Songs of Warning, Tragedy, and Resistance: Remembering Kristallnacht

In the late-night and early morning hours of November 9 into the early morning hours of November 10, 1938, synagogues, Jewish-owned property, and Jewish businesses were pillaged and burned in a wave of violence and terror orchestrated by the Nazi government across Germany, annexed Austria, and German-occupied Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.

Kristallnacht, which translates literally to “Night of Crystal,” is often referred to as the “Night of Broken Glass.” The United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum, opens a new window notes that “Kristallnacht owes its name to the shards of shattered glass that lined German streets in the wake of the pogrom—broken glass from the windows of synagogues, homes, and businesses plundered during the violence.” Historians now estimate that several hundred Jewish people were murdered that night, far more than the 91 souls the German government officially reported.

“Kristallnacht is a significant event in the history of the Holocaust,” said Jodi Elowitz of Cincinnati’s Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, opens a new window. “It is seen as a turning point of prejudice and hatred in word and law. It was the first outbreak of organized violence. It was made to look spontaneous, but the government was involved in planning it prior to the event. 30,000 men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.” 

To mark the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Holocaust & Humanity Center is partnering with the Cincinnati Museum Center and the School for Creative and Performing Arts for a special performance featuring ethnomusicologist and violist Dr. Tamara Reps Freeman. The Sunday, November 10 performance illuminates stories in response to this tragic event through the words and music of composers interned in the ghettos and concentration camps. 

“Music and art were created during the Holocaust as a way to retain humanity under the harshest of circumstances,” said Elowitz. “Works of resistance and witness were created through music and art to show the world what was happening in the camps and ghettos. For artists, the act of creating was extremely important. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, many survivor artists created work as a response to help them heal as well as to tell what happened to them.”

Freeman’s performance of archival melodies on her 1935 Joseph Bausch viola that was rescued from Berlin during the Holocaust also includes local perspectives. “There are several survivors who experienced this event firsthand who are featured in our museum,” said Elowitz. “One of the survivors, Henry Meyer, was a musical prodigy who was in his home of Dresden to play a concert on Kristallnacht, but instead he ended up defending his grandmother from the Nazis who arrested him and took him to Buchenwald. Later, he was in Auschwitz, where he played violin in the “band” orchestra. In all of his interviews, he states that it was music that saved him. ‘It was there before, during, and after,’ [he said].” 

Through the “Songs of Warning, Tragedy, and Resistance” event, the Holocaust & Humanity Center hopes to make people aware of the violence that occurred on Kristallnacht and the connection it has to Cincinnati survivors who came here to rebuild their lives. The Center is also hosting a workshop Expressions of Dignity and Hope: Music and the Holocaust, opens a new window” from 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. on Monday, November 11 The hands-on workshop, led by Freeman, aims to give teachers and educators lessons and activities they can bring back to their classrooms based on music created during and after the Holocaust. 

“Our mission is to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust inspire action today,” Elowitz said. “We know that knowledge of the past can help us understand the present. While we cannot change what happened back then, we can change the world around us now.” 

In preparation for this weekend’s event, our Materials Selection Librarians rounded up resources children, teens, and adults who want to learn more about Kristallnacht and the Holocaust below. 


A neighborhood cat observes the changes in German and Jewish families in Berlin during the period leading up to Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass." This cat's-eye view introduces the Holocaust to children in a gentle way that can open discussion of this period.

Germany is on the cusp of World War II. Hitler has risen to power, and the Jews are being taken away from their homes in the middle of the night. In the middle of all this is Lilli Frankfurter, a half-Jewish girl on the cusp of adolescence while her life and her family are being thrust into the midst of a danger she has only begun to understand.


Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich. While scratching out a meager existence for herself by stealing, she encounters something she can’t resist—books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

Disillusioned by the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Sophie Scholl, her brother, and his fellow soldiers formed the White Rose, a group that wrote and distributed anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and calling for action from their fellow German citizens. This novel recounts the lives of Sophie and her friends and highlights their brave stand against fascism in Nazi Germany.


A historical novel of love and survival inspired by real Austrian resistance workers during World War II and a mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families. A heart-breaking, heart-warming read.

Journalist Hannah Vogel is in Poland with her son when she hears that 12,000 Polish Jews have been deported from Germany. Hannah drops everything to get the story on the refugees and walks directly into danger. Trapped in Nazi Germany just days before Kristallnacht, Hannah knows the dangers of staying any longer than needed. But she can't turn her back on this one little girl, even if it plunges her and her family into danger.


With rare insight and acumen, Martin Gilbert examines this night and day of terror, presenting readers with a meticulously researched, masterfully written, and eye-opening study of one of the darkest chapters in human history.

This book provides an account of the incidents immediately preceding the November 9-10 attacks, an oral history that provides a minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour account of what happened during the pogroms, and an analysis of the immediate aftermath and why the Holocaust can be dated from this evening.

TV Miniseries/Documentaries

In November 1938 German soldiers burned 400 synagogues and destroyed 7,000 Jewish businesses. More than 90 people were killed, 600 committed suicide, and over 26,000 men were deported to concentration camps. Through rare footage, photographs, and documents, The Night of Broken Glass reveals the background to this anti-Semitic violence, which, while masterminded by the Nazi regime, is shown to have been largely accepted by the German public.

This miniseries follows the tragedy and triumph of the Weiss family of Berlin and intertwines their fate as European Jews with the story of a German family, the Dorfs, whose members include a high-ranking Nazi officer. Kristallnacht, the "Night of Broken Glass," occurs and the Weiss family suffers a series of unspeakable tragedies in the aftermath.

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