The book is tattered and held together with heavy-duty tape. The pages are marked with coffee and tea stains. Passages are highlighted, written around and under. It goes everywhere I go … in the satchel, in the briefcase, in the hobo bag. When there are 20 minutes or so of time, I pull it out and let my heart mourn. Twenty minutes is probably enough. I mark the pages, put it back in the bag and go on about my day. The book is “Violins of Hope” by James A. Grymes. The subtitle is “Violins of the Holocaust — Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind’s Darkest Hour.”
I became aware of the book because of the extraordinary exhibit and events of the Violins of Hope Fort Wayne. For two full weeks, there are events every day … some days have multiple events. I ask myself, how can I do all of these? I cannot, but I want to.
This exhibit is a collection of instruments that survived the Holocaust and the extraordinary folks who played them. As I read the book, I feel I have been illiterate on my knowledge, and, even though my heart can hardly take it, I cannot get enough of this.
With events strung through the month, I make a list of those I can attend. The first one is November 14 “Stories of Defiance, Resilience, and Legacy” at the Allen County Courthouse. Most events are free, and this is one of them. I order four tickets and share the bounty with four friends … Carolyn and the two Jans.
I clean out Lola for the trip to Fort Wayne, and we all gather. I have my book with me and pass it around in the car. I tell some of the stories I have read to prepare them for what is to come. I park the Jeep in the garage and we walk the short distance to the courthouse. The night is crisp, clean, and we join others as we walk into the rotunda. It is set up for the concert in a circle around the rotunda. There are other friends to greet before the two-hour concert. We chat. We mingle. Finally a hush comes over the crowd as the first violinist comes out to warm up the orchestra. My favorite conductor, Caleb Young, comes out, takes his bow and begins, and we are gone.
Narrator, Michael Rush, joins the Fort Wayne Philharmonic telling the stories of the violins between selections. The concert continues with the Children’s Choir singing from the balcony. We sit in silence with hands folded, eyes and ears watching, listening. I am good. I hold it all together until the Fort. Wayne Ballet comes out to dance an extraordinary piece to Samuel Barber’s, “Adagio for Strings, Opus 11.” Barber wrote it in Europe in the summer of 1936. It is known as a funeral piece as it was played for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The National Symphony Orchestra played it in the great hall after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
I swallow hard to keep from crying, but it does no good. A short intermission follows, which gives time to pull myself together. The conversation flows among the guests as quickly as tears. It is through the arts this time; this book comes to life for us. Dance. Stories. Music. How can we live without them?
The second half is just as moving with more dancing, another piece by the children’s choir and music as it was played within the concentration camps. There are no dry eyes as we give a standing ovation to all those involved.
I am numb as we leave, but the brilliant night sky brings it all home to me. I think how lucky I am to be alive and to experience this type of event. We drive home in the late night hour chatting all the way. After saying “farewell,” I come on in through the garden gate, make tea and pull out my book, as there are still a few chapters to read. I am so glad there are more events on my calendar for this wonderful program in Fort Wayne.
Tonight Nobel Peace Prize winner and writer, Elie Wiesel was quoted. He was in the concentration camps and heard the music of the violin.
He says, “Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.”
Yes, I think into the holy darkness, he is right.