The Journal Gazette
Friday, November 08, 2019 1:00 am

Violins of Hope begins in Fort Wayne

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Violin exhibitions, a play, author discussions, concerts, religious services, movie screenings, radio and TV specials. The list goes on and on for arts and educational events tied to Violins of Hope Fort Wayne, which begins Saturday and runs through Nov. 23.

Jaki Schreier, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, says community support has been wonderful. More than 25 organizations are involved and no one has said no when approached about being a part of the project centered around a touring collection of 50 instruments, mostly violins, played by Jewish musicians before and during the Holocaust.

A talk Sunday at the History Center drew dozens of people before the project officially began. It was a hopeful sign for Schreier.

“It was heart-wrenching wonderful to drive up to the History Center and not be able to find a place to park and to see all of these people coming in,” she says, adding that they weren't faces she knew but were people who independently saw the significance of the project.

Schreier has shared organizing duties with Fort Wayne Philharmonic managing director Jim Palermo. She says they have worked to make sure the project reaches as many people in the community as possible.

Events were scheduled without overlap so people can attend as many as possible, and there are programs geared toward varying ages and interests.

The organizers looked at previous host cities for inspiration but were also encouraged to create programming that built on what Fort Wayne has to offer. For example, the Allen County Public Library's renowned Genealogy Center will offer a talk Nov. 17 about researching Holocaust victims and survivors.

“We really feel that our community has really covered the widest breadth of the arts, education (and) culture of any of the communities we looked at,” Schreier says.

In addition to the public events, most of which are free or low cost, 26 specially trained docents are visiting schools to talk about the Holocaust. Musicians will also visit schools with several of the violins.

The educational outreach and range of public events make the local effort unique, author James Grymes says.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte professor of musicology wrote “Violins of Hope,” which includes the histories of some of the violins in the collection and the program's founder, Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein, who restored the violins.

Grymes has visited at least 50 communities that have hosted Violins of Hope. There is no pre-determined slate of events for cities to follow, so every community programs its visit differently. In some cities, events are dominated by large arts organizations and not every member of the community has a chance to experience the violins.

But with Fort Wayne's schedule, he sees there is room at the table for everybody.

“I think I'm more excited about Fort Wayne than any other city for that reason,” Grymes says.

He first became interested in Violins of Hope around 2011 when his university was working to bring in the collection. His book came out in 2014 and Grymes says it would be an understatement to say he is pleased with the reaction it has gotten.

The author spoke here in the spring and will be back in the city for a discussions Sunday at the Allen County Public Library downtown and Monday at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Grymes says he hopes his audiences learn about the diversity of experiences during the Holocaust. It isn't just one story like that of Anne Frank taught in schools or even the stories of dozens of violins in the collection – it is millions of individual stories.

The art museum event is the opening event of Violins of Hope Fort Wayne and features a screening of the documentary “Violins of Hope” followed by a discussion with Grymes and luthier Avshalom Weinstein, the son of the collection's founder.

The museum's president and CEO, Charles A. Shepard III, will moderate the discussion. The event is sold out, but the public can sign up for a waiting list on the museum's website.

Shepard says the documentary, book and collection have done a phenomenal job keeping the sense of hope alive with the instruments. Shepard says highlighting that will be part of the discussion he leads.

“I think the important thing is to get them to bring out the great work that they've done in not only restoring the violins, but preserving the whole sense of what happened in the Holocaust,” he says. “I think the lesson should be that we should make sure we never go there again, make sure that we understand how much hope was invested in each of those instruments and how they kept people alive even in the midst of all this death.”

The museum will have five violins from the collection on display in an area free to the public during its regular hours starting Tuesday.

The display is smaller than what the museum originally had in mind, Shepard says. Several years ago, before Schreier and Palermo reached out to the Weinsteins about what would eventually become Violins of Hope Fort Wayne, the museum made an effort to get the collection for an exhibition.

Not much progress was made, Shepard says, perhaps in part because the collection is in high demand. The violins were in Louisville in October and will next travel to San Francisco, according to Schreier. Local organizers secured this window between those stops almost two years ago.

Though the “5 Violins from the Shoah” exhibit might bring some new faces into the museum over the next few weeks, that is not at the forefront for Shepard. This isn't about selling tickets and making money, and he thinks that is the same for all the organizations involved.

“It's one of these nice things that ... the gain is simply bringing something to your community,” he says.

He also says he hopes other communities look to Fort Wayne as an example of the well-rounded programming that is possible with the violin collection.

Schreier hopes the local events educate the community about what happens when a society allows selections of people to be targeted by hatred instead of including all people in arts, culture and education.

“The Holocaust didn't start overnight,” Schreier says. “It started with being able to ridicule certain groups. It started little by little.”

If you go

Here are Violins of Hope highlights for the week ahead. For a full calendar and more information, go to


“Strings of the Holocaust” – Instrument exhibition; opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday; regular hours 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday; Weatherhead Gallery, University of Saint Francis, 2701 Spring St.; free; ends Dec. 1.

“5 Violins from the Shoah” – Instrument exhibition; begins Monday during Violins of Hope opening event; Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; free admission for lobby display; ends Dec. 1.


James Grymes – Conversation with author of “Violins of Hope”; 2 p.m.; Allen County Public Library Theatre, 900 Library Plaza; free.

“The Violins Live On” – Concert by Fort Wayne Philharmonic Youth Symphony Orchestras; 4 p.m.; Auer Hall, Purdue Fort Wayne, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.; $5;

“The Pianist” – Movie; 7 p.m.; Cinema Center, 437 E. Berry St.; tickets required;; screens again Tuesday and Thursday.


Opening event – Documentary screening and moderated panel with author James Grymes and luthier Avshalom Weinstein; 7 p.m.; Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St.; sold out, but there is a waiting list; The “5 Violins from the Shoah” exhibit will also be on display in the lobby.


“Guitars and Violins: Tone, Wood, and Structure as Described by the Luthiers That Build Them” – Discussion with guitar luthier Ren Ferguson and violinmaker Avshalom Weinstein; 7 p.m.; Sweetwater Sound, 5501 U.S. 30; free, registration requested;


“Violins of Hope: Stories of Defiance, Resilience, and Legacy” – Performances by Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Fort Wayne Ballet, Heartland Sings, Purdue Fort Wayne Choral Ensembles and Fort Wayne Children's Choir; 7:30 p.m.; Allen County Courthouse rotunda, 715 S. Calhoun St.; free reserved tickets are required;

By the numbers


Violins that will be played


Violins on display at the University of Saint Francis


Violins on display at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art


Viola that will be played


Cello that will be played

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