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The Story of the Hecht Violin

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On December 3, 2022 at 7:30 pm, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO), with support from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, presents the most powerful and moving concert of the season, Violins of Hope.

Amnon Weinstein, luthier

Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein and his son Avshi, have spent years collecting instruments that belonged to victims of the Holocaust, and lovingly restoring them. The project was named Violins of Hope, because through these instruments the Weinsteins, along with partner organizations, have travelled the world researching and sharing the stories of these instruments their former owners.

Two of these precious violins, and their stories, will not only be on display at the Centennial Concert Hall on the evening of the concert, they will also be played by WSO concertmaster Gwen Hoebig and WSO violinist Sonia Lazar, in the concert.

One of the violins actually has a small Canadian connection. The Hecht violin belonged to Alex and Fanny Hecht. The couple and their two sons, Fritz and Ernest, lived in Billefeld, Germany until the Nazis took over Germany and the family moved to Amsterdam, Holland. There, Fanny, who was a violinist, befriended Helena Visser and her daughter Helena, who were also violinists and lived above them.

By 1942, the Nazis had rounded up most Jews living in Amsterdam and sent them to Westerbrok, and later on to Auschwitz. Fanny knew the Nazis would be coming for her family at any moment. One day she went upstairs and asked Mrs. Visser to take care of her violin. She didn’t want the Germans to have it, and after the war, when she came back. Mrs. Visser could give the violin back to her. If she didn’t return, Fanny told her friend to keep it. The Nazis rounded up the entire Hecht family soon after that.

The Vissers searched for members of the Hecht family for years, but never found anyone or any information as to what had happened to them, although they suspected the worst.

The Dutch family kept the violin for 74 years. The younger Helena eventually moved to Canada and brought the violin with her. The family felt strongly that the violin should be given it back to Jewish musicians. When they heard about the Violins of Hope concerts, they traveled to Israel, visited Yad VaShem where they researched the history of the Hechts and found that their worst fears were true.

Ernst Hecht, age 17, died in Sobibor, Poland, July 9th, 1943. Fanny and Alex were killed in Auschwitz on September 17th, 1943. The eldest son, Fritz, age 23, died in a labour camp in Monowitz, Krakow, Poland January 18th, 1945. No one survived.

With the realization that the violin would never be returned to the rightful owners, Helena Visser gave it to Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein – so the violin could play and tell the story of Fanny, Alex, Fritz and Ernst Hecht.

We’ve received a lot of violins in different ways. Usually, it’s from relatives with whom the violin ended up, and they know it belonged to a relative who was killed in the Holocaust. Or it comes from people who have some interest in this musical memorial we are making. But with this Dutch family, this is the first time I’ve encountered such a story. It’s a good violin, German-made, valuable. It’s in excellent condition because it was hardly touched over the decades. The Visser family kept it for more than 70 years in order to keep their promise, and they wanted to return it to someone who will honor the memory of its legal owners.

– Amnon Weinstein

The Violins of Hope concert will feature WSO music director Daniel Raiskin leading the orchestra with performances of Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Melody, the theme from Schindler’s List by John Williams, Marc Lavry’s Three Jewish Dances, Myroslav Skoryk’s Melody and much more.

Patrons are encouraged to come early for an extended pre-concert talk from 6:40 pm until 7:10 pm featuring presenter Shelly Faintuch, Gwen Hoebig, Sonia Lazar, and maestro Raiskin.

After the concert, the two violins will go on to the Canadian Museum of Human Rights where they will be on display in an exhibit until March 2023. Stay tuned for more details!

Tickets for the December 3, 2022, Violins of Hope concert are available HERE, or by calling the WSO Box Office at 204.949.3999.