ViolinistClair Cline

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A U.S. Air Force bomber pilot in World War II, Cline was shot down in February 1944 over Germany, and he bailed out just over the border, landing in Holland. He was sent to Stalag Luft I, a POW camp. After months of boredom, Cline set out to make a violin — he had one as a child. He used bed slats, carefully carved with a penknife. He took little bits of glue from chairs, boiling it down for reuse. He didn’t smoke, and traded his tobacco rations with guards for the things he couldn’t make: catgut for the strings, and a bow. It took three months, working every day, but it played, entertaining his fellow prisoners. His favorite memory was from Christmas, 1944. He played “Silent Night”, and “As the notes drifted through the barracks a voice chimed in,” he said, “then others. Amid the harmony I heard a different language: ‘Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht, alles schlaft, Einsam wacht….’ An elderly white-haired guard stood in the shadows, his eyes wet with tears,” singing along with the prisoners. The following May the camp was liberated by the Allies — and Cline was able to bring his violin home. He became a cabinet maker. Cline died September 12, at 92. His son, Roger, who plays double bass in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, says the violin will go to a museum.

From This is True for 26 September 2010