Librarian’s Lobby

By Daniel D. Stuhlman

Passover Story from Harvard
April 2000

 

This year the Library added 15 newly-published haggadot. They include editions with commentaries of Rabbi Itzhak Abarbanel, Chafetz Chayim (Hebrew and English versions), and Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenai. There are editions with English commentary by Ephraim Nisenbaum, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and an ArtScroll anthology. Thanks to gifts, the Library added many haggadot published in previous years to our collection. 1

Passover Story from Harvard

In the March-April issue of Harvard Magazine (page 92c) is an article by Deborah Schneider about Pesach Haggadah that was issued for a seder in the Munich, Germany, area on April 15-16, 1946. This was the first Pesach after World War II.

Saul Touster, a retired attorney and professor, was cleaning his father's papers and a pamphlet with the Army's big A, insignia of the Third Army fell to the floor. Upon examining it he found out it was a Pesach Haggadah. On the cover was the place and date, Munich Enclave, April 15-16, 1946. At first glance Touster thought the haggadah was for Army personnel in Germany, but as he examined it he was struck by the stark woodcuts of scenes from concentration camps. Touster realized that this haggadah recast the traditional text in terms of liberation from the camps.

Moved by the images, Touster decided to find out more about the pictures and why the Army published this booklet. He also wondered how the book came into his father's possession since his father had been a soldier in South Pacific and was never in Europe during the war or in 1946. After retiring from teaching American studies and legal studies at Brandeis, he had time to pursue his quest. This research project became like detective work as the pieces of the puzzle were assembled.

It took him two years to uncover the story. His father, Ben Touster, 1893-1979, was given the rare haggadah as a token of appreciation for his work helping displaced persons while board member and president of HIAS (1952-1956). His mother, Bertha Landau Touster, 1895-1973, was active in many Jewish charities and served as a leader in the women's division of HIAS. Touster found the name of the Lithuanian writer, Yosef Dov Sheinson,who edited and arranged the haggadah. The ink drawing and texts in modern Hebrew and Yiddish were his work. Touster found the American Army chaplain named in the book, Rabbi Abraham Klausner, living in retirement in Santa Fe. One of Rabbi Klausner's official duties was to hold services for American GIs. He bent the rules to hold a seder for camp survivors. He wanted to provide a seder and a square meal for the undernourished civilians.

Touster identified the woodcut artist with the help of an archivist at Yad Vashem. The artist was Miklos Adler, a Hungarian artist who survived the war.

With his search complete, Touster was able to write the introduction and commentary for the facsimile edition of the Survivor's Haggadah with an English translation published in a trade edition by the Jewish Publication Society, 2000. The Library has this book in our haggadah collection. A previous limited edition was published by the American Jewish Historical Society in 1998.

Pesach and American Soldiers

In looking over my father's memorabilia, I found a program and menu for a Pesach seder for soldiers that occurred in Casblanca in 1943. Jewish soldiers were allowed leave to go to Casablanca. My father had been in heavy fighting in Italy. He never talked about the fighting, but he remembered the sedarim. Since he had a powerful voice and loved to sing, he was able to help lead the singing.2 The ability of Jewish soldiers to gather and celebrate was very important for their morale. Frequently soldiers were subjected to anti-Semitism and racism by fellow soldiers and commanding officers. The holiday celebration was a time to leave the fighting and join with fellow Jews in the celebration of freedom. Since I have no notes of the event, I can only imagine what the leader of the Casblanca seder said about the struggle for Jews to leave Egypt and the struggle for the Army to win the War. He probably said the events were connected and now we should all act as free men.

In the book, God's Warriors, by Dov Peretz Elkins (Jonathan David Publishers, 1974) many stories are told of Jewish chaplains who helped take care of Jewish soldiers and save Jewish lives. Rabbi Judah Nadich was an advisor to General Eisenhower. Eisenhower and Nadich were instrumental in getting aid to Jews in DP camps. President Truman sent a very strongly worded letter to Eisenhower concerning the problems of helping the victims. General Patton was fired over the issue of how he dealt with the DPs. When released from the army in December 1945, Rabbi Nadich toured the world to tell what happened and to raise money to help the survivors. Eisenhower and Truman's policy of helping the Jews led directly to the Pesach seder of the Survivor's Haggadah.

In another chapter, Rabbi Elkins, tells of a seder in Goebbels' Castle in April 1945. The war was in its closing weeks. Chaplain Joseph S. Shubow was discussing Passover arrangements with his men. A few days after the discussion, the U.S. Army crossed the Rhine River. This was symbolically connected by the commanding officer of the Ninth Army, General John P. Anderson, to the Jews crossing the Yam Suf (Sea of Reeds). Rabbi Shubow wanted to make that Passover different and memorable to all the Jewish men of the Ninth Army. They learned about the meaning of freedom and talked about the connection between the tyrant of Germany and the Pharaoh. Rabbi Shubnow needed to find a place to hold a seder for 400 people. One of the local residents told him about the castle. The press officer was shocked and amazed. Not only did he help them, but made sure everyone knew of the irony. He wanted to write a script for a movie, because he never thought anyone would believe a documentary story of a Jewish Passover in the home of a Nazi. The words of the young soldier who said that the crossing of the Rhine would be like the exodus from Egypt proved prophetic. A few weeks, later the army took Berlin and Goebbels took his own life. We do not know if he knew about the Passover in his home.3


 Footnotes

1. For those of you keeping count-- two years ago I mentioned in this column that my personal collection had over 75 haggadot. I now have over 90.

2. After the War my father had dreams of being an actor and/or radio announcer. He never did either professionally. He kept up his singing and was a regular in the Yiddish Theater and other amateur theater groups.

3. On November 11, 2009 I received an e-mail from the great-grandnephew of Rabbi Shubnow. He corrected my statement about Goebbels not knowing about the seder in the Goebbels' home. Unfortunately, the source is the notorious Holocaust denier, David Irving, but there's no reason to think he falsified this fact. The book, Goebbels, Mastermind of the Third Reich It was published in the U.K. by Parforce in 1996 because the original US publisher objected to several sections. The books is available as a PDF download from http://www.fpp.co.uk/books/Goebbels/Goebbels.pdf.
This quote is from p. 899:

The Americans immediately founded ‘the first free newspaper" in Rheydt, just to spite Goebbels. Worse, an American army lieutenant held a Passover ceremony for three hundred Jewish soldiers in his parental home in Dahlener Strasse—a Corporal Sidney Talmud of Brooklyn set up a camp stove on the family porch and made pancakes for three hours. This really stuck in Goebbels’ craw.

Daniel D. Stuhlman is president of Stuhlman Management Consultants, a firm helping organizations turn data and information into knowledge. We are looking for new clients and opportunities. Visit the web site Stuhlman.biz to learn more about knowledge management and what our firm can do for you. Previous issues of Librarian's Lobby can be found at: http://home.earthlink.net/~DDStuhlman/liblob.htm.

Last revised November 11, 2009.
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