MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. (WTRF) – The powerful echoes of history were brought to life as local high school students had the extraordinary opportunity to play a violin that once belonged to a Holocaust survivor. This poignant experience was made possible by the “Violins of Hope” project, a national initiative showcasing nearly 100 violins and other string instruments that endured the Holocaust and have been meticulously restored.
The Ohio Valley played host to the “Violins of Hope” organization, which seeks to illuminate the untold stories of Holocaust victims and survivors through these enduring instruments.
Collaborating with the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra (WSO), the project took center stage at John Marshall High School (JMHS) in a heartfelt presentation. Students from JMHS had the privilege of listening to accounts of Holocaust survivors and discovering the profound connection between music and one of history’s darkest chapters.
These compelling narratives served as a prelude to the collaboration between the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra and “Violins of Hope.” The two entities will stage a poignant and reflective performance at the Capitol Theatre in Downtown Wheeling on Thursday, October 19.
Between 1933 and 1945, Nazi Germany orchestrated the systematic murder of nearly 6 million Jewish individuals, forever altering the lives of countless others who sought refuge from the horrors of that era.
One of the central stories in the upcoming WSO show is that of Austrian composer Walter Bricht, who fled the Nazis after discovering his Jewish heritage. Speaking about the performance, Maestro Roger Ingram, conductor for WSO, remarked, “I will have the incredible honor of conducting the first performance of the Walter Bricht Second Piano Concerto, a piece that was lost to time when this composer fled the Nazis in 1938 and, unexpectedly, found refuge in West Virginia.”
Ingram underscored that the Thursday performance has been years in the making, entailing extensive research and dedication. The piece he will be conducting was uncovered in Vienna, Austria’s archives and has never been heard by the public before.
Two JMHS violinists were granted the privilege of playing a violin that dates back to the 1930s and once belonged to a Jewish prisoner. In a remarkable demonstration of how music can convey the inexpressible, they sought solace in the notes.
Sofiah Pozenske, a senior violinist at John Marshall, shared her emotions: “I feel like it’s very emotional overall. Like when I was playing the instrument, I just could kind of like feel the depth of its story. So that was really cool.”
Alina Holliday, a sophomore violinist, expressed her gratitude: “I just appreciated the opportunity. I don’t think I’ll ever get to do something like that again, so it was very special.”
John Devlin, the Music Director for WSO, illuminated the inspiration behind collaborating with “Violins of Hope” and organizing community events like the one held at JMHS: “We’ve been planning this concert for over two years in tribute to something that happened over 70 years ago. And now with the added importance of what’s going on in the Middle East today, there’s many dimensions that allow us to remember that art mirrors history, and we must remember that history if we are to better our society. So, we want to spread a message of love and joy, understanding, and most of all – hope.”
On the night of the performance at the Capitol Theatre, 13 restored violins will take center stage, with 12 on display from approximately 6 p.m., and one to be played during the show alongside other restored string instruments once owned by Holocaust prisoners.
In addition to the event in Moundsville, “Violins of Hope” is also displaying their collection of restored instruments in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, at Carnegie Mellon University, from now until November 26.