The Violin and the Little Black Bag
Anyone who has an interest in the great violinists of the 20th century could hardly overlook that almost all of them were and are Jewish. A list of great violinists would range from Leopold Auer to Pinchas Zuckerman and include the great Yehudi Menuhin, the only American born prodigy among them. Even those who are not Jewish include a good number who had one Jewish parent.
How do we explain this phenomenon? The fact is that it has the same explanation as the Jewish proclivity for medicine.
The musical play Fiddler on the Roof, resting on the stories of Shlomo Rabinowitz (1859-1916) whose pen name was Sholom Aleichem (peace be with you), depicts the fate of so many Russian Jews of the 19th and 20th centuries. These Jews were forced by the decree of the Czars (Caesars or Kaisers) to live in a limited area of the Russian Empire and to live in segregated villages or segments of larger towns. The Jewish enclaves were called Shtetl, meaning small town. As you may remember from seeing Fiddler, the Jews in the play were subject to violence called “pogroms” or “storms” and were forced to leave their homes and their village to seek some other insecure place elsewhere.
Because hate and bigotry forced so many Jews to move all the time, Jews who had any musical talent were encouraged to learn to play the violin because that instrument, more than any other, could not only be carried about easily, but also provides the kind of music popular at weddings, bar-bas mitzvahs and other occasions.
The need to move all the time also led Jews to be interested in medicine. This profession was at one time dependent only on carrying a black bag with a few ointments and instruments. Medical knowledge could be carried about in one’s head and allowed the physician of an earlier time to practice anywhere fate drove him.
Today, the practice of medicine involves a great deal more than a black bag. Yet, in the days before the Holocaust, that was enough to earn a livelihood anywhere.
At the beginning of the 21st century these conditions don’t exist any more. But “culture lag”, or tradition, still drives Jews into medicine and into the playing of the violin.
Yehudi Menuhin, perhaps the greatest of the Jewish violinists, was born in New York City in 1916. The son of Russian immigrants, he performed Mendelssohn’s immense violin concerto at age seven. Thereafter he toured the world and was acclaimed a child prodigy even in Germany.
During World War II he performed 500 concerts for allied troops around the world. He played all the great violin concertos with major orchestras and played in Germany even after the end of the war in 1945, where he associated with Kurt Furtwangler, the conductor of the Berlin Symphony and always a Nazi.
Menuhin actually commissioned a violin concerto from Bela Bartok called Sonata for Solo Violin (it sounds terrible, as do all of Bartok’s works).
Yehudi Menuhin moved to England in the early 1950’s, became a British subject (Englishmen are not citizens) and was knighted by the Queen. Thereafter he was known as Baron Menuhin of Stoke d’Abernon and as Sir Yehudi.
In his later life, Menuhin became the conductor of the Lausanne, Switzerland Chamber Orchestra and other orchestras. He specialized in Mozart. Menuhin also founded a music school for advanced musicians named after him .
Yehudi Menuhin has two sons. One son is Gerard Menuhin, who until 2005 was president of the Menuhin Foundation in Germany. In that year, however, Gerard Menuhin was fired from that position because he made several anti-Jewish statements in current Nazi publications. In the National Zeitung Gerard Menuhin wrote that an international Jewish conspiracy put Germany under pressure “for their own purposes” and that Germany was being “blackmailed” re the Holocaust.
A real Nazi, Gerard Menuhin writes a regular column in the National Zeitung using every anti-Jewish canard known through the centuries. He even endorsed the Deutsche Stimme (German Voice), a malicious anti-Jewish hate organization.
Gerard Menuhin also wrote that Germans should stop paying taxes so that the money could not be used to fund the European Union and “the Jews”.
Moshe Menuhin was Yehudi’s father and Gerard’s grandfather. Moshe died in 1983 after spending years denouncing Israel and Jews. Moshe wrote hateful anti-Jewish diatribes in the German press and supported the worst Arab terrorists. While Yehudi never went as far as his father and son, he too was conspicuous in giving concerts for the benefit of Arab hate mongers and bomb throwers.
It is therefore understandable that Yehudi Menuhin funded a foundation for the education of young violinists, not in Israel, not in the United States, not in England, but in Germany, in Deutschland, land of the perpetrators and haters.
There are many other famous Jewish violinists. Some are even willing to support Jewish causes. Believe it or not.