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The haunting story of the 'Violins of Hope'

Each of these instruments has a history going back to one of humanity’s darkest chapters.

PORTLAND, Maine — When the Portland Symphony Orchestra performs on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25, its string musicians will be playing instruments like no others in the world -- the "Violins of Hope."

Since the 1970s, Amnon and Avshi Weinstein, who are father and son violinmakers, have been restoring this collection of violins, violas, and cellos. 

The instruments were played or owned by European Jews -- a few of whom survived the Holocaust, most of whom perished in it. Some of the violins had even been played in concentration camps.

When the first violin came into his repair shop in Tel Aviv, Israel, Amnon Weinstein found black ashes inside. After a violin has been used for a long time, Avshi Weinstein told me, there is always dust in it. 

“This was not dust. This was something else,” Avshi Weinstein said.

The black ashes were all that remained of the people whom the Nazis killed and then cremated in concentration camps. From the crematorium smokestacks, the ashes had drifted through the air.

Bringing the "Violins of Hope" project to life and keeping it going is personal for the Weinstein's. Their own history with the Holocaust is a story of unfathomable pain and loss.

“My grandfather had 11 brothers and sisters. Only one of his brothers survived,” Avshi Weinstein said. “My grandmother had seven or eight brothers and sisters. None of her family survived.”

The "Violins of Hope" are now played in concerts around the world, and the Weinstein's said the instruments all have something in common. 

“They are symbols of hope and a way to say: Remember me, remember us.”

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