A Violin Once Owned by Goebbels Keeps Its Secrets

The setting was Berlin; the gift an 18th-century instrument said to be from the hands of a master luthier whose works mark the apex of three centuries of violin making. The ceremony a chance to cement an alliance and to thank the violinist for playing for Germans wounded in World War II.

Much is documented — if little remembered — about Goebbels’s gift on Feb. 22, 1943. But the origins of the violin itself remain a mystery. Was it confiscated property, one of thousands of musical instruments plundered by the Nazis, or otherwise obtained under duress from those persecuted during the Nazi era?

When Ms. Suwa and her violin returned to Japan, the whispers followed. They have trailed the instrument for nearly 70 years.

That’s from this fascinating piece in The New York Times, penned by Carla Shapreau, a violin maker and lawyer, who writes that she is:

conducting a project on musical losses, file by file, name by name. The analysis of authenticity and the history of ownership and possession, the provenance, are essential to the mission. 

The lady that’s the subject of the piece is Nejiko Suwa. Born in 1920, she was a prodigy by 10 and studying with the Russian violinist Anna Bubnova-Ono, Yoko Ono’s aunt by marriage. She risked her life to protect the Stradivarius violin, eventually making it back to Japan.

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