Monday, April 10, 2006

A Seder In Auschwitz

Below is Israel Cohen's account of a seder in Auschwitz from his book "Destined to Survive":

"On the night before the first night of Pesach, I ate my portion of bread very late. In the morning I did not eat anything but "soup". I was determined that at least on the first night I would not eat any chametz. That evening we talked about Passover before the war, and how we all celebrated the holiday with our families. We remembered the kneidlach that our mothers had prepared and all the treats that came with the festival. When the light on our block went out, and everyone turned over on their sides to sleep, I said to my friend Yossel, "Well, we can't fulfill the commandments of eating matzah and bitter herbs - but we really don't need any bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness the Jews suffered in Egypt. Could theirs have been worse than ours? Impossible! Let us at least say the Haggadah, whatever we remember by heart."

So we recited "Ma Nishtanah" and "Avadim Hayinu" and everything else that came into our memories. Even though we chanted in very low voices, we seemed to be disturbing our neighbors. "What are you crazy chassidim doing, saying the Haggadah? Do you have matzos, do you have wine and all the necessary food to make a seder? Sheer stupidity!"

I remembered that I answered them, "We aren't doing it just for the fun of it. We are fulfilling the commandment of the Almighty to relate tonight the story of the Exodus from Egypt. If we don't have all the necessary accompaniments, it is not our fault, and we are not commanded to do the impossible. And who knows which seder is more welcome in Heaven, our seder in the dark and on empty stomachs, in pain and suffering and under duress, or the seder of our brothers in the United States and other countries that are not under the German's boots, who have matzos, wine, fish and chicken, and have big chandeliers lighting their tables, and are free to do what they want."

At this they became silent, and we felt afterwards that they showed us more respect."


At April 10, 2006 at 8:18:00 AM EDT, Blogger Shoshana said...

Wow. Even though they had no matzah or maror, they probably had a more spiritual seder than anything we can come close to. What amazing Jews.

At April 10, 2006 at 2:12:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Shoshana Bershad said...

This is very inspiring to me. I'm not sure that people who are suffering are more spiritual than those in more comfortable circumstances, but we can certainly admire their impulse to be true to themselves and the essence of their faith under the most trying conditions. If they couldn't observe "the letter of the law," they could at least preserve its spirit.

By the way, I'm a different Shoshana, not the previous poster. Maybe I should change my screen name (I think I will). Since I inquired about the rebbe of Bershad, I've been reading your blog every day and learning a lot.

Happy Passover!

At April 10, 2006 at 2:21:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Shoshana & Shoshana: Thank you for your comments. I used to read that selection before starting the seder the last few years to get people in the right frame of mind.

At April 10, 2006 at 8:17:00 PM EDT, Blogger Tamara said...

Lovely post. Thanks and Hag Sameach

At April 10, 2006 at 11:49:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Simcha said...

If you have a chance, read the wonderful story of the seder conducted in a labour camp by the Klausenberger Rebbe, Visheva Rebbe, and the av-beis-din of Nirbator and Miskolc, and how they secretly baked matzos - the nisim that occurred for their mesiras nefesh. A good hachono for this Yom Tov.(Klausenberger Rebbe - the War Years). Chag Kosher v'someach.

At April 11, 2006 at 6:29:00 AM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Simcha: Thank you for reminding me of this. I appreciate your comment.

At April 17, 2008 at 11:23:00 AM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At April 17, 2008 at 11:33:00 AM EDT, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Reprinted w/ Permission of the Holocaust Haggadah. Another Story of the Klausenberger Rebbe

And I would say that to keep any form of Pesach in a camp during the holocaust is more holy than a hundred of our Pesachs today.

But then, who am I

At April 17, 2008 at 12:13:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thanks for the link! :)

At March 23, 2013 at 9:28:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the God of Auschwitz the same God we sing about when we sing, Echad Mi Yodea? Do we tell the story of Pesach to pass on the memory of the exodus from Egypt, remembering that for centuries in Christian Europe we celebrated in a hostile environment, in a bitter reality, knowing that the same abstract, nameless, faceless, God was the one who promised our redemption at the time of the Covenant and that the 13 principles of our Faith had to be repeated each year at this time, even under such abjectly bleak circumstances as those related in these important words of Israel Cohen. They should be read at this week's seder so our children, fortunate to live in freedom in the USA, can know what it was like in their grandparent's generation. Chag Sameach


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