When Chanan was five years old, his father, the famous Dr. Yitzchak Greenberg, outstanding lawyer in Lodz, and the son of the equally famous Rabbi Aaron Greenberg, had given him his first violin on the same day that he started to learn Chumash. To his father’s joy Chanan proved equally capable in his Hebrew studies and in his music. In fact, his skill on the violin was so amazing, that his father bought him a very precious instrument, the masterpiece of a famous Italian violinmaker of Cremona.

But Dr. Greenberg’s joys over his son’s progress both in his Jewish and his musical studies were short-lived. When Chanan was little more than ten years old the Nazis invaded Poland. Jealous colleagues made sure that the Jewish lawyer was one of the first to be imprisoned. He died as a martyr for his faith. Chanan and his mother were able to hide in the city of Lodz until a year later, when the Germans began an intensive hunt for all Jews. One dark night Mrs. Greenberg and her son set out to escape the terror and hunger. They lost almost everything they owned. But when they reached Warsaw, Chanan still clutched his dark brown violin to his side. One icy morning its box had been sacrificed to keep them from freezing. But the worse the situation, the sweeter were the songs that flowed from the violin’s unprotected strings. They provided comfort in moments of utter hopelessness and despair.

The Warsaw Ghetto was crowded beyond capacity, and the situation became worse every day. Hunger, sickness and terror struck at the frightened Jews in the trap from which they could never escape alive. Chanan and his mother lived with the father of Dr. Greenberg in the one room that the old rabbi’s followers had secured for him. The old man seemed to be able to go without food. For, whatever his chasidim brought him, he gave to his daughter-in-law and grandson. Yet despite all his care, Chanan’s mother was unable to stand the strain. One night the old Rabbi shook his grandson from his restless sleep. “Wake up, Chanan, take your violin and play for your mother. That will make it easier for her to die.” Chanan had hardly touched his violin during the months of misery in the Ghetto. But he understood his grandfather’s and his mother’s wish. His music was the only thing of beauty in their present situation. While the old Rabbi said Tehillim, Chanan stood by his dying mother and played as he had never played before. His young, desperate soul burst forth into a song of faith that beautified the last minutes of many hundreds of Jews who subsequently died with the words of “Ani Maamin” (“I believe”), on their lips and in their hearts. While the strains of the sad melody rang through the silence of the Ghetto on that terror-stricken night, Chanan’s mother returned her soul to G‑d, to carry the message of the Ghetto inmates’ boundless faith before His holy throne.

Chanan was an orphan. For a whole year he did not touch his violin, though it never left his side. When he did not study with his grandfather, he stared at the silent strings, and his soft, young hands followed the graceful pattern of the wood tenderly and with a love that was beyond his understanding.

The Battle of the Ghetto had begun, and the air of the walled-in trap suddenly changed from fright and gloom to inspiration and courage. One day at dawn, when the Ghetto inmates were getting ready to march to their death, the old Rabbi told Chanan: “Now is not the time for mourning, my child. Take your violin and play for the Jews who go to die for the glory of G‑d and His people. I am too old to fight. But you are not too young to help them with the inspiration of your music.”

Chanan took the bow and the violin and left the house. He would rather have taken a gun like many of his comrades. But he, too, realized that he had something better to give than other boys and girls.

And indeed, to the men and women who walked into the fray knowing that they would not return, Chanan’s music was like medicine. Their heavy hearts grew light with the strains of the violin, and the sounds of the Song of Faith, as Chanan fell in with them and accompanied them to the scene of their hopeless battle. Frequently, the young boy came close to the actual scene of the fighting and bullets spattered past him and his precious violin. Yet, as if charmed, he walked through the hail of death unscathed and unconcerned, living only for those who went to die. The Jews of the Ghetto began to consider him their talisman. As long as his music sounded, they fought back, tooth and nail, against an enemy who was a thousand times their superiors in number, training and equipment. The Germans caught an occasional glimpse of the boy with the violin from afar, and his melodies haunted them in their sleep. They began to fear him as a bad omen, and a special reward was put out for his capture. They realized that to the gallant defenders of the Ghetto the boy with the violin was worth more than a thousand fighters.

On the fortieth day of the heroic resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto the Nazis caught Chanan with his violin. They had captured a heavily defended apartment house. When they entered the cellar they found the boy sitting on the ground, an old, white-haired, long-bearded man lying dead across his lap. Chanan no longer cared to run away. He sat there, looking into the beloved face of his dead grandfather, the last spark and will to life gone from him. The Nazis treated him as a sensation, rather than as an enemy. Many teen-age boys and girls had fought side by side with the men and women of the Ghetto, and the brutal Germans had shown them no more mercy than to adult Jews. Yet Chanan had become something of a legend among the armored troops who had fought their way into the Ghetto, and they were anxious to see him.

No less eager than his men was Colonel Von Bibra, their callous commander, who had crushed the rebellion mercilessly. He asked the Jewish boy to play his violin. But Chanan refused to obey the command of his captors. They beat him and kicked him, but he only replied: “I shall never play for you butchers.” Before Colonel Von Bibra had become a military man, like the generation of his ancestors, he had played first violin in a Kammermusic quartet. He loved music and that is why he hesitated to kill the boy, or destroy his violin. But when he realized that neither kindness, nor brutality would induce Chanan to play for him, he had him sent to Treblinka, the extermination camp, where thousands of Jews died at the hands of the Nazis.

“Play for us, Chanan,” begged his companions in the dirty, cold barracks. But Chanan did not listen to their plea. His eyes were far, far away, where no human voice could reach him. Everything he had dreamt and lived seemed wrong now. “I can’t, I can’t play,” he kept mumbling to himself, his eyes glued to the bow and loose strings of his violin. He did not need an excuse for his companions. They understood what was going on inside him, and they did not demand the impossible, even though they ached for the comfort of Chanan’s music, of which they had heard from the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto battle.

One night Chanan lay asleep in a corner on a wooden bunk, and in his dream the old Rabbi, his beloved grandfather came to him. “You lie here, cold and unconcerned for the souls of your brethren. Do you know that because of your refusal to play, they are afraid of death?”

Next day, when the regular group of prisoners was led to their death by the camp guards, Chanan tightened his bow and tuned the strings of his violin. As the group marched out, he played the Song of Faith which he had played for the first time when his mother had died from the horrors of the life in the Ghetto. Smiles of happiness appeared on their faces when they walked to their death. They looked through the uncouth, grinning faces of their butchers, as if they saw a higher and better world waiting for them, beyond the silent walls of the bestial slaughterhouses and the brutality of a horrible death.

Captain Bauer, the camp commandant, was on his job, day and night. One evening, as he walked past the barracks to check on guards and inmates, he heard music. The beautiful melodies flowed from the strings of a violin and re-echoed in the deep melancholy voices of the responding chorus of prisoners. There was spirit and defiance; there was hope and happiness in the midst of their sadness. This was not what Captain Bauer expected from his victims. He was therefore astonished to hear the spiritual revolt that echoed in the voices of the prisoners’ chorus. He blew his whistle, and at the head of a group of S.S. guards, he entered the barracks from where the music had come. He saw the boy standing in the middle of the large room, surrounded by the camp inmates, whose pale faces turned even paler, as the beams of the strong flashlights passed over them. They stopped singing, but Chanan went right on playing his fiddle, oblivious of anything that went on about him. As far as he was concerned he was still standing in the dark, his eyes closed, melody after melody flowing through his body into his arms and fingertips. The rough grip of a tough S.S. man shook him out of his trance. He was whisked away, into the office of the Commandant. There, Captain Bauer ordered him to play for him. And again Chanan answered: “My violin does not play for you butchers.” They beat him and kicked him, but to no avail.

Captain Bauer was not as sentimental as Colonel Von Bibra. His forefathers had been serfs and peasants, not knights who cultivated the fine arts when they were not waylaying rich travelers. So he was not one to play around with an obstinate Jewish boy. He pulled his gun and ordered Chanan to play or to die. The boy had looked into the muzzles of guns more than once, and he had lost all fear of death. He waited for the end, the violin clutched to his breast. Captain Hans Brauer was about to press the trigger when a brilliant idea flashed through his perverted brain: “Take the kid to the gas chambers and make him play there. He says he plays only for Jews.” The guard clicked his heels together, saluted, and roared dutifully at the good humor of his commander. In anticipation of much fun, he pushed Chanan down the road next morning to the brick houses with the steel-chambers.

Chanan had heard of the death by gas, and he had seen the kind of treatment that the Germans had given the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Yet he was not sufficiently steeled for the cries of the dying behind the huge, airtight doors. Chanan looked at the beloved instrument in his hands. Its deep brown color seemed to have changed into the dark red of blood, and instead of sweet melodies there were only those gruesome cries and groans of agony. There was no hope beyond the huge steel-doors, and there was no sense in living on. Chanan grabbed the thin neck of the violin with both hands, lifted the instrument high above his head and smashed it into the face of the S.S.-Man next to him. A minute later his crumbled body lay beside the fragments of the shattered instrument. Captain Bauer ordered Chanan buried together with the pieces of the dark-brown violin. He had a sense for the dramatic, and his friends back home would appreciate the anticlimax of this choice piece of his war tales.

To the fortunate few who escaped the horrors of the Warsaw and Treblinka, Chanan never died. They will always see the boy as he walked through he hail of bullets, inspired, and inspiring defiance and faith, with the melodies of his dark-brown violin.