wave of violence approved by Nazi Party officials.

At least 91 Jews were killed during Kristallnacht, and 267 synagogues destroyed. Many of them burned in full view of firefighters.

More than 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up by the Gestapo and Schutzstaffel (SS) and sent to concentration camps during the pogrom.

When it was over, Nazi officials blamed Jews for the violence, imposed a massive “atonement tax” on the Jewish community and confiscated insurance payouts to protect German insurance companies against losses.

Prof. Berenbaum said Kristallnacht was the point at which the Nazi persecution of Jews became more radicalized, and took as its goal the complete elimination of Jews from German society.

“That effort began to take the form of radical exclusionary laws and, ultimately, systematic and structural murder,” said Berenbaum, the former director of the U.S. Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Holocaust Education Month launch event will be held Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in Ottawa’s Kehillat Beth Israel Synagogue at 1400 Coldrey Ave. Organized by the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, it will mark the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. Open to the public, admission is free.

Originally published here.

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