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Timeline: A Violin's Journey - Part 6

Hiroshima castle was one of the iconic landmarks destroyed by the bomb in 1945. It was rebuilt in the 1950s.
U.S. Public Domain
Hiroshima castle was one of the iconic landmarks destroyed by the bomb in 1945. It was rebuilt in the 1950s.

In 1986, the Hiroshima Jogakuin School was preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary. As they combed through a century’s worth of photographs and documents, they came across quite a few pictures of Sergei Palchikoff, one of the founders of their music program in the 1920s and 30s. The school had lost touch with the Palchikoffs after the war and now they wanted to reach out to the family.

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We’ve been tracing the Palchikoffs and Sergei’s violin through the 20th Century; starting in Russia during the civil war after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and finally to California, where Sergei retired and passed away in 1969 leaving the violin to his daughter Kaleria.

The Jogakuin School called Kaleria from Japan and they were pleasantly surprised to hear her answer in perfect Japanese, even after four decades. The school invited Kaleria to come to Hiroshima for the centennial celebrations. She was apprehensive, but her son, Anthony Drago, insisted she take the trip. Kaleria agreed on the condition that Anthony come too. So, the Palchikoff-Dragos traveled back to Hiroshima.

Kaleria and her family were treated like celebrities. There were concerts, press and photographers. It was all quite overwhelming. At one point, the family was in the Peace Garden in Hiroshima. On display there were two models of the city, side by side. One model showed the city as it was just before the bombing in the 1945, the other showed the aftermath of the explosion. The hosts asked Kaleria if she could point out on the model where her old home once stood. She did her best and pointed. Then they asked her if she would like to go visit the neighborhood and see how it had changed.

A caravan of vehicles traveled through the city escorting Kaleria to her old home. As they got close, she was surprised at how much she could remember and recognize. The street had been closed off to cars, it was meant for foot traffic now. Kaleria and her entourage exited their vehicles and started walking down the street.

On the other side, walking towards them was an older woman with a cane. When the woman saw Kaleria, she stopped, dropped her cane to the ground and started crying out “Kaleria-san! Kaleria-san!” It turns out this woman was the Palchikoff’s landlady 40 years ago. She owned the house they lived in and she still lived right next door. On that fateful day in 1945, after Sergei had rescued his family from the rumble, he had gone next door and rescued her as well.

She invited Kaleria inside and Kaleria made two interesting discoveries. First, the woman’s cane was her father’s old walking stick that he had left behind. Second, on the stove sat her mother’s long-lost kettle preparing the water for tea.

Kaleria and Anthony presented Sergei’s violin to the school. It was originally meant to be kept on display and played every year at the anniversary of the bombing by one of the school’s best students. However, the violin captured the imagination and attention of many musicians and activists. It became clear that the instrument was going to have a life of performance outside of just the school. So the violin was sent to Italy, where a Japanese violin maker had set up shop. There the instrument was restored and fine-tuned, ready to be played by some of the world’s finest violinists. In 2019, Sergei Palchikoff’s violin toured the world on the Peace Boat. It was played in numerous concerts, some of which were accompanied by Akiko’s piano, another instrument that survived the bomb.

Over the course of a century, this violin has seen humanity at our most destructive. Through wars and conflict this single instrument has continued to play beautiful music. May we never forget its story, its witness and may we never stop listening for the song of peace.

Learn more and follow the Timeline.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.
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