Most of us grew up watching the Wizard of Oz and singing the song, Somewhere Over the Rainbow with Dorothy. While the setting in the movie is emotional as Dorothy realizes how important home truly is, there’s an even more moving story behind this iconic song.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow is perhaps the most poignant song to emerge out of the mass exodus from Europe prior to WWII and the growing Nazi regime. The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, who was the youngest of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants and the son of a cantor. His real name was Isidore Hochberg, and he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jewish home in New York. The music was written by Harold Arlen, also a cantor’s son. His real name was Hyman Arluck. His parents were from Lithuania.
Together, Hochberg and Arluck wrote Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song that has become a favorite of generations of children and adults alike. It was also voted the 20th century’s No. 1 song by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The writing process can be trying, but the two men reached deep into their immigrant Jewish consciousness, framed by the pogroms of the past and the Holocaust about to happen. Somehow they managed to write an unforgettable melody set to near prophetic words. Try not to cry while you read the lyrics in their Jewish context and suddenly you’ll realize the words are no longer of wizards or the magical land of Oz, but is, in fact, of the survival of the Jewish people:
- Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true.
- Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me.
- Somewhere over the rainbow
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can’t I?
- If happy little bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can’t I?
Unfortunately, the Jews living in Europe could not fly, or escape beyond the rainbow. Harburg was almost prescient when he spoke of wanting to fly like a bluebird away from the “chimney tops.” In the post-Auschwitz era, chimney tops took on an entirely different meaning than they had at the beginning of 1939. The Nazis had not yet created the crematoriums and gas chambers they used to murder millions during the Holocaust. While many Jews managed to escape to America, far too many died at the hands of the Nazis.
The irony is that for 2,000 years, the land the Jewish people heard of “once in a lullaby” was not America, but was actually the land of Israel, their home. Unknown to the Jewish people was that less than 10 years after “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was published, their exile would end, and the State of Israel would be reborn. This just proves the “dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”
However, we must never forget the horrific crimes against the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis. Not remembering history and turning a blind eye will often lead to history repeating itself. With the Islamization of American schools, and the dangers of the new anti-semitism in the US and Europe, we must not allow hate to gain control. Christians and Jews must stand side-by-side against those who use violence in the name of their God.