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Joshua Bell photo by Chris Lee

Inside Vienna State Opera . Huberman left Veinna for Switzerland just before Hitler's Aunchluss in 1937.

The Story of How Jewish Virtuoso Joshua Bell Bought the Violin of Legendary Huberman, Hero who Saved Lives of Europe's Premier Jewish Musicians from Nazis By Forming the Palestine Orchestra

by Rhonda Spivak, Sept 5, 2016


Jewish  Violin Virtuoso Joshua Bell, widely regarded as one of the three or four best violinists in the world,  opened the  upcoming Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra season on Tuesday, September 20th .
Bell  played a fifteen million dollar Stradivarius  violin,  (handcrafted by Stradiveri  who lived between 1646-1737  ) currently valued at  $15 million  that has an amazing pedigree in that it belonged to  a Polish Jew Bronislaw Huberman ( 1882-1947   ), who not only was the greatest violinist of the 20th century,  but who heroically and single handedly saved the premiere classical European Jewish musicians  and their families  (close to 10000 people) from  Hitler's death camps. Huberman rescued these musicians by going to Palestine and founding the Palestine Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel-Aviv, which later became the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra when the State of Israel was founded in 1948.
Below is the fascinating story of how the courageous Huberman  used his musical talents to rescue Jews from the Holocaust , and how Joshua Bell bought this violin because of its unique  story and because it ties him to his own Jewishness and to the chain of Jewish history.
Branislov Huberman was a child prodigy born in the Polish town of  Czestochowa, who got his first violin at age four (which is also the age when Joshua Bell got his first violin.)  A Polish count gave Huberman the Stradivarius violin, from his family's collection, after hearing Huberman play. It was a " 1713 Gibson Strad",  named after  previous owner, a well known English violinist George Alfred Gibson.  Relatively few  Stradivarius violins remain in the world and the instrument produces extraordinary tones-possibly because of the varnish-which others have not been able to reproduce.
Huberman was so talented that Johannes Brahms, who did not originally believe that a child could play his Violin Concerto, was in tears when he heard Huberman play it.
When the clouds of Europe were darkening for Jews as Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 Huberman rightly foresaw what was on the horizon for Jews.   He was so famous by that time that he could have gotten himself out of Europe and gone to America. But Huberman, worried not only about himself but about other Jewish musicians and he used his violin as a way to save as many souls as her could by setting up the Palestine philharmonic.
Huberman held auditions  for what was to be his new philharmonic. During the auditions he turned his back towards the musicians, selecting the very best without seeing them but only hearing them. He knew that that those he did not choose would likely see their deaths, and it haunted him that he could not let all of them in to his philharmonic. Huberman turned to David Ben-Gurion , the leader of the Jewish agency at the time asking him to help save Europe's best classical Jewish musicians but Ben-Gurion did not have the funds to help. Huberman used his own funds to select close to 100 Jewish classical musicians , saving them and their families from death (There is even one musician who once he got to Palestine decided to become a baker on a kibbutz   as a way of enabling  Huberman  to be able to offer  one more place in his Palestine philharmonic to rescue another Jewish musician from Europe.)  
In 1936, Huberman went to New York to try to find donors to fund his Palestine philharmonic and he was performing at Carnegie Hall in New York when the Gibson Strad was stolen from his dressing room.
It was stolen from him by a Jew, named Julian Altman. Altman, who lived in new York, had a domineering mother who believed her son was so talented that he was deserving of  Strad violin. Huberman had two Strads and she encouraged her son to steal whichever Strad he was not playing on stage. Altman offered the guard at Carnegie Hall a cigar, and told him he was a violinist who worked nearby who adored Huberman and  pleaded with the guard to listen backstage, and once inside stole the Strad.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.