Louisville woman gives father’s violin to VOH; hopes to hear it played again

Avshi Weinstein and Linda Leeser pose with the violin Leeser has donated to the Violins of Hope collection. (Community photo by Jessica Budnick)

Linda Leeser always knew her father had played the violin, but she can’t recall a time when she heard him play it.
“It’s been tucked in my closet since my father died in ’81,” she said. “Of all the instruments I know he played, I never heard him play the violin; maybe I was too young. Maybe I heard him on stage, but not ar home.”
She understood that many German Jews put their violins away – or gave them away – after the war, too angry with, or ashamed of, their native country for afflicting the world with the Holocaust. Maybe that’s how her father, Paul Leeser, felt. She doesn’t know.
What she does know is that when it came time for her to decide what to do with the instrument, the answer became obvious.
She would give it to Violins of Hope.
Avshi Weinstein, an Israeli luthier (violin craftsman) who curates the collection of Holocaust-era string instruments with his father, Amnon Weinstein, accepted the violin this past week while in Louisville for VOH programs. Weinstein also accepted a photo album of Leeser’s father.
“The most important part [of the violin] is the story behind it,” he said.
The violin will travel with Weinstein to other exhibitions before being taken to Israel for restoration.
“Unconsciously, I think I’ve been waiting for the right person, the right program,” Leeser said. “I’ve used this metaphor before, but I feel the universe sometimes taps us on the shoulder … to do the right thing. So when I heard of Violins of Hope, I knew I wanted them to have the violin.”
In accepting it, Weinstein, a trained luthier (violin craftsman), could tell that it was made in Germany around 1898. It has a crack, and strings on the bow are coming apart, but nothing that can’t be repaired.
Paul Leeser was born Hanborn, Germany, near the city of Duisburg. While not a professional musician (he trained as a mechanical engineer at the University of Cincinnati), he was gifted, his daughter said.
His family came to the United States in 1937 as conditions for Jews in Germany deteriorated.
“There was an awareness on my grandmother’s part that the handwriting was on the wall,” Leeser said. “I know they owned a dry goods store. Already there were signs on the window and people were told not to shop there.”
Paul was 16 when he left Germany and came to Cincinnati, where stayed until he graduated from college and got a job in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Leeser, a trained social worker, came to Louisville in 1976 for graduate school, and never left. She is married to Frank Schwartz.
Whether her father’s violin travels with others from the collection, Leeser can’t say. She does take comfort in knowing it’s in good hands.
And she would like to hear it make music once more.
“I would love to go to Israel and hear it played again,” she said, “but who knows.”

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