Chinese violinist to highlight unique Jewish history in China with Violins of Hope performance

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- The Violins of Hope concert series is about to come to an end in Phoenix, With its final set of performances coming up this weekend.

It may be the last but not the least, with the performances highlighting a unique and mostly unknown part of history: The powerful musical influence of the Holocaust unexpectedly leading to classical music being introduced to China.

The performances will take the audience back to the 1930s in China, when around 20,000 Jewish refugees had nowhere to go, and ended up settling in Shanghai. Amongst the refugees, more than 400 were world-class musicians, changing the course of history in China forever.

"They educated the first generation of Chinese classical musicians," said Xiang Gao, who is one of 60 million violinists from China.

Gao's main message is how the power of music can bring people from all walks of life together.

"This is the time when Jews had nothing left but music," said Gao. "Chinese were also under the Japanese occupation. Two groups of people are victims, but because of music, they survived."

Jewish markings left on the old violins can still be seen, and some are not only feeling sentimental about its historical value, but a little superstitious.

"String players believe in ghosts, live in these instruments," said Gao. He and his fellow performers will be playing on historical violins dubbed the "Violins of Hope", which were actually used by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. Some of these instruments were even found inside the concentration camps.

"I played the Auschwitz violin a few weeks ago, I wasn't emotionally prepared. Let's just pick up the instrument and try it. 30 seconds later, I was having goosebumps," said Gao.

Gao composes music inspired by not only classical music, but Jewish music and traditional Chinese music. His performances include musical theater featuring actors to help bring these incredible stories to life.

"Just really wanted to share this experienced with everybody," said Gao. "During this quite divisive time, I think we're all one people."

Gao will perform Shalom Shanghai this weekend, at planetarium inside the Arizona Science Center in Downtown Phoenix.