The Violin of Auschwitz is not a long book. Indeed, I read it in only two hours. Perhaps one might call it a novella. Like many books on the theme of the Holocaust, it gives one pause. Why did Maria Angels Anglada choose to write a story about a Jewish man who is saved because he is allowed to design a special violin? We can’t ask her, because she died in 1999. The book was recently translated from the Catalan.
What struck me about the book was not the descriptions of the terrible conditions in which the prisoners of Auschwitz lived, if they were lucky enough to live. It was not how Daniel, the main character, missed his girlfriend, whom we never really meet. It was the memories: the protection of his father’s tallith (prayer shawl), his mother’s delicious cholent with rice, eggs, dried beans and goose(anyone ever hear of such a cholent?), a hard-boiled egg on a seder table, and how he once used to pray Shaharit, the morning prayers. He shared with the evil Nazi commander a love for music, but the Nazi commander would never be able to understand his Jewish neshama, his Jewish soul.
Daniel survives Auschwitz, but only long enough to marry his girlfriend Eva and to adopt his niece Regina through whom we learn this tale. The story is historical fiction, but the conditions and torturous experiments of the camp were frightfully true.