Facing the (Passover) Music at Yad Vashem

WATCH: Obama to receive musical notes to original Passover melody composed by former chief cantor of Amsterdam, who was killed in Holocaust.

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

The musical notes to an original Passover melody composed by the former chief cantor of Amsterdam while the city was under Nazi occupation will be presented as a gift to U.S. President Barack Obama at the conclusion of his visit to Yad Vashem on Friday morning.

The sheet music to "Had Gadya," an allegorical song in Aramaic that is traditionally sung at the end of the Passover seder, was written by Israel Eljasz Maroko, who was killed in the Sobibor death camp during the Holocaust.

It is the only one of Maroko's original compositions to survive World War II and was found by his son Simon, the only member of the cantor's immediate family to make it through the war. In addition to his father, Simon's mother and three siblings were killed in Sobibor.

We feel that this is closing a circle for us, Simon's widow, Ruth Maroko, told Haaretz today in a telephone call from her home in Sylvan Lake, Michigan, a decade after Simon's death. The Germans wanted to stifle all Jewish music, but by Obama receiving it, he brings it into the open space again.

Israel Eljasz Maroko wrote the "Had Gadya" melody in Amsterdam in 1941, and the surviving members of his family sang it at their own Passover seders every year until Simon's death, said Ruth, who is 83.

Like any good cantor, he wrote his own music to different prayers, she said. But this song has particular significance because it was written during the Holocaust and 'Had Gadya' talks about trusting in God, who has saved his people from different troubles.

Ruth Maroko donated the original handwritten sheet music to Yad Vashem last year, in response to the Jerusalem Holocaust museum's call for personal items from the Holocaust period. Obama will receive an album containing a replica of the original sheet music, photos of the cantor and a copy of Simon's 1956 testimony describing what befell his father.

According to the testimony, Israel Eljasz Maroko was deported from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands on July 20, 1943. He was sent to Sobibor and died three days later.

The cantor is one of the Holocaust victims memorialized in the Hall of Names, which Obama will visit on his Yad Vashem tour.

Maroko was very well-known in Amsterdam, even among non-Jews, his daughter-in-law said. The princess of Holland came to listen to him, and on Friday nights, non-Jews would come to the synagogue to hear him sing, she said.

Ruth Maroko, who was born in Latvia and moved with her family to Palestine in 1935, met Simon at Kibbutz Mishmarot in the north of the country, where she was working as a teacher.

The couple moved to Amsterdam so Simon could resume his medical studies, which had been interrupted by the war. After he received his degree, the Marokos moved to the United States.

Ruth returned to her Michigan home this week from a trip to Israel, where she visited her grandson, who recently enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces.

I look at that as another circle that has closed, she said. Here my grandson is back in Israel after we moved to America.

The musical notes to an original Passover melody composed by the former chief cantor of Amsterdam.
The former chief cantor of Amsterdam
The Hall of Names at Yad Vashem.Credit: AP

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