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Joel Lazer
Photo by 1812 Photography

Sarah Jo Kirsch, vocalist, and Madeline Hildebrand, pianist
Photo by 1812 Photography

Kristallnacht Commemorative Program Featured Music of Degenerate Composers Banned by the Nazis

by Rhonda Spivak, November 29, 2016


About 200 people attended the annual Kristallnacht commemoration event held in the Berney Theatre put on by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, which featured the music of composers whose music had been outlawed by the Nazis.


Joel Lazer, Chair of Community Relations for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg was the evening's host and MC.


He explained that Kristallnacht was the "horrible pogrom" which was unleashed on the night of November 9th -10th, 1938."


He explained the background leading up to the event: "In August 1938, the Germans cancelled residence permits for foreigners. More than 12,000 Polish-born Jews were expelled and put on trains to Poland. However, Polish border guards sent them back. They were caught in a “no man’s land”. The Greenszpan family, who had emigrated to Germany in 1911, was among them. Their seventeen-year-old son Herschel, living in Paris at the time, received news from his family on the border. Distraught, he went to the German Embassy in Paris to bring public attention to the travesty... He fired five bullets at Ernst Vom Rath, a career diplomat.


The next day, the German government retaliated:  Jewish children were barred from German state elementary schools, Jewish cultural activities were suspended, and publication of Jewish newspapers and magazines was stopped.The rights of Jews as citizens had been stripped.

"On November 9, Ernst vom Rath died of his wounds and all hell
 broke loose on the Jews of Germany and Austria. Kristallnacht is seen by many as the beginning of the end – as the testing ground for Nazis and their plan to rid Germany of its Jews. Many Jews were killed or maimed on that fateful evening."


Hannah Levit, March of the Living alumnus and Roberta Malam - Coast to Coast March of the Living Director - to light the memorial candles for the victims of Kristallnacht and the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust and they recited the special prayer for Kristallnacht:


Lazar then introduced the evening’s program "Degenerate Composers of the Third Reich", explaining the terms "degenerate" and "degenerate composers."


"After World War I, Europeans expressed their sense of freedom by embracing “the roaring twenties” with its decadent lifestyle, jazz clubs and cabarets.Musicians experimented by finding new musical forms. 


By 1933, Hitler's Third Reich referred to the mentally ill, communists, Gypsies, homosexuals and Jews as subspecies of the human race. The word "Degenerate," was commonly used to describe any art or music not acceptable to the Third Reich.



"The Degenerate Composers, Mendelssohn, Mahler and Schoenberg were Jewish. Many others were called degenerate because they did not conform to the Third Reich’s vision of “acceptable music”.


The Third Reich wanted people to believe that this music was responsible for the downfall of Germany after World War I. After all: the decay of music was "due to the influence of Judaism and capitalism".


The evening’s guest artists Sarah Jo Kirsch, vocalist, and Madeline Hildebrand, pianist performed with great skill the works of composers banned during the Third Reich. They performed works of Gustav Mahler, Ignancy Jan Paderewski, Franz Schreker, Maurice Ravel, and Irving Berlin.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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