A Forgotten Australian Response to the Horror of the 'Night of Broken Glass' – Hope 103.2

A Forgotten Australian Response to the Horror of the ‘Night of Broken Glass’

By Anne RinaudoWednesday 14 Nov 2018Open House Interviews

Listen: Warren Wills in Conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.

The heroism of William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta elder who protested Nazism, will be honoured as part of a massive multi-media commemoration on the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht at the Australian Catholic University (ACU) in Fitzroy.

Socially inclusive

Night of Broken Glass is a socially-inclusive performance that will combine the recollections and talents of descendants of William Cooper, Holocaust survivors, professional performers, Indigenous and multicultural theatre and dance groups, school students and disadvantaged Victorians.

Organised terror of Kristallnacht

Night of Broken Glass commemorates the events of Kristallnacht, when over two days, 9th and 10th November 1938, Nazi paramilitary and civilians killed at least 91 Jews and began anti-Jewish pogroms that saw the destruction of schools, businesses properties and 267 synagogues across Germany, Austria and Sudetenland. These events led to the arrests and incarceration of 30,000 Jews in concentration camps and are viewed as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Left – As the synagogue in Oberramstadt burns during Kristallnacht (the “Night of Broken Glass”), firefighters instead save a nearby house. Right – Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business that was destroyed during Kristallnacht. Photo credits: Holocaust Encyclopedia

Aboriginal man condemned cruel persecution by Nazis

The following month, on 6th December, 78-year old tribal elder, William Cooper led a protest delegation of the Australian Aborigines’ League to the German Consulate in Melbourne to deliver a petition which condemned the “cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi Government”.

Mr. Cooper walked nearly 10 kilometres from his home in Melbourne’s west to the CBD with his friends, family and members of the League. The German Consulate did not accept the petition. William Cooper’s protest is now regarded as the only private protest following the events of Kristallnacht.

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We should know William Cooper’s story

Night of Broken Glass is a project of Australian composer and musical director Warren Wills and ACU educationalist, Dr Beth Rankin.

“Every Australian child should learn the story of William Cooper,” says Dr Rankin. “As one of Australia’s largest teacher-training universities, we want to prepare our students to teach this inspirational piece of Australian history.”

Inspiring experience

Modelled on previous inclusive music projects run in the UK, Hong Kong, Shepparton and Melbourne, Night of Broken Glass will be an entertaining, educational and inspiring experience championing the human rights of all oppressed peoples. It will use music and dance to unite different generations and cultures. Performers include a flexible, alternating company of over 300 amateur youth and professional actors, singers and dancers, including ACU students and staff, The Choir of Hard Knocks, students from St Matthews Primary School Fawkner, Aurora Early Education, Brothers in Arms Aboriginal dance company and the recently formed, Men Aloud.

Partners and supporters

Night of Broken Glass has been created in partnership with the German Embassy in Australia and the German Consul in Melbourne. It is supported by the Australian Catholic University and the Pratt Foundation. There will be two performances: 3.00pm and 6.00pm on Sunday 18th November Tickets cost $25. Further information and tickets are available here.

Roll call in Buchenwald for new prisoners after Kristallnacht. Photo credit: Holocaust Encyclopedia.

Warren Wills – Artistic and Musical Director

Composer, musical director and performer, Warren Wills has worked with many of the world’s best cabaret, opera, jazz and classical artists. He is considered to be one of the most versatile and gifted musicians on the international scene, having authored 8 original operas, 10 musicals, 13 children’s musicals, 8 albums, 5 major orchestral works and music direction credits on more than 50 productions.

Breaking barriers with music

Warren is convinced that music education is a fantastic catalyst for touching hearts and breaking down barriers and has a special interest in inclusive music education for children with special needs. He dedicates much of his time in London to working with the Haringey Shed Theatre Company which helps North London’s troubled teenagers, as well as those physically, intellectually and socially disadvantaged, to swap a life of boredom, violence and abuse for singing, dancing and acting in large scale music productions.

Kurt Wildberg- Kristallnacht Survivor

When Kurt Wildberg was just seven years old, he couldn’t possibly understand the significance of the Iron Cross that his father had pinned to the inside of his lapel. That WWI decoration enabled the family to escape a fate so many other Jews couldn’t, when on a cold November evening in 1938 – the night that later came to be known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass – they lined up at a Munich railway station to leave for Switzerland.

Jewish men taken by Nazis

Mr. Wildberg remembers well the events that led to their escape.  “Early in the morning the phone rang several times,” he said. “Various relations were ringing, very upset because the Gestapo had taken their husbands away. We were at my grandmother’s house, packed and ready to go, because we were planning to come to Australia, but not on Kristallnacht, a few days later. My father decided to leave the house that night, because they were bound to come and pick him up.  He had a large footwear business and he went to get one of his chauffers. In the morning, he picked us all up and took us to the station.”

WWI Iron Cross – ticket to freedom

Most Jews trying to leave Munich by train were told to stay in line and were prevented from boarding. Mr. Wildberg’s father had lost a leg in WWI and when told to line up, he turned the lapel of his jacket to show the soldier in charge the Iron Cross he had been awarded in that war. He said, “I’m a war invalid and I can’t stand for any length of time.” The family was taken to a large office, where the commandant was seated and after some discussion, they were allowed to leave.

Left – German-WWI-soldiers wearing Iron Cross.Right – Iron Cross 2nd class 1914.Photo Credits: WIkipedia.

Henri Korn – Kristallnacht Survivor

On Kristallnacht, 9th November 1938, Henri’s 10 year-old friend, Leo Trosky died when he was thrown out of the fourth floor window of his home with his parents. Leon’s father had tried to resist the Brown Shirts (SA) coming in to their apartment. First Leon’s father was thrown out of the apartment window, then Leo’s mother and then Leo.

Henri says, “When I went to see my friend and check if he was OK, there was a group of Germans outside.  I tried to approach them, but my father pulled me away.  I had just turned 9. I didn’t understand what death was.”

Unfriendly neighbour saves family

On Kristallnacht, just after midnight, Henri’s family was saved by an unlikely saviour, neighbour whose two sons were early SS men. She herself was very anti-Semitic, however she stopped three determined Brown Shirts who had Henri’s family on their list to arrest as Jews. She was able to talk them into believing they had made mistake and that the family was pure bred German. To this day Henri doesn’t know why she protected them.

To listen to the podcast of this conversation click the red play button at the top of the page, or you can subscribe to Open House podcasts in iTunes and they will appear in your feed. 

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