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Culture

After Decades of Silence, Holocaust Violins Sound in Jerusalem

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, violins found in Europe's concentration camps and ghettos have been restored and now returned to the stage for a concert in Jerusalem.

A violinist

The orchestra performed on violins found in concentration camps

The charity event "Violins of Hope," held on Wednesday, September 24 at the foot of the ancient walls of Jerusalem, boasted an illustrious cast of performers from Israel and Turkey playing a program that included work by Felix Mendelssohn, Maurice Ravel and a special composition based on the melody of the traditional prayer "Avinu Malkeinu."

Conducted by Omer Welber, the Istanbul Philharmonic and the Ra'anana Symphonette accompanied Israeli virtuoso Shlomo Mintz, Yair Dalal and Turkey's Cihat Askin as they played sixteen violins that had outlasted the Holocaust.

The concert was part of this year's celebrations marking Israel's 60th anniversary. Proceeds from the event went to Meir Panim Layeled, an organization that focuses on the welfare, education and health needs of children across Israel.

16 violins, 16 stories

Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein holds up a restored violin during the Violins of Hope concert

Amnon Weinstein

Some of the violins were responsible for saving Jewish lives, and some helped fight the Germans.

"Each violin has its own story," Israeli violin maker Amnon Weinstein told Reuters. Now 69, he and his son have spent more than a decade restoring the violins collected from across Europe.

Weinstein said he received the instruments in various states of disrepair, many of them decorated with stars of David carved into the woodwork, a testimony to their former Jewish owners.

"By restoring their violins, their legacy is born again," said Weinstein, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust.

Most of them were found in attics and cellars, where they had spent the last few decades gathering dust. He said the majority originally came from ghettos and concentration camps, where Nazis used to assemble orchestras. In some cases, Weinstein was able to track their history and talk to the families they once belonged to.

The story of Motele

The Philharmonic Orchestra of Istanbul, Turkey and the Israeli Symphonette Orchestra of Ra'anana

The event took place outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City

According to the event's website, one of the instruments originally belonged to a 12-year-old Jewish boy who played it for Nazi SS officers in Belarus in 1944.

His name was Motele, and he had joined the resistance in a village near the border with Ukraine and managed to infiltrate a Nazi building there.

"The German officers heard him play in the streets one day and later brought him to perform every night in their compound in town," said Sefi Hanegbi, whose father played alongside Motele in a partisan camp in a forest during World War Two.

After each performance, Motele would hide his violin in the building and walk out with an empty case. He would return with the violin case full of explosives, stuffing them into cracks in the walls, and eventually setting them off, Hanegbi said.

Motele was later killed in a German ambush, and Hanegbi's family brought his violin to Israel where it sat in a closet for decades -- forgotten until Amnon Weinstein gave it a second lease of life.

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