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New Orleans' Museum to Display 1944 Violin Crafted by American Prisoner of War

The instrument, which was crafted from bed slats, table legs, and catgut, can be viewed alongside other relevant artifacts at the National World War II Museum

 

A 1944 violin, which was crafted by an American prisoner of war while he was held captive in Germany, will soon be on display as part of the newly-opened Liberation Pavilion at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

It was made by Lt. Clair Cline, a fighter pilot who was captured in Germany after his B-24 bomber plane was shot out of the sky. Cline was then imprisoned in the Stalag Luft I camp, where he took up carving — initially making small model reproductions of the planes he had flown.

When this practice became tiresome, Cline hungered for a more ambitious project and decided to try his hand at building a violin. Using only a pen knife, he crafted the instrument out of wood from bed slats and table legs. A guard was able to provide catgut for the strings. Cline had to scrape glue off the bottoms of the camp's mess tables to collect enough adhesive for the project.

 

(Clair Cline and his violin in the Stalag Luft I camp)

 

The instrument was first played publicly on Christmas Eve in 1944, when Cline was able to play "Silent Night" for the other prisoners in the camp.

"I drew the bow across the strings and my heart leaped as a pure resonant sound echoed through the air," Cline wrote in 1997 of the first time he played the instrument.

"[Lt. Cline] didn't talk about it until his later years when the story about his violin started to get out more," said Cline's grandson, Daniel Cline. "Then he would talk about it a little. It's something we felt that would benefit from being in a museum and from other people being able to see it."

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