Benno is a friendly neighborhood cat, and through him we have a new perspective of Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass). For many, this night marks the beginning of the Holocaust, on November 9, 1938. There are many books about the Night of Broken Glass, but Meg Wiviott’s book is a powerful addition to Holocaust literature with the story of a cat who belongs to many people in the town of Berlin. Benno frequently visits Professor Goldfarb, the Adler family, the Schmidt family, Frau Gerber, Mitzi Stein, Mosche the butcher. He visits all people, Jewish and non-Jewish, and is the beloved neighborhood cat who get free milk, comfy places to nap, ear rubs, and lots of affection from Sophie and Inge, two young girls in his neighborhood. He is loved by everyone, and he leads a quiet, contented life.
Yet things do not remain content, when Benno sees a bonfire and men in brown shirts. Things are not the same and Benno senses the change immediately. Sophie and Inge no longer walk together, all is quiet and people are not as friendly and happy. The meat scraps disappear, eyes lowered, people hurry about their business. More men in brown shirts. The illustrations reflect the changes that Benno witnesses, showing the chaos and unhappiness that begins to surround the neighborhood. Then the night of broken glass arrives. Benno hears glass shattering. Stores are set ablaze, apartments ransacked, Professor Goldfarb cannot save his books. The Adlers’ door remains closed the next morning and Benno doesn’t see Sophie. Smoke is in the air and nothing is as it was before, even though Frau Gerber’s grocery is open and unchanged. The reader is left with the words “life of Resenstrasse would never be the same.”
Telling the story through the eyes of a cat allows the reader to see the German and Jewish people together harmoniously, especially with the friendship between Sophie and Inge. The change is seen with the arrival of men in brown shirts, and everyone is affected. The reader also witnesses how life changes for the Jewish residents of Berlin, again through Benno’s eyes. In this sense, the reader sees the events through the innocent and unwavering eyes of Benno. We witness how life is torn apart and people become separated.
This is an excellent book to introduce the Holocaust and the Night of Broken Glass to students who are going to learn more about these topics. The book also includes more information about Kristallnacht and additional children’s books for reference.
More Resources on Kristallnacht