JERUSALEM (Reuters Life!) - Sixteen violins used by Jewish Holocaust victims -- including an instrument whose case was used to smuggle explosives that blew up a Nazi base -- were played Wednesday in a concert in Jerusalem.
"Each violin has its own story," said Amnon Weinstein, 69, who together with his son has spent more than a decade restoring the violins collected from across Europe.
Weinstein, a violin maker, said he received the instruments in various states of disrepair, many of them decorated with stars of David, a testimony to their former Jewish owners.
"By restoring their violins, their legacy is born again," said Weinstein, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust.
They were played together for the first time in a concert titled "Violins of Hope" by members of Israel's Raanana Symphonette and the Philharmonia Istanbul Orchestra.
Before an audience of thousands gathered under the spot-lit walls of Jerusalem's Old City, world-renowned Israeli virtuoso Shlomo Mintz played "Avinu Malkeinu" (Our Father, Our King), a central prayer from the Jewish Day of Penitence.
One of the featured instruments, called Motele's Violin, belonged to a 12-year-old Jewish boy who played it for Nazi officers from Hitler's SS in Belarus in 1944.
Motele, with his violin, had joined other anti-Nazi partisans in a village near the border with Ukraine and managed to infiltrate a Nazi building there.
"The German officers heard him play in the streets one day and later brought him to perform every night in their compound in town," said Sefi Hanegbi, whose father played alongside Motele in a partisan camp in a forest during World War Two.
After each performance, Motele hid his violin in the building and walked out with an empty case. He would return with the violin case full of explosives, stuffing them into cracks in the walls, and eventually setting them off, Hanegbi said.
Motele was later killed in a German ambush, and Hanegbi's family brought his violin to Israel where it sat in a closet for decades. Weinstein first restored it about eight years ago.
The oldest violin in the collection, Weinstein said, had been donated to the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra by revered 19th-century Norwegian violinist Ole Bull.
Ernst Glaser, a Jewish musician, was set to perform with that violin in the German-occupied Norwegian city of Bergen in 1941, but the concert was interrupted when local pro-Nazi youth began rioting and threatened to lynch Glaser for "befouling" the famed instrument.
Only when the conductor instructed the orchestra to play the Norwegian national anthem, prompting the rioting youth to stand at attention, was Glaser able to escape, Weinstein said.
"The violin was our savior," said Helen Livnat, 68, who donated the instrument her father used to earn food for her starving family in a ghetto in Ukraine in the early 1940s.
"It's an honor knowing the violins that were once played in a time of hunger and suffering will be heard again with pride in the country that we love," she said.
Editing by Jon Boyle