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Speech by Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier at the ceremony to award the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to Amnon Weinstein

14.12.2016

– Translation of advance text –

Ladies and gentlemen,
Excellencies,
Assi, Amnon Weinstein,

“Neshama” is the Hebrew word for soul. “Neshama” is also a word that refers to the sound post of a violin – to the soul of this most wonderful instrument.

Amnon,

A human soul lies behind each of your priceless violins. A human who was persecuted, tormented, silenced – by unimaginable violence and cruelty.

With your “Violins of Hope”, you, Amnon, are giving these lost souls a voice once again. You are taking these voices out of the dark shadows of the past and letting them speak, in the here and now, in the light of the present.

For two decades, Amnon Weinstein has searched for and restored instruments that belonged to Jewish musicians who were driven from their homes or murdered by the Nazis. These instruments are being played on again today. And – what I find to be particularly moving – they are being played on precisely where they were brutally silenced back then –here in Germany.

Seventy years after the crime against humanity that was the Shoah, it was Israeli and German musicians who played the violins together at the Berliner Philharmonie on Holocaust Remembrance Day last year.

I think that no one who was there that day will ever forget that concert. Amnon Weinstein’s violins told a story of suffering and pain. But – played by young musicians – they also told a story of hope and assurance.

Ambassador Hadas‑Handelsmann, it is difficult to find words to describe the unique path that our two countries have trodden in the past decades – out of the darkness, to tentative rapprochement, to partnership, and to a deep and profound friendship today.

Perhaps music is able to step into the breach when we are unable to find the words to describe this miracle. Perhaps this is something that the haunting sound of your instruments is able to do, Amnon Weinstein.

I vividly recall my visit to your workshop in Tel Aviv a year and a half ago. You led me down a number of steps. I could smell the scent of wood and glue. Here – just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of central Tel Aviv – we stood in a room that exuded the tranquillity of the artisan’s studio. What is more, the ceiling was filled with a host of violins!

You showed me some of your priceless gems. And you told me about how difficult the restoration work initially was for you and your family, which itself lost so many relatives as a result of the Shoah. Too close and too sad, too great and too dark are the horrors to which the instruments bear witness.

For instance, there is the Drancy Violin, which was named after the infamous internment camp near Paris, from which tens of thousands of French Jews were taken in trains to extermination camps. A deportee threw his violin from the train and cried out to the people waiting on the platform: “Take my violin! It won’t survive long where I’m going.”

Another violin once belonged to a musician who played in the men’s orchestra at Auschwitz, and whose life was probably saved by making music.

Each violin represents a person, Amnon. And when your violins play, they represent six million people.

“The music is intended to speak for all those who were silenced and lost their lives”, is how you once put it.

And so, when your violins play, they tell us never again! Never again – not anywhere! That is the haunting sound that accompanies the violins.

This is why I am particularly delighted that it is especially young musicians who bring your instruments to life once again today. In doing so, they are keeping the memory of the past alive – at concerts in Israel, other parts of the world, and also here in Germany. The violins will be playing in Dachau in February 2018. There, where the National Socialists once imprisoned dozens of musicians and instrument makers, the violins will remember their story.

Understanding and reconciliation – even across the darkest divides imaginable. That is the message that is Amnon Weinstein life’s work.

You impressed me deeply from the very first moment with your work, Amnon, and with your persistence and perseverance. It inspires and encourages me – as Foreign Minister, as a politician and as a person. And I am most grateful to you for this!

I would like to take this opportunity also to thank Daniel Hope. Daniel Hope, your commitment to keeping memory alive has brought us together on a number of occasions already. Your performance moved me especially today. It is a tribute to music, and through the music to those people to whom Amnon Weinstein has dedicated his life.

And when so many friends from the worlds of culture and academia gather here today, then this is a particular sign that the memory of the Shoah, the awareness of Germany’s special responsibility to tackle anti‑Semitism and xenophobia is alive and enjoys the support of mainstream society.

Amnon Weinstein,

You yourself once said, when talking about your work, that you approach your instruments with reverence, mindful “of the soul that lies behind each violin”. There it is again, the soul – “Neshama”.

“Noten et haneshama” – this is what you say in Hebrew when talking about someone who “dedicates their soul” to something. You, Amnon Weinstein, have made it your life’s work to give the lost souls of the Nazi atrocities a voice once again.

“Noten et haneshama”.

We would like to thank you for this today! Allow me to invite you to come up on stage.

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