The purpose of this program is to repeat a truth, a timely truth, that man made to the image and likeness of God has an intrinsic dignity which must be respected by governments and by rulers. In a sense, the world is growing smaller every day. Means of communication strengthen the bond of unity of the human race.
Rev. Maurice S. Sheehy, professor of religion, The Catholic University of America
These timeless words, first broadcast in 1938, were broadcast again to a crowd in Hartke Theatre on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. A diverse group of University professors, students, and friends from the community gathered to commemorate a radio broadcast delivered 80 years ago from Catholic University’s campus; a broadcast that spoke out “not in mad hysteria, but in firm indignation against the atrocities visited upon the Jews in Germany,” Father Sheehy said. Those atrocities included more than 100 Jews killed, 30,000 sent to concentration camps, hundreds of synagogues vandalized, and thousands of Jewish homes destroyed.
On Nov. 16, 1938, less than one week after Kristallnacht — “The Night of Broken Glass,” which most scholars mark as the beginning of the Holocaust — CBS and NBC radio joined forces for a live broadcast organized by The Catholic University of America. The broadcast was deemed so significant that the New York Times published a transcript of it the next day.
A University archivist uncovered a recording of the original broadcast in the early 2000s from among more than 500 collections and millions of individual objects and artifacts. Several years later, staff had the audio transferred to a digital platform.
“When we listened to the broadcast, we knew it was remarkable,” said Maria Mazzenga, education archivist. The story of prominent Catholics speaking out against the horrors of the Holocaust was given a new life. It inspired scholars, such as Mazzenga, to study the historic recording and what it said about Catholic-Jewish relations at that time.
In 2007 Catholic U Magazine published a story about the discovery. Through that article, Music Professor Joseph Santo learned of the broadcast and was inspired to write a work entitled “Malachey Elyon” (Messengers of the Most High). This composition was the capstone of a commemorative concert last week marking the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The event featured talks by Santo; Mazzenga; University President John Garvey; Zion Evrony, visiting professor of theology and former Israeli ambassador to the Vatican; and Jacqueline Leary-Warsaw, dean of the School of Music, Drama, and Art.
Others after us will swell the volume. It is well that they do so. The world should not forget nor cease to protest with earnest sincerity and growing vigor until it be cleansed of the poisonous cancer even now gnawing at the very vitals of organized society and just government. Here is a program of action. We appeal to all Catholics and to all of other faiths who are listening tonight to send up a holocaust of prayer for those oppressed in Germany and in other parts of the world in this time of great tumult.
Monsignor Joseph M. Corrigan, 6th rector of The Catholic University of America
In addition to Santo’s composition, other pieces by Jewish composers were performed; two with arrangements by Catholic University’s Murry Sidlin, former dean of music and professor of conducting; and Daniel Peterson, doctoral candidate in orchestral conducting.
Santo’s composition thoughtfully incorporates sections of the text of the radio broadcast into a musical score. “That such an act of imagination was inspired by a broadcast condemning persecution based on religion underscores both the imaginative capacity of Professor Santo, and the compassion we are capable of as human beings,” Mazzenga said on Friday night.
“The powerful message brought to the United States, to the Church, and to the whole world on Nov. 16, 1938, resounded in my mind when the record and script were discovered in 2007, and I felt compelled to do something to make the courage of those individuals more widely known,” Santo remarked. “Sometimes historical commemorations, musical or otherwise, are made without any reference or connection to the present day. Needless to say, given the current challenges in our country and our world, this commemoration is not one of them.”
Leary-Warsaw, who served as emcee of the event, described the recorded Catholic response to Kristallnacht as “a compassionate, humane, honorable, and clear response.” She referred to the recent shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue as an example of anti-semitism in today’s world and suggested “May we connect this dimension of modern day sorrow to our prayers and memory this evening.”
“We have to stand up to hate, not just when it happens to us, but also when it happens to others, to anyone,” Evrony said. “We have to be vigilant and speak up whenever we see anti-Semitism, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice based on religion, race, or ethnic origin.”
My individual protest, your individual protest, our mutual feeling of sympathy for those persecuted and outraged by the autocrats of Europe, will not change instantly the present issue, but the combined condemnation of all who love freedom and justice throughout the world will channel itself into a flood of righteous indignation that will sweep away the barriers of censorship and will reach the minds and consciences of the rank and file of the German nation. These shall be the arbiters of the destiny of German and Jew alike, and justice shall prevail.
Bishop Peter Ireton, trustee of the University and bishop of Richmond, Va.
President Garvey was the last speaker at the commemorative event. “Tonight’s remembrance invites us to grieve for the loss of Jewish lives and condemn every act of violence against them, whether the act represents a turning point in the Holocaust or an incident in our time in western Pennsylvania. … We build a safer future by growing in knowledge and virtue. I hope that the performances and reflections we hear tonight will inspire us to do that.”