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The Historical Seder in Munich, April 15-16, 1946

The first Passover seder after the collapse of the Nazi empire  
by Solly Ganor 

See below Naomi Ragen's comment regarding this article


My 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 as well.

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.

The First 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 rescue us.

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.

When liberation 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 Mehl Strasse.

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 others didn't.

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.

The biggest surprise was the Haggadah written in English, Hebrew and Yiddish. It had the big encircled A on the cover, an insignia  for the US forces.
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.

The Hagaddah 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 other  night?

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."

"What about 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?"

These bitter 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 our eyes.

Where every 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 "

"Shelo ahad 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".

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 too enormous.

After reading 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.

Perhaps being 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.

Solly Ganor

Please, visit my website at: Solly Ganor Remembrance





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 I was:

"Shelo ahad 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,