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The Auschwitz Violin

by Maria Angels Anglada

Only a novelist of exceptional courage would include "Auschwitz" in the title of a romantic novel, and only a writer with a generous imagination could magic so poignant a tale set in so hateful a background. But Maria Angels Anglada (1930 - 1999), one of the most brilliant and celebrated Catalan writers, has, in this short, elegant piece, achieved a miracle. Although her readers are spared nothing of the horror and humiliation of perhaps the most notoriously brutal of all the Nazi death camps, this prestigious authorís testament to the Jewish love of music and achievement will surely touch the hardest and most cynical reader, and haunt the gentle human heart for many a day.

THE AUSCHWITZ VIOLIN, set against history's greatest atrocity, is about Daniel, a Jewish luthier from Poland, whose life is slipping away in the degradation, hunger and grief of Auschwitz, when, by chance, he is ordered to repair a broken violin by the sadistic camp commander. Given a corner of the camp, and the delicate tools stolen from another luthier's workplace, he begins a rather hopeless task. He lights the lamp to soften the wax, and warms the glue, and manages to repair the violin to such a high standard that he is ordered to make another violin.

Parked away in his corner, candle-lit most of the time, with the familiar smell of glue and varnish and wax, and set an almost impossible task, Daniel slowly recaptures the pleasure in his craft. The violin's beauty and the skill he finds from somewhere he thought he had lost begins to to make him feel human again. The violin becomes an obsession, he rejoices in the care with which he measures and shaves the wood to perfection, its tone is particularly good, its colour and shape is all he thinks about, even as he shivers in the bitter wind for a bowl of turnip soup or tries to sleep in the stench and misery of the shed. And with it returns Daniel's dignity and will to live.

Guest Review by The Downs Book Group

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