A violin plays at Auschwitz

March 19, 2012 by Henry Benjamin
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Its owner lost his life in Auschwitz but next month a violin will play the doleful tones of the theme from “Schindler’s List” under the former concentration camp’s iconic and tragic “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign…in the hands of his great-granddaughter.

Joe and Ashleigh Vissel...and the violin pic: Henry Benjamin

16-yr-old Ashleigh Vissel, a student at Sydney’s Masada College, knew that Jacob Vissel’s violin had been lying in a state of disrepair since 2004.

Students from the school attending this year’s March of the Living will give a reading, song or perform at the gates of the Nazi death camp. When Ashleigh, who lives in St Ives, decided to play the theme from Schindler’s she asked her family to have her great-grandfather’s violin repaired. It will be the first time it has made music since Jacob Vissel was taken to Auschwitz where he was murdered in 1942. His wife Rika was killed in 1944 and Rika is Ashleigh’s middle name.

His son, Jozef, who survived the war hidden by the Dutch underground,came to Australia in 1960. In 2004, Vissel visited Holland for a reunion with others with whom he had lived in a Dutch Jewish orphanage after the war.  He told J-Wire his father’s sister had survived the Holocaust. He visited his home town of Groningen where he met up his cousin Rosa, who told him she had his father’s violin and asked him if he wanted it.  It was in a state of disrepair but Vissel did not hesitate and brought the violin, his only link to his father, back to Australia where it lay on top of a cupboard until last month.

Ashleigh Vissel was born in Auckland. Her family moved to Sydney in 2004…the same year as the violin found its new home in  the same city.

Rika, Jozef and Jacob Vissel

Repairer Kevin Tu told J-Wire: “There is no structural damage to the instrument. We have had to strip  the old glue and rebuild it again. It will be ready in plenty of time for Ashleigh’s trip.”

Jozef Vissel, 77, who lives in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove, added: “We had thought of getting it fixed before but the cost was high and there was no guarantee that the repair would be effective…and there was no-one to play it until now.”

Ashleigh explains. “When I was little I started out with a very small violin and progressed in size as I grew older. Now I play a full-size instrument and this one is of course very special.” She added:  “My grandfather is very excited and extremely touched by me playing the violin where his parents were sentenced to death. Obviously, the fact that I have played the violin and continued a family tradition, and to play it on my great grandfather’s violin and the only thing my Zaida has, is pretty amazing!”



2 Responses to “A violin plays at Auschwitz”
  1. Carl says:

    Wonderful suggestion, Lynne. A recording would capture the poignancy of the occasion and serve as an aural monument to Ashleigh’s great-grandfather.

  2. Lynne Newington says:

    How wonderful. Amidst the horrors of Auschwitz, music was a part of daily life.
    There were several orchestras and bands made up entirely of inmates, so written on the information booklet accompanying CD’s I orderd from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
    The violin is the music of the soul, maybe it can be recorded and shared: just a suggestion.

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