Canadian step-mother, Ethel, had a pleasant surprise for us today.
We are being invited by the US army to attend the first Pesach Seder
after the war. Rabbi Abraham Klausner is going to conduct the Seder.
Rabbi Klausner is a US army chaplain, whom I had met once before
through Ethel. A group of Jewish survivors were invited to attend
The Seder is
going to take place in the Deutsches Theatre restaurant on Schwanthaler
Strasse, right in the centre of Munich. It is one of the few restaurants
that is relatively undamaged by the bombings during the war. It
is a large place, elegantly furnished and served the Nazi bigwigs
during the war.
Seder, Munich April 15, 1946
Almost a Year
had passed since our liberation by the American army and I can't
help thinking how things have changed in one year. I remember
the first Americans driving past us in their huge tanks throwing
down chocolates, cigarettes, oranges and other food items. I looked
at them in awe as if they were angels descending from heaven to
Who else but
angels sent by G-d could have so much food, that precious commodity
that meant life or death to us for four terrible years. A fraction
of what was being thrown at us would have saved thousands who died
of starvation in the last days of the war as we marched to our doom.
was at hand so many of us died: what a cruel and inhuman end after
so many years of suffering. I was seventeen years old, after four
years of slavery and starvation, the lowest form
of life, as the Nazis called us.
After four years of hell, I almost believed them. Small wonder that
I thought the Americans to be angels. And now I was lifted from
the abyss of evil that was the Nazi concentration camp and elevated
to the American Olympus; I even wore their uniform!. I think
that had an angel offered me his wings, I would have preferred the
US army uniform.
It was a short
trip to Schwanthaler strasse place where the seder took place and
the driver let us off at the entrance. Many US soldiers, officers
and people in civilian clothing were entering the well lit restaurant.
Two soldiers at the door checked our invitations and let us in.
There were about two hundred soldiers and civilians gathered there,
the civilians were mostly fellow survivors. I knew quite a few.
Some of them were co-workers of father at the Jewish committee on
There were several
rows of long tables covered with white table cloth, sets of
white plates and silver cutlery and neatly folded white napkins.
There were even flowers on the tables and bottles of sweet wine
that had a label of Kosher for Pesach written on it. In between
were plates of matzoth and plates with the "Zroa, Maror, Beitzah,
karpas and Chazeret." We hadn't seen a Pesach Seder table since
before the war and most of us survivors had tears in our eyes. I
couldn't help thinking of our last Passover in the camp,
when the American army was approaching and the Nazis drove us out
on the Death March to Tyrol. I promised myself that I won't think
about it today.
But the bitter
memories of the four years had no difficulty penetrating my resolve.
I could see that my father and the other survivors were similarly
affected. The contrast between this Passover and the last one was
so enormous, so earth shaking that we were all devastated, many
feeling guilty for surviving while our families and friends didn't.
The American Jewish soldiers watched sympathetically as we sat between
them wiping our tears.
I could see
the way they were looking at the survivors that they were embarrassed.
They seemed to be awed that we managed to survive the Nazi
hell, yet at the same time wondering how and why we survived while
When rabbi Klausner
rose and addressed us, he made it a point to remember our families
and fellow Jews who perished during the war, blessed be their memory.
surprise was the Haggadah written in English, Hebrew and Yiddish.
It had the big encircled A on the cover, an insignia for the
Beneath, it said Passover Service, Munich enclave and the date of
the two Seders, April 15 & 16. It said that Rabbi
Klausner was conducting the service. The first two pages were written
in English for the American soldiers, I guess. The rest was in Hebrew
and Yiddish. It was beautifully arranged, with drawings and woodcuts
by a fellow survivor from Hungary ,by the name of Ben Benjamin.
My father thought it was done by a superb artist.
itself was the work of Scheinson, fatherís friend, who must
have put his love and soul in it. Sheinson is a fellow survivor
from our native Lithuania. It was not a traditional Haggadah as
we knew in Lithuania; it had many parts missing, but the altered
text was specially suited for us survivors, especially those of
us who intended to make Alyah to Eretz Israel.
"We were slaves
to Hitler in Germany." Was written on the first page, and all
around the page were drawings of Jews being burnt and
tortured, the chimneys of Auschwitz with the death head and
the ominous sign," Brausebad" with the Swastika underneath.
We then began
the Seder with the usual blessings and dividing the six ingredients
on the plates. Then we read the "Mah Nishtana". Indeed what
had changed? What was the difference between this night and any
The first and
most painful difference was the absence of small children who traditionally
asked the four questions. They were all murdered by the Nazis. I
thought of the years before the war in Lithuania when we all sat
at the Pesach table and my younger cousins were asking the questions.
They were all murdered for the simple reason that they were too
young to work. There were of course, other tremendous differences;
actually like the difference between life and death, heaven and
hell, when we thought of the last Pesach in Dachau.
No matter what
we read in the Hagaddah, every word reminded us of our terrible
tragedy. that befell the Jewish people of Europe.
"Behol Dor va
Dor Haiav Adam lirot et atzmoh kiilu hoo jatzah Mimitzraim."
"All the generations,
everyone of us should see himself having gotten out of Egypt personally."
us, the survivors of this terrible calamity? Leaving Egypt was nothing
compared to what we went through to survive. If anything there should
be a Hagaddah about our survival, which was a thousand times more
difficult than leaving Egypt. Why shouldn't there be a Hagaddah
about our survival?"
thoughts came to my mind as I was reading the words of the Hagaddah.
I also realised that no matter what we will tell the world around
us no matter how eloquent we may be, it would be impossible to relate
our experiences to someone who wasn't there. A language hasn't been
devised yet to tell of our suffering, of the horrors of the concentration
camps, as our nearest and dearest were, shot, gassed and burnt before
waking hour was concentrated anguish, fear and above all the terrible
hunger, where the stomach was slowly consuming our bodies, leaving
only skin and bones."
I was mad at
myself for thinking these terrible thoughts at a time when I should
be rejoicing our freedom and the fact that my father sits next to
me and found new happiness with Ethel. For a while I enjoyed myself,
until we came to saying "
bilvad amad aleinu lehaloteineu!... Vehakadosh Boruch Hoo, matzeleiny
miadam." " Many have risen in every generation to destroy
us, but G-d, may his name be blessed. saves us from their
I looked at
rabbi Klausner and saw him lowering his eyes. He must have felt
our eyes on him. We all felt, even the very religious among us,
that this promise was broken.
When I looked
at the remnants of survivors around me, these words seemed not only
meaningless, but even mocking. "Yes, where were you, Rebono Shel
Haulam, when millions of our children, mothers, fathers, sisters
and brothers, went to the gas chambers?" Was the mute question
we all asked. We couldnít help ourselves. Our calamity was simply
the Hagaddah we ate a four course dinner, containing enough food
to feed the inmates of Dachau for a month. There was the traditional
chicken soup with small knedlech, gefilte fish, a quarter of a chicken
with mashed potatoes, carrots and pees, compot
of stewed prunes, apricots and pears and coconut cake with tea or
coffee. It was tastiest Pesach dinner I had ever eaten, but then
I could not remember what mother's Pesach dinner tasted like. Only
five years had passed since, but it might as well have been a thousand.
The terrible war years warped all sense of time.
I left this
first Seder after our liberation with mixed feelings. It was the
first time since the end of the war that I was able to sit and evaluate
what had actually happened. The year had passed so fast and during
that year I was still living in the blinding light of the euphoria
that enveloped us on the day of our liberation. It was the first
time that my heart was filled with bitterness and
sad thoughts, as I allowed the darkness of the past
to subdue somewhat the euphoria.
Yet I rejoiced
to be alive sitting next to my father and having my whole future
ahead of me. One thing this Seder did for me was strengthen my resolve
to go Erez Israel and fight for the establishment of a Jewish state
rather than go with Ethel and father to Canada.
The words in
Sheinson's Hagaddah made me realise more than ever that we shall
always be defenceless strangers among the Christian nations, and
any time there is a crises they blame the Jews.
From that to
murdering us is a short path, as history of the last two thousand
years has proven, especially the history since Hitler came to power.
the generation that was destined to go through the worst calamity
in the history of the Jewish people, we shall be the generation
which will bring back into being a Jewish state; a state where we
can defend ourselves with weapon in hand against anyone who
wants to destroy us. I aim to fulfil my destiny and soon will be
going to Eretz Israel.
my website at: Solly
One of the things
that I haven't spoken or written about really, is how it felt to
perform the Passover Seder just hours after escaping from
the Passover Massacre at the Park Hotel last year. There were
those, who shall remain nameless, that actually attacked me for
having a Seder that night. And I remember feeling: after witnessing
these deaths, this destruction, how can I eat my matzah and drink
my wine? Will anyone understand why it was so important to
me to sit with my family and thank God that our enemies didn't win?
That we had started out to perform this family ritual, one of the
most important in the Jewish religion, and that we hadn't been stopped?
Will they understand what it meant to me to say, heartbroken though
bilvad amad aleinu lehaloteineu!... Vehakadosh Boruch Hoo, matzeleiny
miadam." "Many have risen in every generation to destroy us, but
G-d, may his name be blessed. saves us from their hands"? And how,
in saying those words my faith and love of God rang in me like a
bell, with greater purity, greater conviction than any other time
in my life?
One person I
know will understand is Solly Ganor, author and survivor. Here is
another remarkable piece from Mr. Ganor on his first Seder after
his liberation from Dachau.
All the best,