• The Stories of Two Violins

Violins of Hope


JHV9-German Violin with Star of David
Warsaw, 1924


This violin came to the Weinstein’s workshop in very bad condition. The signs on it indicate that it was played in the worst conditions imaginable. The top has no varnish and the inside parts are crudely glued and nailed in an unprofessional way. It appears to have been played in a camp or ghetto and was repaired in any way possible, perhaps to give the owner a little more time to play it. The Weinsteins decided to leave this violin as is, so that viewers can see the condition of some instruments when they arrive at the workshop — and perhaps, in seeing it, imagine what some of these instruments and their owners had to endure at the hands of the German Reich.


Generously underwritten by Dr. Mathew Davis and Dr. Mark Dressner on behalf of the Alpert Jewish Community Center


Heinrich Herrmann grew up in Schwabach and Nuremberg in the South of Germany, where he learned to play the violin on an old, inexpensive Gypsy instrument. He studied law and became a judge, but lost his position following the implementation of the Nuremberg laws due to his Jewish identity. Fleeing to Amsterdam, he became a typewriter salesman and met his wife, Ilse. Heinrich clung to his old, inexpensive violin and often played chamber music with friends. In the mornings, he tried to secure visas to any country that would offer them a chance to leave Europe.


His plan to support the family upon arriving in their new home relied on spending his life savings to procure a rare, 150-year-old handmade violin by a famous atelier of the Klotz family in Bavaria, Germany. Travelling with large amounts of money could prove dangerous, but upon arrival he could sell the extraordinary violin and recoup his savings. His plan was thwarted however, when all Jews in Holland were forced to register with the Nazi regime and surrender their valuables. He brought the instrument and told the clerk that although he had no problem parting with his belongings, he could not bear to part with the violin. “Go home with your violin,” said the clerk, “and come back tomorrow with another. But don’t tell anyone I said so.” The Herrmanns gave the violin to a Dutch friend, Yan Molder, for safekeeping and not a moment too soon. On June 23, 1943, they were arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis and sent to the feared Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Molder was afraid the Nazis would find Jewish owned property in his possession, so he gave it to a musician friend, who was equally fearful of the German’s wrath and buried the violin in his garden.


Miraculously, Heinrich and Ilse Herrmann survived and in 1944 they were traded for German citizens being expelled from the British Mandate of Palestine. A year later, after the war ended, the violin was exhumed and brought to them in Palestine. Though badly damaged, it was repaired and stayed close to Heinrich who played it for the next 40 years.


This Instrument has been generously sponsored by Jewish Long Beach.