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Remembering the Night of Broken Glass through music

Note: The Florida Orchestra is presenting Michael Tippett’s moving oratorio A Child of Our Time for the first time Nov. 9-11 in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, conducted by Michael Francis and featuring the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay. The special concert, with themes of unity and peace, commemorates the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, in partnership with The Florida Holocaust Museum. We asked the museum’s director, Elizabeth Gelman, about the anniversary and the importance of this concert as a way to learn and reflect.

By Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum

On Nov. 9, 1938, the Nazis unleashed a wave of pogroms, state-sponsored terrorism, against the Jews in Germany and Austria. Within a few short hours, thousands of synagogues, Jewish businesses and homes were damaged or destroyed. This event has become known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, and refers to the broken shop windows of Jewish-owned stores that carpeted the streets.

The pretext for this violence was the Nov. 7 assassination in Paris of German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath by Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish teenager whose parents, along with 17,000 other Polish Jews, had been expelled from the Reich. The next day, an inflammatory editorial appeared in the official Nazi press and sporadic anti-Jewish rioting began.

Though portrayed as spontaneous outbursts of popular outrage, these pogroms were calculated acts of retaliation carried out by the SA, the SS and local Nazi party organizations. That night, instructions were conveyed to all parts of the country to encourage participation in the atmosphere of outrage. A mass frenzy broke out: synagogues were destroyed and burned, shop windows of Jewish-owned stores were shattered, and the demolished stores were looted. Jewish homes were assaulted, and in many places, Jews were physically attacked. Some 267 synagogues were destroyed, more than 7,000 shops were destroyed, and 30,000 Jews were arrested, often with the help of previously prepared lists. This was the first time that riots against the Jews of Germany had been organized on such an extensive scale accompanied by mass detention.

A powerful partnership

The Florida Holocaust Museum has more than 17,000 objects and artifacts, as well as hundreds of recorded testimonies from survivors of the Holocaust. In our museum and throughout our educational outreach, we discuss the origins of antisemitism and the rise of Adolph Hitler, the systematic state-sponsored persecution of Jews and others deemed “sub-human,” and the resulting torture and murder of between 11 million and 12 million people, 6 million of them Jews.

In the end, the Holocaust is still an incomprehensible event, and no amount of data can convey its overarching emotional impact. We are indebted to partners like The Florida Orchestra, who open artistic portals for audiences to learn and reflect in new ways. Throughout the last centuries, music has stirred hope and change and provided a vehicle for expressions of protest against injustice.

Michael Tippett’s powerful musical response to the terrible acts of Kristallnacht provides both. Many people of the time, while personally troubled by the actions of the Nazis, chose to be bystanders, saying and doing nothing. One of the core lessons of the Holocaust is that if we do not respond when we see acts of injustice and hatred, we are empowering the perpetrator and are complicit ourselves in the act. Tippett chose to be an “upstander,” providing an example of how great artists respond to societal and moral issues of their time.

Many thanks to The Florida Orchestra, true “upstanders” in our community, for giving us a new opportunity to remember and reflect during this 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Tampa Bay Times Masterworks
A Child of Our Time
Michael Francis, conductor
The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay

Fri, Nov 9, 8 pm, Straz Center
Sat, Nov 10, 8 pm, Mahaffey Theater
Sun, Nov 11, 7:30 pm, Ruth Eckerd Hall

Free tickets for kids and teens in advance.


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