LOUISVILLE — Perhaps nothing is more representative of the barbaric capabilities of mankind than the extermination of six million Jewish people during the Holocaust.
During this time, everything was taken from the Jews, up to and including their lives. Even music was weaponized against them in some instances.
One unnamed survivor of Auschwitz was a member of the men's orchestra at the concentration camp. He would be forced to play his violin by camp officials, sometimes to serve as a backdrop for brutal executions.
"They were played because the Nazis mandated that they be played," said Andy Treinen, vice president of Frazier History Museum. "Jewish people could not pray, they could not sing, and it became a background to the march to the death."
That unknown Auschwitz survivor eventually sold his violin to a man named Abraham Davidowitz for $50. Davidowitz passed it down to his son, who eventually donated it to the Violins of Hope, a collection of more than 50 restored instruments that were played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.
On Thursday, those instruments — including the violin played at Auschwitz — arrived at Frazier for an exhibit that will be displayed from Oct. 17 to Oct. 27.
"It was turned, and it became a powerful way for Jewish people to say that they aren't going to be defined by anyone else, and these instruments are going to endure, and these stories of six million people are going to endure through the music," Treinen said of the collection.
Gabriel Lefkowitz, concertmaster of the Louisville Orchestra, was in attendance at Thursday's unpacking of the instruments. There, he performed with the violin bought by Davidowitz all those years ago.
"I was thrilled and ecstatic and very moved by the opportunity," he said. "I had heard of this touring collection of instruments. It's just really wonderful that it's coming to Louisville and that they get to share this history with us and we get to experience it."
At the event, Lefkowitz played the solo from "Schindler's List," which he said "so beautifully captures the essence of the Jewish spirit." The musician isn't the first in his lineage to be tasked with remembering the past. His father, a violinist with the Boston Symphony, has performed music that was written in concentration camps during the Holocaust, specifically Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic.
Being able to take part in the message spread by Violins of Hope is an honor, Lefkowitz added.
"It's a really important time to be embarking on an adventure like this, simply because we're at a point now where many people with first-hand experience of the Holocaust are no longer living," he said. "The chance to interact with these proofs and examples of history is really special, especially in this day and age where we're losing contact with many of those people who were able to record their experiences."
Treinen echoed this sentiment, saying what makes museums so important is their role in exposing the wrongs of the history. The fact that the Violins of Hope exhibit is so significant in that mission motivated Frazier to show it for free, something the museum does not usually do.
"We learn from our past, or we make the same mistakes," Treinen said. "It's important that people aren't just looking at text behind some glass. It's important that they feel something, because when they feel something, they're motivated to change. There are obviously parallels with today's world with this exhibit and some of the hate that is swelling to the surface, so we think it's important. That's why we want to present it to the public at no cost."
On Oct. 19, members of the NouLou Chamber Players and the Louisville Youth Orchestra will put on a memorial concert featuring the Violins of Hope. The concert will be held at the Ogle Center at 7:30 p.m.
The instruments will also make a stop at the Floyd County Library at 4 p.m. Oct. 21.