Israeli violin stamp recalls ‘tortured’ Jewish violins and their owners from Holocaust era

Stamp shows entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and a drawing of a Jewish man playing the violin.

The first stamp commemorating violins stolen during the Holocaust. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The first stamp commemorating violins stolen during the Holocaust.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An Israeli postage stamp showing Jewish- owned violins that were saved from the Holocaust will be issued to mark Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day this year.
The Israel Philatelic Service said on Wednesday that elements of the stamp date back to July 1942 at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. The background shows the fate of Auschwitz- Birkenau, while underneath the stamp is a drawing of a klezmer playing the violin. The edges of the sheet show the gate at Auschwitz.
The first-day cover envelope shows the orchestra of Jewish prisoners before they were put to death at Mauthausen – a photo taken by Paul Ricken. The issue, with a face value of NIS 9.60, was designed by David Ben-Hador.
The Philatelic Service said music has always been a part of the cultural life of Jewish communities around the world, including at weddings and special events in the synagogue.
This was especially true in Eastern Europe between the two world wars. The most popular instrument of klezmer musicians was the violin, and they were depicted in many literary and artistic works (such as Sholom Aleichem and Marc Chagall), especially at the beginning of the 20th century.
Jewish suffering during the Holocaust is depicted in the music of the Jews in Europe. It gave these Jews a way to express their human side in an inhuman world, to escape reality, express their desire for freedom and find some solace and hope, a Philatelic Service statement said. There was much musical activity in Lodz, Krakow, Warsaw, Vilna and Terezín, and even in work and concentration camps.
Jewish prisoners performed music and sang songs from Yiddish repertoires. One, about the partisans, became an unofficial anthem sung on Holocaust day and was translated into several languages.
The Nazis set up Jewish orchestras in some camps to play at “receptions” for new prisoners and as “accompaniment” as prisoners left the camp to work. They also entertained Nazi officers and soldiers. At one time there were six orchestras operating in Auschwitz, and there were smaller ones in Treblinka, Majdanek, Lodz and Sobibor.
During the war, the Germans confiscated many violins from their Jewish owners. Some of the instruments were found after the Holocaust, but most were broken or destroyed.
Some were marked with a Star of David that was either cut into the wood or added as a wooden mosaic or in mother of pearl.
One of those that was saved was called “Mottele’s violin” for a 12-year-old Jewish boy named Mordechai Schlein. When Nazi officers heard him perform in a street in 1944, they ordered him to perform in their club. Mottele took advantage of his performances to smuggle explosives into the club and blow it up, killing the Nazis. He himself was later killed in a German ambush. What was left of his violin was brought to Israel by the family of a friend who played with Mottele in a partisan camp.
The owner of another violin that survived the Holocaust was a French Jew who was in the Drancy internment camp. From there he was sent to Auschwitz. On the way he threw it out of the rail car to workers who were fixing the tracks and said that if he didn’t live, at least someone would continue to play the instrument.
The children of a railway worker brought it to a French violin maker.
Instruments like it reached Amnon Weinstein, a Tel Aviv violin maker who turned it into his life’s work. He restored the instruments, and the stories behind them were documented.
The instruments now have a new life, and they are “speaking” about 70 years of silence, the Philatelic Service statement said.