The Passover Haggadah That Brought the Nazis to the Seder

A glimpse into a haggadah written for the residents of the displaced persons camp in Munich, illustrated by a Holocaust survivor just a year after the war ended

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A page from the haggaddah created by Yosef Dov Sheinson and Zvi Miklos Adler in April 1946, shortly after World War II.
A page from the haggaddah created by Yosef Dov Sheinson and Zvi Miklos Adler in April 1946, shortly after World War II. Credit: The National Library
Chen Malul, National Library
Chen Malul, National Library

For many of the residents of the displaced persons camp in Munich in April, 1946, the upcoming Passover Seder symbolized more than the Jewish people’s historical redemption, but the reality unfolding before their eyes. Many of the survivors clustered together in the displaced persons camp had hoped that they would celebrate Passover of 1947 far from the land where their loved ones had been slaughtered, far from the land in which the Nazis and their collaborators aimed to destroy them and the entire Jewish nation. Those of them in the know spoke about that Passover night as the “Seder night of the exodus from Europe.”

Yosef Dov Sheinson, a resident of the camp, wanted to express this sentiment in a haggadah which he wrote for the Seder night in the displaced persons camp. The excerpts in Hebrew and Yiddish which Sheinson added to the traditional haggadah are accompanied by woodcuts by the Jewish-Hungarian artist Zvi Miklos Adler, who signed his name in the haggadah as “Ben Binyamin.”

Depicting the horrors of the Holocaust, which he himself experienced during the war years, Adler’s harsh drawings complement the text of the haggadah. One such example is an illustration that corresponds with the well-known sentence “for not only one has risen against us to destroy us.” The illustration depicts a soldier shooting several wretched looking prisoners, while another soldier leads a group of stooped prisoners toward an unknown destination. The picture gradually fades as the prisoners move away from the center of the event.

The intertwining of traditional text and modern pictures expresses the way the creators of the haggadah grasped the historical moment during which they lived: in each and every generation a person must see himself as if he left Egypt, but it is not in every generation that a person undergoes horrors that darken his world and dwarf the suffering experienced by his ancestors.

The need to talk about and deal with the terrible topic is tangibly and explicitly expressed in the haggadah in one particular illustration that is especially hard to look at, and under which reads the caption: “Therefore we are obligated.”

An illustration from the 1946 haggaddah depicting the sentence: 'We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt.'Credit: The National Library

While this excerpt from the haggadah is dedicated to praising and giving thanks to God for redeeming us from Egypt, the expression on the face of the survivor at the bottom of the drawing shows quite the opposite sentiment.

Seder Night in the American Army

A copy of this haggadah reached Rabbi Avraham Klausner, an American army chaplain who was in the midst of preparing for the Seder of the American army stationed in Munich. He decided to conduct the Seder according to this haggadah, making a single change – he added an introduction addressed to soldiers in General Eisenhower’s army (whom Klausner compared in his introduction to a modern-day Moses).

Rabbi Klausner’s introduction is in the same vein as Sheinson and Adler’s work, equating Hitler with Pharaoh and the suffering the Jews endured in Egypt with what the tragedies Jews underwent in the concentration and death camps.

The list of those invited to the Seder conducted by Rabbi Klausner in the Munich Theatre, held on the same night as the Seder of the displaced persons camp in Munich, is preserved in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People. It shows that only a few of the five hundred participants of the Passover Seder conducted by Rabbi Klausner were Holocaust survivors. The majority were soldiers in the American army.

An especially harrowing image from the haggaddah, highlighted in the original creation by the sentence: 'Therefore we are obligated'Credit: The National Library

The letter A was stamped on the title page of Rabbi Klausner’s private copy, indicating the American army. On the same title page are the date and the location of the Seder night at which the haggadah was used: Munich, Germany, April 15-16, 1946.

Rabbi Klausner’s personal copy is currently stored in the Haggadah Collection of Israeli collector Aviram Paz. It was lent to the National Library for its “Next year we will be free men” exhibition – an exhibition of unconventional Passover haggadot from the years before the founding of the State of Israel.

Read more on the National Library's website

The cover of the Haggadah, and The list of those invited to the Seder hosted by Rabbi Avraham Klausner in the Munich Theater in April 1946.Credit: The National Library

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