The Auschwitz Violin

The Wagner Violin

An SS photograph of the Auschwitz Main Camp Orchestra in the Spring of 1941. (From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej.)

The Auschwitz Violin. This violin was played by a member of an orchestra in Auschwitz. These ensembles were comprised of prisoners who were required to perform as part of their forced labor. The Germans commanded the orchestras to play as the work details marched in and out of the concentration camp every day, to improve marching discipline. The orchestras also gave concerts for members of the SS and their families on Sundays and holidays, and even played at dances and other social events. The Auschwitz Violin was purchased in 1946 from an Auschwitz survivor whose ability to play the instrument had spared him from the gas chambers. As with many musicians who had been forced to exploit their art to save their lives, the survivor had no interest in ever playing the violin again.

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