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Holocaust Survivor Gives the Gift of Music to Bronx Schoolgirl

Joseph Feingold was walking through a German flea market with his brother in 1947 when he first laid eyes on it: A sleek, shiny violin. Then just 23-years-old, he knew he had to own it.

"We got the violin for a carton of cigarettes,” he says. “I walked the streets and I played the violin. It reminded me of my young years before the war.”

Joe is a Holocaust survivor who spent World War II in a Nazi concentration camp. Though the violin he purchased at that Frankfurt market became his companion over the next 70 years, the instrument is now in the hands of Brianna — a 13-year-old schoolgirl from the South Bronx.

At the age of 91, Joe knew that there had to be someone out there that could make his treasured violin sing again, which was why he donated it to WQXR’s Instrument Drive. He realized that this program would allow him to find someone who would actually play the instrument — something that he's cherished ever since he was a young man.

Joe parted with his violin after taking a bus to New York City’s Lincoln Center on the first day of the instrument drive. Brianna’s school, The Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, obtained the donation from WQXR, and her teachers personally selected her to receive Joe’s instrument after noticing that she had a “unique ability to show her emotion through her violin.”

When Brianna was first selected to receive Joe’s instrument, she was just 12-years-old and in the 7th grade. It was at least her second dance with good fortune — Brianna attends The Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls because she won an educational lottery.

At Bronx Global Learning, Brianna stood out to the teachers as someone who was especially passionate about the violin, and they thought that she might be someone who could appreciate the history.

Brianna has said that she was “speechless” when the teachers revealed that she would be the one to get Joe’s violin. Those that have come into contact with Brianna say that her love of music runs deep.

“Everyone has those days where it’s, like, dark for them, but most people find their light,” she said. “And my light was playing the violin.”

Brianna and Joe were able to connect with each other. She wrote him a letter inviting him to spend an afternoon at The Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls. Brianna told Joe that music had changed her life. “I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to play on your beautiful violin,” she wrote to Joe, who’s now 93-years-old.

And Joe feels that too — he hoped that his violin would bring happiness and comfort to a young life, and it has.

“I think what makes Joseph’s story so special was that this was the exact idea that we were going for,” says Graham Parker, WQXR's general manager. “[It’s] the idea of passing a legacy from one person to the next — passing memories, passing stories, and passing opportunities. I think that’s what Joseph’s violin represents so perfectly.”

Excerpts from an article by Rupert Allman & T.J. Raphael, WNYC, 4/14/16

Foot note: The story of Joe’s violin was the subject of a short film directed and produced by Kahane Cooperman, nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary short subject, 2017.

Watch video here.