Kristallnacht Cantata: Aboriginal leader's 1938 fight for Jews

The Kristallnacht Cantata: a Voice of Courage, on Aboriginal leader William Cooper's pro-Jewish protest premieres in Melbourne this Sunday..

Arutz Sheva Staff,

Kristallnacht Cantata pla
Kristallnacht Cantata pla

The Kristallnacht Cantata: A Voice of Courage, with lyrics by Ron Jontof-Hutter and composed by Alon Trigger, is scored for an orchestra of 30 musicians, a chorus and two solo singers. Jontof-Hutter, who has written a number of opeds that were posted on Arutz Sheva, said that he wrote it "to help educate through art in an era of ignorance and forgetting."

He notes particularly that at the beginning of the cantata he uses words from Bach's Oratorio saying "And Joseph went from Galilee to Judea, the Land of the Jews" - adding in a letter to Arutz Sheva, "Sorry UNESCO, it was not the West Bank!"

The cantata, whose world premiere is Sunday, December 8, at 7 pm at Temple Beth Israel, St Kilda, begins, however, not in ancient times, but in November 1938. Jews like Einstein and the popular group Comedian Harmonists have already fled Germany. Hitler has been in power for well over five years. Since 1935, all Jewish academics, doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers and ordinary employees have been dismissed from their jobs under the Nuremberg Laws.

Yet there has not been one public protest as Jews desperately try to flee the German Nazi regime, and escape what would become known later as the Holocaust during which, some 70% of European Jews were murdered on an industrial scale.

During the night of 9-10 November 1938, the government incites mobs to burn down synagogues, Jewish businesses and destroy homes across Germany and Austria. By morning, 90 Jews have been beaten to death, 30,000 males paraded through streets and taken to concentration camps. Nearly another thousand will die from suicide and injuries. The government announces that no insurance claims are permitted, but that the Jewish community is to pay a 1 billion marks fine.

In far off Australia, Aboriginal Leader William Cooper, deprived of rights himself, stands up and marches with a delegation of elders to the German Consulate in Melbourne to hand in a letter protesting “the cruel persecution of Jews.” The cantata, based on real people and real events, pays tribute to this unique man.

First Movement: Menacing Shadows

On a street in Berlin, a family is shopping. Soon it will be Christmas! Everywhere the festive lights are going up. Traditional Christmas markets start to open. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is performed across Germany and Austria.

Yet beneath the façade of a modern café and theatre society, the brutality of the Nazi regime is pervasive.

The text is taken mostly from common street signs of that time denigrating Jews.

Second Movement: A Courageous Voice

Among those taken to Dachau concentration camp is Otto Jontof-Hutter, grandfather of the cantata's lyricist and artistic director. He meets Cooper, forming a metaphysical bond. They sing of common values of kindness and decency that transcend all cultures.

Third Movement: To Those who are Blessed

The title is derived from the Biblical verse in Genesis stating that those who bless the Jews will be blessed. Both men reassure each other that the time will come when both Aboriginals and Jews will thrive in freedom and dignity. The cantata ends with a long blast of the shofar, the ancient Jewish horn, which symbolizes resilience.

Cooper died in 1941, knowing he had failed to obtain civil rights for his people. In 2012 he was honored in Israel and in 2014 his petition for Aboriginal civil rights was finally accepted at Buckingham Palace. Otto Jontof-Hutter survived and fled to South Africa in 1939. He died in 1948 before the establishment of the State of Israel.

Cooper is an inspiring and courageous role model for all societies. His message is still relevant and resonates today. The cantata will be performed this coming year in Germany and Los Angeles.