'Victory of the human spirit': Violins played by Jewish musicians coming to suburbs

A child's violin has been restored but remains unplayable.

Was it ever played?

Sobering questions may come to mind when people see - and hear - the Violins of Hope, a collection of instruments played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust.

“You have to wonder, did that child survive? Did that child ever have the chance to play that violin? It causes people to think, and to reflect,” said Ilene Uhlmann, director of community engagement for Jewish Community Centers of Chicago (JCC Chicago), who oversees the Violins of Hope's Chicago residency.

The collection of more than 70 stringed instruments will be featured in more than 100 concerts, exhibitions and educational series throughout Illinois from April through September.

The instruments - some, like the child's model, unable to be played - represent the “victory of the human spirit over evil and hatred,” as explained at

The goal of JCC Chicago is to spread this message to as many communities as possible. Stops include an April 24 opening event at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin with Violins of Hope co-founder Avshalom “Avshi” Weinstein; Elgin Symphony Orchestra concerts performing on Violins of Hope May 18 and 20 at the Hemmens Cultural Center of Elgin; a June 20 concert by the Northbrook Symphony Orchestra, and demonstrations and displays at New Trier, Deerfield and Highland Park high schools, the Northbrook Public Library, and Chicago Botanic Garden.

Concerts and exhibitions of the collection have been held throughout the United States and internationally, including Rome in 2014 and Richmond, Virginia, in 2021.

“They really have traveled the world and they continue to travel the world. When they leave Chicago they will be going to Pittsburgh,” Uhlmann said. “I really think that at this time we can really use those inspirational stories. We're thrilled to be bringing them to Chicago and to the state of Illinois.”

The opening night of the Chicago residency of Violins of Hope is April 20 at North Shore Congregation Israel, 1185 Sheridan Road, Glencoe.

An exhibit of the violins opens at 6:15 p.m. followed by a concert in the synagogue sanctuary at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $18 for students to $75 for general admission and $150 for premium seating and access to a 5:45 p.m. reception with Avshi Weinstein.

Visit for tickets, information and a complete schedule of Violins of Hope performances, demonstrations and exhibitions.

Photographed in the process of being repaired by Violins of Hope co-founder Amnon Weinstein in his Tel Aviv studio, this violin was played by Sandor Fisher and his wife, Valeria, in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. Courtesy of the Sandor Fisher family and Avshi Weinstein

The project is a labor of love and reverence by Avshi Weinstein and his father, Amnon Weinstein. Avshi Weinstein is a third-generation luthier, or craftsman specializing in stringed instruments. His late grandfather, Moshe, began the family tradition in the 1940s, though Violins of Hope started taking shape around 20 years ago in Israel.

Avshi Weinstein, who travels with the collection while his father does much of the restoration in their studio in Tel Aviv, will attend several JCC Chicago events throughout April in addition to the Glencoe concert, highlighted by a performance by the Ariel Quartet.

One new addition to the Violins of Hope will be consecrated at the April 20 concert, Uhlmann said.

Violins started arriving at Moshe Weinstein's shop shortly after World War II, she said. Often they were German-made instruments and so those who donated them wanted nothing to do with them.

“They didn't want to destroy them, but they didn't necessarily feel comfortable playing them,” Uhlmann said. “Restoring these violins and giving a voice to people who may or may not have survived was really important to Amnon.”

Most of his relatives died in the Holocaust, Uhlmann said.

Some of the instruments have the Star of David on the back. Some have names and dates.

They all have stories.

“Those stories have strong inspirational messages of hope, resilience and resistance, and today I can't think of something that we need more,” Uhlmann said.

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