With Yom HaShoah coming up next week, you might be interested in this fascinating piece of Holocaust history.
The Return of the Violin, directed by Chaim Hecht, a veteran Israeli journalist and documentary filmmaker, is a riveting and superb Holocaust documentary about a violin, a Polish American wealthy businessman, the history of the Jews of Czestochowa (a city in southern Poland which was made up of 40% Jews before World War II), the establishment of the Philharmonic Orchestra in the 1930s in what was then called Palestine, and the rebuilding of Jewish culture in contemporary Poland. The film tells the story of an 18th century Stradivarius violin which was once owned by Bronislaw Huberman, founder of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and was later purchased by American virtuoso, Joshua Bell, one of the greatest Jewish violinists of our time. Combining seemingly disparate elements, it includes intrigue, personal Holocaust stories, and wonderful music, which is interweaved beautifully throughout the film.
The hero of the film is a remarkable man named Sigmund Rolat who hid as a child in Czestochowa during the Holocaust, witnessed terrible tragedies and lost all of his family, and eventually escaped Poland and found his way as a refugee to America where he became a very successful businessman. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of communism throughout Eastern Europe, he and others go back to visit and to help rebuild Poland, by establishing memorials to their beloved family members who did not survive, by supporting local Polish culture (such as the local university), and by re-establishing Jewish culture in many places in Poland, including the now famous Jewish Cultural Festival in Crakow.
In addition to Rolat, the film director, Chaim Hecht, also has a very special relationship to Czestochowa. His grandmother grew up there. Along with Jewish descendants from this once thriving Jewish town who now live all over the world, Rolat and other Jewish philanthropists have established the Jewish Museum of Czestochowa in this city, to honor the memory of their ancestors and to be a permanent place of remembrance of Jewish culture in that city.
On the site where the magnificent grand synagogue of Czestochowa once stood (it was burnt down by the Nazis), the government of Poland built a concert hall. In an act of daring and brilliance, Rolat came up with an idea to produce a concert in that hall, in memory of the Jews of Czestochowa and in honor of Bronislaw Huberman who single-handedly brought 800 Jews – the leading musicians of Europe and their families – to pre-state Israel to create a world-class philharmonic orchestra, which has become the internationally renowned Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert featured Joshua Bell, playing Braham’s famous violin concerto, using Huberman’s Stradivarius. Rolat was there, as were other Jewish philanthropists whom my husband and I know—Carol and Alan Silberstein—whom we saw sitting in the second row behind Rolat, reveling in this marvelous experience.
It is a stirring event, one which you will not forget for a long time!
This is one of the best Holocaust documentaries that I have seen in a long time! You can watch The Return of the Violin (documentary, 2012) on the internet.