Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes

Violins of Hope by James A. GrymesViolins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust--Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind's Darkest Hour by James A. Grymes
Published by Harper Perennial on August 12, 2014
Genres: History, Music
Pages: 336
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss for review consideration.
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A stirring testament to the strength of the human spirit and the power of music, Violins of Hope tells the remarkable stories of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust, and the Israeli violin maker dedicated to bringing these inspirational instruments back to life.
The violin has formed an important aspect of Jewish culture for centuries, both as a popular instrument with classical Jewish musicians—Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman—and also a central factor of social life as part of the enduring Klezmer tradition. But during the Holocaust, the violin assumed extraordinary new roles within the Jewish community. For some musicians, the instrument was a liberator; for others, it was a savior that spared their lives. For many, the violin provided comfort in mankind’s darkest hour, and, in at least one case, helped avenge murdered family members. Above all, the violins of the Holocaust represented strength and optimism for the future.
In Violins of Hope, music historian James A. Grymes tells the amazing, horrifying, and inspiring story of the violins of the Holocaust, and of Amnon Weinstein, the renowned Israeli violinmaker who has devoted the past twenty years to restoring these instruments in tribute to those who were lost, including 400 members of his own family. Juxtaposing tales of individual violins with one man’s harrowing struggle to reconcile his own family’s history and the history of his people, it is a poignant, affecting, and ultimately uplifting look at the Holocaust and its enduring impact.


For the past twenty years, Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein has devoted his time to the restoration of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. Each violin has its own remarkable story as a liberator, comforter, savior, or an avenger, or perhaps as the only remaining memento of a dear relative. In Violins of Hope, musicologist James A. Grymes uses the violins in Weinstein’s collection to tell the stories of the musicians who played and heard them.

Grymes is careful not to overly romanticize the powerful role of music in the lives of Jewish prisoners. He offers an honest and balanced view, being sure to point out that there were some who resented the musicians or were troubled by their music. I was also struck by how vast and far-reaching the Holocaust was. It affected locations so much farther away than I’d realized, in ways I’d never considered. I discovered the continuing impact of the Holocaust, and why remembering its horrors has relevance today.

History and music history buffs will have a special interest in Violins of Hope, but Grymes’s writing style is accessible and engaging to all readers. His sentences are short and snappy, giving the book a fluidity and quick pace I didn’t expect with such a heavy topic. Yet Grymes manages to retain all of the emotions that come along with each violin’s story. He pulls you in to every single word and brings the topic to life. This book breathes. I actually had to set it aside and take a break for a few hours after reading about 12-year-old Motele Schlein. And when I reached the end and learned how things had come full circle for Amnon Weinstein, I was moved to tears.

I will never forget the stories in this book.

Check out James A. Grymes’s blog to learn more, and watch the trailer below: