In April 1946, the She’erith Hapletah, the Surviving Remnant, celebrated their first Passover following liberation. In the many bittersweet Seders celebrated that Spring, these survivors, just a few months from their own captivity, gathered in the DP camps to remember their ancestors’ bondage in Egypt. Many used traditional Haggadot donated from Israel or the United States, while others read from works created by fellow survivors.
Among these new Haggadot was one written and arranged by Yosef Dov Sheinson, a Lithuanian Jew who had survived four years of internment and heavy labor under the Nazis. This work, initially published through the joint efforts of two Zionist organizations, was reprinted by the U.S. Third Army, the Army of Occupation for Southern Germany, and used for a communal Seder in Munich on April 15 and 16, 1946.
Despite this very public debut, it was far from a traditional Haggadah. Using the basic structure of a Haggadah and invoking familiar themes and images, Sheinson draws parallels between the experience of the Jews under Pharaoh and those under Hitler. The Exodus becomes the liberation of the camps, and the Promised Land, the Zionist’s new Israel, but all of this comes with one chief difference. In this post-Holocaust Haggadah, where faith lives on and yet has died, God is absent, his promise unfulfilled. The hand lifted against Hitler is not God’s, but the Allies’; the power wielded is not the ten plagues, but military force.
Nowhere is this shift more apparent than in Sheinson’s refashioned dayenu. Rather than reciting God’s blessings upon Israel, it bitterly recalls the centuries of persecution Jews have had to bear, culminating with the horrors of the Holocaust, and ends with the bold assertion, “[S]ince all these have befallen us, we must make Aliyah..., build the chosen land, and make a home for ourselves.” God is no longer the deliverer. Instead, the Jews must rely upon others, and even more so, upon themselves.
This book, a facsimile of Sheinson’s original work, comes to our attention now due to the efforts of Saul Touster, who discovered a copy stored in his attic among his father’s papers fifty years after its original publication. The work includes reproductions of the original Hebrew and Yiddish text, including its illustrated borders (hand-drawn by Sheinson), and seven stark woodcuts of scenes from the camps by Miklos Adler, a fellow survivor. The translation of the text and Touster’s commentary appears on the facing pages. His introduction relates the fascinating history of Sheinson’s Haggadah and Adler’s woodcuts, and his endnotes and appendix expand on this history.
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