300-Year-Old Violin That Helped Dozens of Musicians Flee Nazi Germany to Be Played at Lincoln Center
A 300-year-old violin that helped its owner and dozens of musicians flee Nazi Germany will be played Monday at Lincoln Center, the New York Post reported on Saturday.
The Huberman Strad violin — named after Polish-Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, one of the instrument’s earlier owners, whose visit to Israel in 1929 inspired the founding of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (then known as the Palestine Philharmonic) — will be played by Grammy-winner Joshua Bell, its current owner.
Bell, whose Russian-Jewish great-grandparents emigrated to Israel, said, “When I perform in Israel with the Israel Philharmonic, I am always touched to think how many of the orchestra and orchestra members are direct descendants of the musicians Huberman saved from the Holocaust — with funds raised by concerts performed on the same instrument I play every day.”
Huberman auditioned musicians from all over Europe during World War II and managed to get exit visas for 60 of them to settle with their families in pre-state Israel. Jewish physicist Albert Einstein helped Huberman raise money for the cause, according to the New York Post.
The fund-raising US concerts referred to by Bell and that Huberman had assembled were a success, except for one night at Carnegie Hall in 1936, when his beloved violin was stolen. The thief was Julian Altman, a young freelance violinist who allegedly wormed his way past Carnegie Hall’s stage door by offering a guard a cigar, snuck into Huberman’s dressing room and took the Strad from its case while Huberman was on stage playing another rare violin.
Altman played the violin in orchestras and restaurants with nobody knowing it was Huberman’s, until Altman’s wife, Marcelle Hall, discovered it had been stolen after rummaging through her husband’s violin case, near his death in 1985. Inside the case she found clippings from 1936 about the theft of a violin and realized it was the one her husband had been playing.
After Altman’s death, Hall returned the violin to its insurer, Lloyd’s of London, for a finder’s fee. Huberman was paid $30,000 for his loss, but the violin’s value at that point had reached $1.1 million.
Bell met the violin’s subsequent owner, Norbert Brainin, a member of the Amadeus Quartet, in the 1990s. Brainin told him, “One day, you might be lucky enough to have such a violin.”
Bell later found the instrument in 2001 in London, just as it was about to be sold for $4 million to a German industrialist who wanted to add it to his collection. The New Yorker decided he had to have the violin for himself.
“This was an instrument meant to be played, not just admired,” said Bell, who sold his own Strad to help pay for the famous violin.