cover image Violins of Hope

Violins of Hope

James A. Grymes. Harper, $15.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-224683-7

Grymes traces the beautiful and haunting history of violins played by Jews in the Holocaust. Each chapter is dedicated to one violin and its players, places, and how it eventually came into the hands of Israeli violinmaker and repairman Amnon Weinstein. Across the board, the violins aided someone's survival or made their life more bearable. In Auschwitz, SS members formed orchestras for entertainment from the prisoners there. Often players received special treatment from the guards. They noted, "We played music for sheer survival. We made music in hell." It was by no means a guarantee of survival, and some orchestras were gassed immediately after their set. But some of the stories are accounts of hope, education, and joy. In the backwoods of Norway, the conductor Ernst Glaser headed an initiative where he played for the Norwegian resistance movement, hiding out in the wilderness to relay Norwegian history and pride. Motele Schlein's story describes using his musical prowess to sneak into an SS party and plant bombs. Motele muses, "I'll play so well tonight, that you'll be blown apart dancing." The accounts are unembellished, with plain, yarn-spinning language. They breath new life into history. (Aug.)