Our Antique of the Week is this German POW made violin that came to us as part of a recent estate sale. A living piece of history that tells us a story, literally, with its fascinating sound, and its beautiful aesthetic qualities, this item has it's own voice, it's own story, and is one of the most rare items we've handled to date.
This letter, pictured below, was the best piece of provenance that we had, yet it still posed more questions than we have ever been able to answer. CCPWE#19 (short for Continental Central Prisoner of War Enclosure) was one of our POW camps during WWII. Located at Foucarville, near Normandy, the camp was originally intended to hold 20,000 prisoners, but later was enlarged to hold 40, 000.
The handwritten label inside the violin reads:
Alb. Kiefer, Trier (Trier is a town in Germany)
amerik kriegsgef 1945 (American Prisoner of War, 1945)
Normandie (Normandy, France)
There have been more than a few violin makers of some renown from Trier, Germany. In-depth research did reveal that Albert Kiefer was born in 1910, he was in fact a violin-maker from Trier, and that he survived the war. An article written by the curator of the Simeonstift Museum reveals that Albert Kiefer built a large scale model for the museum depicting Trier in the 1800s. It took him over 15 years to complete.
As you can perhaps conclude from the photographs and from the letter, the violin ended up in the possession of Major Ellis F. Vaughan who retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1967. Our client purchased the violin at an estate sale over ten years ago.
A violin expert confirms that the violin is largely carved from materials not normally used in the making of violins. The body is carved and shaped from a variety of hard woods, and quite possibly from salvaged materials. The bow is wound with an OD green type thread, most likely from a uniform, which is also highly unusual. At our request, the violin was actually tuned and played by a professional who assured us that with only minor work, such as new strings and the like, that the violin would be of concert quality. There have been absolutely no alterations done to the violin to date because as far as we know, the strings are original to the piece.
There is so much about this item that remains shrouded in mystery. There are but a few examples of POW made instruments that survive today in museums, and as family heirlooms. If anyone has any additional information about this piece please feel free to reach out.
We feel privileged and honored to have been able to view and hold this hauntingly beautiful piece of history.