The Stolen Stradivarius, in Good Hands

Here is a personal, dramatic tale within classical music history. Bronislaw Huberman toured regularly during the 1930s to perform and raise funds for his dream of founding the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. In February 1936, he had an engagement at Carnegie Hall, where he had performed many times before. On this evening, he left his Stradivarius in his dressing room while performing on another violin. When he returned, it was gone. Huberman felt close to a breakdown after the loss, especially given the enormous pressure he was under to both raise money for the Palestine Symphony Orchestra and to secure immigration visas for the musicians. The same Stradivarius violin had once been stolen in Vienna, but was recovered quickly. This theft of his violin at Carnegie Hall went unsolved for 50 years before it was finally recovered and sold at auction.

Today, the violin is in the good hands of the esteemed violinist Joshua Bell. In Orchestra of Exiles, Bell shows his empathy for how distraught Huberman must have felt after the loss of his instrument. “The connection between violinist and violin—it becomes almost like your soul mate. Some people compare it to getting married. Finding the right instrument is probably harder than finding the right wife,” he says. Bell goes on to recount how he had just acquired Huberman’s violin before he went to Israel to play with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He was pleased to have the connection to Huberman in his very hands, saying, “It adds to the magic of getting to play on it every night.” The story of what is now Joshua Bell’s Stradivarius is featured on Bell’s website.

Orchestra of Exiles premieres Sunday, April 14 at 10 p.m. ET on PBS.

  • Leon Weintraub

    The story of your Gibson Stradivarius (former Huberman) is very interesting, but not complete.

    I have a further, story about another theft of this famous violin which has been verified to be true.
    In his book Arnold Mostowicz, a physician and survivor of the Holocaust who has been in the Litzmannstadt-Ghetto (in Lodz), describes in an authentic story, that Huberman visited Lodz in the 1930th and that his Stradivarius disappeared, probably at the train station; after two days of searching for it the police told Huberman that they can not help him but they gave him the advise to ask ‘Blind Maks’ (Maks Borensztaajn) for help, the very notorious ‘king’ of the criminal underworld of Lodz. They met at the Grand Hotel and when ‘Blind Maks’ heard what had happened, he was very upset and took it as a personal insult that somebody dared to steal ‘Maestro Huberman’s’ famous instrument in ‘his town’. There is no information as to how and by which witch methods ‘Blind Maks’ succeeded, but after 12 hours searching he handed the Stradivarius back to Huberman.
    And this not the end of the story. When Huberman tried to give ‘Blind Maks’ a worthy reward, he refused and was even somewhat annoyed. As he saw it, this was quite a natural service between two Jews, and even more so between two ‘Maestros’, each of them in their special ‘occupation’. ‘Blind Maks’ did not want to have any gratification, but he asked the ‘great Maestro’ for a little favor. He and his family would be very happy if Huberman could accept an invitation to visit his home on Friday and taste his wife’s very famous fish, carp, a traditional Jewish dish. Huberman attended the dinner. During the evening ‘Blind Maks’ raised a toast for the great violin performer and asked him if he would play for him and his family a ‘little something’. Huberman really played for all of them on his newly-found Stradivarius. What he played is not known; maybe a piece of Sarasate or of Paganini. Anyway, ‘Blind Maks’ got tears in his eyes and even Huberman himself was touched.

    I found this story in:
    Arnold Mostowicz: Żółta gwiazda i czerwony krzyż (The jellow star and the red cross, page 79-80), PIW Warszawa 1988, ISBN 83-06-01729-3
    Arnold Mostowicz: Ballada o ślepym (Ballad of the ‘Blind Maks’), 1998. ISBN: 8390893819

    Leon Weintraub, Stockholm/Sweden

    • Chris Knight

      Thanks for sharing this great story and the source!