The Story of a Violin
By Glenn Steinberg © 2006)
In a small house in Los Angeles Louie & Barbara Berliner are still together.
But if it wasn't for a violin their lives would be very different.
Let's go back to Poland during Hitler's reign of terror. Twelve year old
Barbara was at school like any other day. But on this day the Nazi's came and
took her family out of their Warsaw apartment building. Gone forever were
her three brothers and both parents. They were exterminated in the death camps.
But before that horrific day there was some trouble in the building where
Barbara and her family lived. There was a young girl in the same building who was
learning the violin. The residents were annoyed with the noise from her
practicing her music.
Ironic how these residents could endure the Nazi's taking away their
neighbors to be exterminated but they couldn't endure violin music.
Barbara's father, who must have been a cultured man, didn't agree with the neighbors'
complaints and refused to sign a petition being circulated to stop the girl
from practicing her violin in the building. In fact he told the girl's father
that it was nice that the girl was learning the violin.
When Barbara returned from school the day her family had been taken away by the Nazis, but the violin playing girl's
father took Barbara under his wing. He took a risk. He knew he could get in
trouble if he helped Barbara but he couldn't forget Barbara's fathers actions
This man taught Barbara how to pray like a Catholic and took her to a
Catholic Orphanage in their area. He told Barbara she couldn't tell anyone that
she was Jewish. Barbara was so afraid she didn't speak hardly a word for the
next 6 years out of fear of being discovered.
The staff and other children thought she was mentally retarded.
About the same time Louie and his brother and sister and both parents were
taken to Auschwitz to be exterminated. Louie was also 12 years old but he
lied to the guards and said he was 16 so he could work. Louie was told this
would save his life.
All of Louie's family went to the gas chambers.
Louie endured 6 years of hard labor. He had two surgeries while at
Auschwitz. He received no pain killers or sedation during the surgeries as these
medicines were only for those who were valued.
Louie gained favor with some camp guards and because of them he was able to
When the war ended young Louie and Barbara met in a refugee camp.
They soon fell in love. They married and arrived at Ellis Island, NY with an
18 month old daughter named Sarah.
I met this family when they arrived in Los Angeles about 12 years later in
the early sixties. They had moved from Cincinnati, Ohio into an apartment
just across from ours. Barbara and my mother soon became close friends.
I rode the bus to school with Sarah when we were teenagers. She and both her
sisters Jacci and Helen were all very beautiful and popular girls. I knew
them all throughout our school years. Sarah went on to become a model known
as Cyd and was featured in major national commercials. Louie and Barbara have
grand children and great grandchildren and on holidays, I am sure, they have
a house full of love.
I never forgot that family.
Louie and Barbara have many years of history and memories to look back on
now. I called Barbara the other day and she sounds exactly the same as she did
45 years ago. Barbara told me Louie went on to a successful career in
construction and they are comfortable and secure.
I never forgot seeing those numbers tattooed on Louie's arm when I was a
kid. I always felt fear that someday a government, even ours, could just walk
into a house and take a family to a death camp. I was sure at some point no
body in Germany or Poland believed such a thing would be possible. But it
happened. A scary thought to live with.
I am just happy that Louie and Barbara have had so many years of love and
happiness to overshadow those years of pain and loss. And it's all possible
because of a violin.
visit Glenn Steinberg at www.steinberggallery.com
from the March 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine