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'Provided her an escape': Children of Holocaust survivor share her instrument, story in 'Violins of Hope' exhibit

Children of Holocaust survivor share her instrument, story in 'Violins of Hope' exhibit
Children of Holocaust survivor share her instrument, story in 'Violins of Hope' exhibit 02:39

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Holocaust-era musical instruments have traveled the world, and are now here in Chicago. 

They're being placed and played once again in hopes of giving new life to the music and the stories behind them. CBS 2's Marissa Perlman has a story of Lincolnwood siblings, their mother's mandolin and how they learned it saved her life.

Antique violins arrived in Chicago, each one's lovingly restored and once again played, after they were nearly lost during World War II. 

"On and on, are the stories of resiliency and survival and hope," said Addie Goodman of the Jewish Community Centers.

"We're reminded of one of the most difficult moments in our history," added Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Now, Preckwinkle and the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago are bringing a traveling exhibit "Violins of Hope" to the area to share the stories behind the strings.

One of those stories is in Lincolnwood where siblings Gail Levin and Ken Rapoport share this photo of their mother, Masha. It wasn't until after she died that they learned she played in an all female orchestra as a prisoner in two concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

"You had to perform at the Nazi's whim, 24 hours a day. She would be called in the middle of the night to play for Nazi dignitaries," Rapoport said.

They said their mom played for her life. And the mandolin was her ticket to survival.

"This offered my mom a tremendous amount of privileges," added Levin.

After Marsha died in 2009, Rapoport and Levin found the instrument in a storage closet in her home, recognizing it from a photo.

"It clicked that this has got to be the same mandolin," Levin said, adding that they used it to learn their mother's history.

Now on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, the siblings are now putting out a call: Check your basements, your attics. You made too find a Holocaust relic to add to the "Violins of Hope" collection and give it new life.

Rapoport said this is how his mom wanted to be remember. Not just for her story of survival, but for the instrument that saved her life. 

"She continued to play music throughout her life," Rapoport said.

"I think it provided her an escape," noted Levin. 

"Violins of Hope" is traveling throughout the Chicago area. First up, a performance featuring the instruments in Glencoe. Check out the JCC website for details.

Watch our press conference on our upcoming Violins of Hope initiative, a private collection of violins, violas and...

Posted by JCC Chicago on Tuesday, April 11, 2023
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