By Solly Ganor
Munich, April 12, 1946
“There is no such thing as a “bad” or ‘good’ exile. Every exile leads to extinction.” Holocaust survivor Sheinson.
The harsh winter of 1946 in Munich was coming to an end. Spring was in the air and the Passover holiday was approaching. For us, Holocaust survivors, it was of tremendous significance. It was our first Passover Seder after our liberation. We were going to celebrate a double holiday of Freedom. One for the exodus of the Jews from Egypt and the other, our Exodus from Hitler’s concentration camps. Yet the two events were vastly different. Moses managed to bring the whole Jewish people to freedom, whereas only a fraction of European Jewry survived the Holocaust. What were we to do? Spend the rest of our lives mourning for our nearest and dearest? The calamity was so enormous that had we mourned for a thousand years, it would not even make the tiniest dent in our grief. We also knew that those who perished wouldn’t want us to do that. Their expressed wish was never to forget them, but to go on with our lives, rebuild the Jewish nation from scratch in our own homeland in Israel.
The debate of what should be the fate of the Sheerit Hapleta (the saved remnant) was going on in the DP camps all over Germany. Most of us were still in shock of the incredible liberation, when we were convinced that the Nazis would finish us off before their end came. Most of us were in a forced denial trying to shut out the gruesome experiences that no human being should have ever been subjected to. We couldn’t function without that denial. The black hole of the Holocaust trauma would have swallowed us alive. But there was one thing that the majority agreed upon, that there is no other place for us, but Eretz Israel.
The project of the survivors Haggadah was born in Munich and the person whose brainchild it was, was my father’s friend Sheinson. He had the idea that we survivors should have our own Haggadah, different from the traditional one. He was a fellow survivor from Lithuania, and he literally became obsessed with the project. Some thought it was a way of trying to forget what happened to him and his family. Not only did he write much of the text, but was involved in all the phases of its complicated logistics. He often consulted fellow Lithuanian Jews, among them my father, but he always made his final decision what to include and what to exclude from the Haggadah. I remember some of the arguments involving the text, as he advocated Allyah to Israel as the only way remaining to us survivors. Especially one sentence was objected by some: He wrote in Yiddish: “Nito kein shlechter oder guter goles. Yeder goles firt zum untergang.” (There is no such thing as a “bad” or ‘good’ exile. Every exile leads to extinction.)
You must understand, that there were those among us, who were tired, dispirited, mourning after their nearest and dearest who perished in the Holocaust. The idea of going to Israel to face strife, hard work and war, after what they went through was impossible to accept. They simply couldn’t take it anymore. Those of us who were determined to make Aliyah, could understand them. They simply didn’t have it in them to continue to struggle indefinitely, as the struggle in Eretz Israel seemed to indicate. Still, Sheinson included that sentence, despite some protests.
The person who worked tirelessly to help us was U.S. Army chaplain Rabbi Abraham Klausner. He played an important role in all phases of our existence in Bavaria. From helping to establish the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Bavaria, to founding the first Yiddish newspaper (Unzer Weg).
My father, who was one of the founders of the first Hebrew school in Munich and a member of the Central Committee, couldn’t praise Rabbi Klausner enough for all he did for us survivors.
It was Rabbi Klausner who helped with the logistics of having the Haggadah printed. The printing of the Haggadah was done by a group that called itself “Achida.” They were fellow survivors from Kovno Ghetto, who tried to avoid getting involved in the politics of the Yishuv in Eretz Israel. Ironically, the Haggadah was printed by a former Nazi printing house named Bruckman, who published during the war Nazi propaganda.
The two editors of Unzer Weg, Levi Shalit and Israel Kaplan, both fellow Lithuanians, took the Haggadah to Rabbi Klausner who accepted it and had it printed through army press facilities. There were some changes introduced by Klausner. The new cover was emblazoned with the tricolor insignia, in the middle of which there was a large white capital A, for the Third Army. (The army of occupation of Bavaria.) There was a poetic two-page introduction in English by Rabbi Klausner.
“And the khaki-clad sons of Israel commanded by Lt. General Trust gathered together as was the custom in Israel, to celebrate the Passover Festival.”
Was the first sentence of the part of the Haggadah. The next page said in small letters: “We were slaves to Hitler in Germany”
Following was a Hebrew version and a Yiddish version of the Haggadah. Some of it was traditional text, but much was written by Sheinson’s anguished soul, reflecting the anger of the horrors inflicted on us and hope for a new life in Eretz Israel.
Here is a passage in the Haggadah that Sheinson wrote. It is full of bitterness and irony towards the world.
“When the righteous among the nations of the world saw that Hitler had decided to exterminate Israel, their great assembly came together and out of their great sorrow decided to keep silent. And the righteous among them say: How can we in our weakness save Israel from the hands of the evil man! Perhaps this is the hand of G-d and who are we to interfere in the conduct of this world. And the people see how Israel is swimming in their blood and they pass by. And the children of Israel groaned and cried out but were not heard. And they cried out to the Lord, the G-d of their fathers, who saw their suffering and oppression, and their cry went up. And that man of evil, Hitler, made instruments of destruction which he sent across the sea, killing many. Babies were being killed and still no one knew what to do about it. Finally, the enemies of that man of evil grew indignant, and they girded themselves and unleashed against that man of evil and his people great wrath, rage and fury, disaster, and a band of avenging angels, afflicting them with two hundred and fifty plagues. And G-d hardened Hitler’s heart. And instruments of destruction, and eagles of iron and copper shower fire and brimstone upon his garrison cities, killing man and beasts alike.
And a multitude of chariots, as plenty as the sands of the sea, sweep across the land of the evil man, and destroy him, and the Holocaust survivors (Sheerit Hapletah, the saved remnant) are rescued and redeemed.
When peace came down on earth, the people of Israel were gathering. The surviving remnants were coming out of the caves, out of forests, and out of death camps, returning to the land of their exile. The people of those lands greeted them and said: We thought you were no longer alive, and here you are, so many of you. And they sent the survivors all sorts of messages, telling them to leave the land, even killing them. And the people of Israel ran for their lives; they were sneaking across borders only to be robbed of everything they had. And they abandoned their homes, and they saved their lives, and they went to Bavaria in order to go up to our Holy Land.”
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This is but a small example of what is written in the Haggadah, we called survivor’s Haggadah, but some, rightfully, call it Sheinson’s Haggadah.
The full text of the Haggadah with an inspiring introduction by Professor Saul Touster can be obtained from the American Jewish Historical Society, in New York. ID # ISBN 0-911934-50-2
I would like to add that what makes the Haggadah even more unique are the printings of the original woodcuts surrounding each page. It was supplied by a superb artist and fellow survivor, Miklos Adler.