A violin left behind by a 19-year old girl in a boxcar transporting Jewish prisoners to Auschwitz, came to life Sunday during a sold-out presentation of Violins of Hope, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library. Patrons heard the story about the violin once owned by Valeria Teichner, before listening to award-winning violinist Aviva Chertok of Chicago play the haunting theme from the film, Schindler’s List.
“This piece is so beautiful and so loved by so many people that it has a life of its own,” Chertok told the crowd. “It brings us back to the Holocaust and the memory of so many people who passed.”
Another violin, called simply the Auchwitz violin, was played by Linda Veleckis Nussbaum, Orchestra Director at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park. The violin had belonged to a prisoner in Auchwitz, who was forced to play in the men’s orchestra in the camp, as a way of deceiving other prisoners that they were not really in a concentration camp.
“Each violin has an alchemy to it, a personality,” says Nussbaum, who has played 12 of the violins at different presentations, “and it stays with you.”
The presentation at the Arlington Heights library is one of 115 events going on throughout the state, as part of the Violins of Hope exhibition, sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Chicago in Northbrook. So far, its exhibits, stories and concerts have engaged more than 120,000 people, said Hillary Wenk, Manager of Operations and Community Engagement.
Wenk describes the response to Violins of Hope as overwhelming, as evidenced by the standing room only crowd on Sunday, for a presentation that filled up with reservations two weeks before the event.
“We knew it was going to be big, but not this big,” Wenk said. “We’re trying to hit the notes of anti-semitism and remind people that these instruments are here because of anti-semitism and the Holocaust. With the numbers of incidents constantly rising, our goal is to bring these issues to the forefront and educate people.”
Doris Lazarus described the stories behind each violin and the mission of the JCC, which is to bring Jewish values to life.
“These violins are survivors, sometimes the only survivor from a family,” Lazarus said. “They are a celebration of the human spirit over evil, and when played, they are all saying, ‘Remember me.’ ”
JCC began sharing this collection of 70 instruments — played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust — back in April. Currently, the Arlington Heights library has six of the violins on display until Sept. 7, while at the same time the Schaumburg Public Library has another six. But they have traveled to Chicago, Champaign, Peoria, Springfield, Elgin, Joliet and Aurora, to name just a few, as well as different cities around the world.
Each violin has been painstakingly restored by an Israeli father and son who are violin makers, Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein. They have spent the last 20 years locating and restoring these instruments, as a way to reclaim their lost heritage, give voice to the victims and reinforce essential messages of hope, harmony and humanity.
Chertok, who plays professionally and teaches violin, said she wondered how the violins would sound in comparison to her own instrument, though she added, “A violin has to be played.”
“I was amazed and surprised to hear how much sound each one has,” Chertok said. “I feel privileged to bring it back to life and give it its voice.”
Find the calendar listing of the remaining exhibits and presentations of Violins of Hope and individual stories for each violin, here.