UT School of Music graduate student Kevork Esmeryan spent part of January traveling to schools around the Knoxville area playing violins once played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” said Esmeryan, a violin performance student who played for nearly 2,000 students at Fulton High School, Bearden Middle School, Maryville High School, L&N STEM Academy, and Central High School over the course of two weeks.
Esmeryan’s visits to local schools were part of Violins of Hope, an international traveling collection of violins assembled and restored by Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein. From January 4 through 27, 38 violins from the collection were on display at the UT Downtown Gallery while nine other instruments were used for educational work. The exhibition and other Violins of Hope events were organized by the Stanford Eisenberg Knoxville Jewish Day School and supported by several community partners, including the School of Music.
“This was the biggest exhibition to date,” said Avshi Weinstein, Amnon Weinstein’s son and co-founder of the exhibition. The younger Weinstein travels with the exhibit, sharing the history of the violins at lectures.
While Weinstein told stories about the violins, Esmeryan provided musical interludes, playing excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto and Fritz Kreisler’s “Liebesleid” (Love’s Sorrow).
Violins of Hope has traveled around the world with displays across the United States, Europe, and Israel. For Weinstein, educational visits to share and speak with students are a fundamental part of the exhibitions.
“One of the challenges when speaking about the Holocaust,” Weinstein said, “is that you are talking about numbers that people cannot imagine: six million people. Have you ever seen six million people? But to talk about individual human stories—this is something that people can understand.”
Esmeryan, who moved from Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, to Knoxville to begin his two-year graduate program under Associate Professor Miroslav Hristov this past August, knew about the Weinsteins’ violin work for years. After he arrived at UT, he was surprised to discover through an email that the same violins he had heard played on YouTube videos in his native Bulgaria would be in Knoxville in January.
Esmeryan reached out to Violins of Hope and was invited to play during the school visits.
One of the instruments played by Esmeryan had been owned by a member of the main orchestra in Auschwitz, who sold it to a man working for an organization helping Jewish survivors after World War II. The original owner told the man that he’d lost his family and all of his other possessions and that he wanted to sell the violin—the only thing he had left—so he could have the money to start his life again. Eventually, the son of the man who purchased the violin heard about Violins of Hope and donated the instrument to the project.
Weinstein, who recounted this history along with many other stories of Jewish survivors during his school visits, was honored to have Esmeryan participate in the visits.
Equally honored to participate in the educational work, Esmeryan is grateful for the opportunity to play a part in teaching the next generation of students about the devastation that occurred during the Holocaust.
“It is very important to learn what happened,” Esmeryan said, “and to make sure such monstrosities are never repeated.”
Brian Canever (865-974-0937, email@example.com)