Stuart Canin, the violinist who played for Truman, Stalin and Churchill

JULY 17, 2015 4:39 PM ET
Photo from The Rifleman's Violin, directed by Sam Ball, Copyright Citizen Film 2015.

Photo from The Rifleman’s Violin, directed by Sam Ball, Copyright Citizen Film 2015.

Citizen Film

Seventy years ago, shortly after defeating Nazi Germany, three victorious leaders met in Potsdam, just outside Berlin. President Harry Truman was there with British and Soviet leaders Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Stuart Canin was also there ā€” he was a 19-year-old GI from New York City who played the violin.

Photo from The Rifleman's Violin, directed by Sam Ball, Copyright Citizen Film 2015.

Photo from The Rifleman’s Violin, directed by Sam Ball, Copyright Citizen Film 2015.

Citizen Film

Canin was drafted and sent to Europe as an Army rifleman, and he took along his instrument. He went on to become a successful violinist and concertmaster of the San Francisco Symphony, and he’s the subject of a short documentary film called The Rifleman’s Violin. He’s now 89, and he spoke with NPR’s Robert Siegel about a monumental political meeting that he remembers from a unique perspective.

Robert Siegel: Before we get to Potsdam, tell us about your decision, when you shipped out to serve in Europe during World War II, to take your violin.

Stuart Canin: Well, I had no idea how long the Army would want my services. So, I had my $2, cigar-box violin, and going up the gangplank, my commanding officer said, “What are you going to do with that?” I said to him, “Well, you never know.”

But ultimately, the Army figured out it had a violinist on its hands, and it could make some use out of this gift you had.

The war ended on May 8, and on May 10 I got orders ā€” they said, “Private First Class Stuart Canin is going to be sent back to Paris to join an entertainment soldier show company.” Among the people there were Josh Logan, the famous Broadway director, and Mickey Rooney, the wonderful actor at that time. I went around with Sgt. Eugene List, the well-known American pianist who came over then with the future idea of having a GI symphony, which did eventually come about.

Flash forward to July 1945, just about this time of the month. You’re being taken to Potsdam.

Our commanding officer in Paris said, “Eugene, you, Stuart and Mickey, get yourselves ready. We’re flying to Berlin, because President Truman is coming over.” They drove us over to Potsdam, and they billeted us in a tent. Then, the next day, our commanding officer came and said, “You guys, get shined up.” They took us across the street to this house. We had no idea, we just thought the president was going to be there. But we were standing on the porch, and we heard the sound of motors coming and, one after another, big, black limousines. When we looked out, we could not believe it. Stalin came out of one, Churchill came out of another, and everybody who was on the front page of the New York Times.

(…)

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