Bram Rodrigues left behind his beloved violin after he fled his home in Amsterdam. He was ultimately captured and killed at Auschwitz. His nephews and niece retrieved their uncle’s violin this year and heard it played Friday for the first time in 76 years.
A prized musical relic of a man who died in a Holocaust camp was played Friday in front of relatives, including his niece, four nephews and 26-year-old namesake - a Boynton Beach resident who had lost his great uncle to Nazi tyranny.
Bram Groen never did meet his great uncle, Bram Rodrigues, who in 1943 fled his home in Amsterdam but was ultimately captured and ended up at Auschwitz, where more than 1.1 million were killed.
Rodrigues, 18, died that September at the camp, as did his father. Rodrigues had been a band buff, a violinist who toted his early-1900s German model to rehearsals around town, according to his family. As the Nazi threat permeated and Rodrigues fled, he left behind his trusty instrument to bandmate Johnny de Haan, who played a Gibson guitar.
Rodrigues’ violin stayed with the de Haan family for 75-plus years until 2019 when Wim de Haan, son of Johnny, identified and contacted David Groen, nephew to Rodrigues, to return the artifact. The instrument swapped hands in a July ceremony abroad and the violin’s heirs arranged for a company in Baldwin, N.Y., to revive it.
David Groen, an author, said he believes “in a way, we are bringing his lost soul back to life,” by using the violin to remember Rodrigues, who “represented the tragedy of the time more than anything else.”
Finally on Friday, kippah-clad and internationally-recognized musician Kenneth Sarch played the violin publicly for the first time in more than seven decades. With refreshed strings and pegs, the artifact screeched and sang under Sarch’s left cheek in Manalapan as Rodrigues’ family listened. Cracks had been repaired on the violin but its faded wooden shell remained, a tribute to its history, said David Groen.
Bram Groen said the sentiment is rooted in the instrument but also in the sound it exudes. He called the heirloom discovery “exciting” and “overwhelming,” adding he’d only known so much about his great uncle, so emotions swelled when he uncovered more of his past.
Each additional piece of information clued him into the traits and values of his namesake, helping him “meet” the great uncle he would never encounter physically, Bram Groen said. Those specks of knowledge included Rodrigues’ band names, from “The Bye-Bye-Blues” to “The Swinging Georgians,” which brought Groen to tears.
“I can see him as a person more,” Bram Groen said. “You’re closer now.”
He sat with two brothers in one of the first rows Friday as the violin’s melodies filled Chabad of South Palm Beach. More than 80 people had piled in to experience, together, the resurrection of one of millions of voices lost in the Holocaust. In the front were Rodrigues’ niece, Debby, and nephews, Marcel, Leo, Ruben and David, who each cradled the violin then passed it to the next heir.
“We know that one of the most difficult things to accept in our lifetime is … a loss of a loved one,” David Groen said. “But if we are open to seeing that which is their very essence, their soul, it is entirely possible they do not depart from us at all.”
As for where the relic goes next, David Groen said, the family is weighing options: “It’s gonna be a decision of five people,” he said.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.