Our Stories

Amnon Weinstein, violin maker

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© They Played for Their Lives, Yoel Levi & Amnon Weinstein 

'Violins of Hope' is a rare and unique collection of 18 violins carefully restored by Israel violin maker Amnon Weinstein.
Each one of these violins is connected to the events of the Holocaust, each one has its own identity and extraordinary story of survival. Many of these violins are engraved front and back with the star of David, indicating its makers faith. The survival, restoration, and playing of these violins worldwide creates the hope that Amnon's project stands for. Prior to the war, these violins were mostly used for Klezmer playing, but in the ghettos and concentration camps they played any possible tune in order to keep their owners alive. We have completed an extraordinary day of conversation and music playing at Amnon's workshop in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

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© They Played for Their Lives, Hagai Shaham, violinist  

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Photo: courtesy of  Amnon & Avshalom Weinstein

Our day included conversation between Amnon (right) and conductor Yoel Levi (left - holding one of the survived violins) about the meaning and importance of the survival, restoration and playing of these instruments.

We completed our day at Amnon's workshop with beautiful sounds of a survived violin from Auchwitz, played by violinist Hagai Shaham.

Alexander Tamir
song writer and pianist

As a young boy, Alek Wolkovsky was 11 years old when he wrote the song 'Shtilar, Shtilar' (Ponar). Alek submitted his song to a music competition in ghetto Vilna and one first prize. The song was later translated to Yiddish and Hebrew. The song quickly spread among people in the ghetto and became the hymn and song of resistance in many of the ghettos during the Holocaust as well as one of the better known songs heard today during Yom Ha'Shoah memorials across Israel. The song 'Shtilar, Shtilar' is a symbol of the Jewish music and culture that arose during the Holocaust, and which carried the torch of hope, strength and  defiance. Upon his arrival to Israel, Alex continued his piano education and together with Ms. Brach Eden z"l they formed one of the world's most acclaimed piano duo Eden-Tamir. 

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Photo: courtesy of Alexander Tamir

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© They Played for Their Lives, Alexander Tamir, pianist and song writer

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Photo: courtesy of Alexander Tamir, Eden-Tamir piano Duo

Victor Aitay, 93-year-old violinist

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© They Played for Their Lives, Victor Aitay

Born in Hungary, Victor Aitay began to play the violin at the age of 6. During the Holocaust, Victor survived several labor camps and a couple of attempts to escape. In one particular occasion where Victor attempted to escape, music saved his life! The judge at his trial, who learned about Victor's occupation as a musician, spared his life due to his appreciation to music and musicians. Following the war and his survival, Victor was determined more than ever to pursue a career as a musician and fulfil his love for music. Together with his wife (an Auschwitz survivor herself), Victor immigrated to the US and settled in Chicago. Victor joined the Chicago symphony orchestra where he served as principal violinist and collaborated with the greatest musicians of all times.

Hellmuth Spryczer, whistler

We have successfully completed to capture the story of Hellmuth who was only 13 years old when he whistled with the ‘ghetto Swingers’ Jazz band in Terezin. He became a child-star over night and was known as the ‘whistler from Terezienstadt’. Hellmuth continued to perform and whistle in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp for high ranked SS officers such as Eichman Himmler and Mengele. Hellmuth tells the story of how music provided comfort to his friends and family under unbearable conditions and how music ultimately saved his life.

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© They Played for Their Lives, Hellmuth & Frank 

Frank Grunwald

We have successfully completed to capture the story of Frank who was 11 years old when he and his older brother John were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. The brothers discovered how to use their body as musical instruments in absence of their piano and accordion. In ghetto Terezin and Auschwitz concentration camp they began to improvise together Jazz music and popular songs: “We loved it. We’d sing songs that we knew...It was a lot of fun, a mental escape, it was wonderful. Whenever you could create some music with yourself, even your own voice, it would be very relaxing, up-lifting…”

Reunion of two friends after 65 years

We have recently captured the most powerful and unforgettable reunion of Frank and Hellmuth, who have not seen one another since their liberation from Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945. Hellmuth and Frank revive extraordinary stories and memories of two young boys, who each in their own way found hope and comfort in music as a means to survive the unimaginable conditions that they faced at the Auschwitz-Birkenau family camp.

Chaim Rafael

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© They Played for Their Lives, photo: Rotem Yaron 

We have successfully completed to capture the story of 90-year-old Chaim Rafael, a survivor from Auschwitz concentration camp. Chaim owes his life to the harmonica: "One day I saw an SS guard trying to play the harmonica...I told him that I could show him how... The officer liked my playing, he brought me more warm soup and bread...he even ordered to stop the daily beatings of my father by the other guards...MUSIC SAVED OUR LIVES!"

A reunion of 106 years-old pianist Alice Herz-Sommer with singer Greta Klingsberg

On June 17 we filmed 106 years-old concert pianist Alice Herz-Sommer who lives in her small apartment.  Alice, who performed over 800 piano recitals in ghetto Terezin states: “They tore off our belongings, food and clothing but music is the one thing that they could not take away from us, music that evil could not destroy”.  Alice spoke of how music saved her life and honored us with an incredible performance on the piano of music by Chopin. In this rare occasion we captured an incredibly moving reunion of Alice with one of her former students, Greta Klingsberg, who studied with her the piano in Prague after their liberation. Over the years, Alice and Greta remained good friends and shared their love of music from the distance.

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© They Played for Their Lives, Alice and Greta

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, cello player Women’s orchestra in Auschwitz

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© They Played for Their Lives, Anita and Alice 

On June 18 we met with cello player Anita Lasker Wallfisch who was only 15 years old when she joined the women’s orchestra in Auschwitz concentration camp and became their single cellist. Anita tells her story: “The cello really saved my life because to be in this orchestra was a way of survival because as long as they wanted music they would be very stupid to put us in the gas chambers.” In the photo above Alice is in conversation with her old friend Anita to talk about the meaning of music in their lives.

Raphael Wallfisch
Cello player 2g
Son of Anita Wallfisch

A world acclaimed cellist and the son of Anita Lasker Wallfisch.  Our crew joined him in conversation about the meaning and significance of music in their family.

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© They Played for Their Lives, Raphael Wallfisch

Brundibar Children's Opera
by Hans Krasa

On January 25-26, our Israeli crew - Leeronne Tamir, field producer and Rotem Yarn, cameraman filmed the general rehearsal and concert performance of the children's opera - Brundibar by Hans Krasa. Their mission included interviews with children and members of both the israeli and German cast, the conductor - Naomi Faran and Greta Klingsberg survivor from the original cast.

 

The performance was a collaborative production by the Moran Beit Yitzhak Children's Choir from Israel and the Gewandhnus Children's Choir from Leipzig, Germany with the Rishon Lezion Orchestra conducted by Naomi Faran. Greta Klingsberg was 14 years old when she performed the role of 'Aninka' for over 50 times in ghetto Terezin (circled in the original photo).

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The plot of Brundibar tells the story of a boy and a girl who go out to the marketplace to sing in rider to collect money for their sick mother. Among the characters in the opera are a dog, cat and a bird, a hurdy-gurdy man, a school full of children and an ice cream vendor. "On the stage those were hours of normalcy, "says Klingsberg. "There we had everything children lacked in the ghetto: pets, ice cream, a large square, a school." she said. “The: death all around, seeing our little friends die, and the diseases, all these disapreared on stage and the characters of the dog and the cat and the bird persuaded us with their words that we had to continue to live, to sing. This is the wonderful characteristic of children,their ability to create a world of their own."

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