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The Hitler Haggadah

A telling example of how the Jews of the 1940s saw the Holocaust in comparison to the Exodus from Egypt

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The Haggadah is the story of the Exodus told every year around the Passover Seder table. The Haggadah opens up with the question, “How is this night different from every other night of the year?” The rest of the Haggadah is the answer to this question.

Being such a central event in Jewish life, the Haggadah has its own interpretation genre. And being so formative, attempts have been made to provide alternative versions to the traditional text that at times address special events and cater to the needs of secular Jews. An example is one Kibbutz Haggadah that addresses the COVID pandemic, which last year created the unprecedented situation wherein this family festival had to be celebrated in isolation. The question of “how is this night different from every other night of the year?” was answered with “every Seder we celebrate with grandfathers and uncles. This night everyone is in quarantine.”

This short introduction is needed to understand The Hitler Haggadah, in which the whole Exodus story is told as if it was happening all over again during World War II and the Holocaust. This one-of-a-kind Haggadah was written in 1943 by Nissim ben Shimon, a Moroccan Jew from the city of Rabat, who watched in horror how the Jews of Europe were decimated. The text itself was written in a Hebrew Arabic dialect, and possibly shows how Morocco understood the Holocaust, that is, an event that led to the second Exodus. A few examples from this Haggadah serve to show how the author compared the two events.

The opening two paragraphs of The Hitler Haggadah.

The Haggadah opens with a paragraph referencing “this unleavened bread” that ends with “this year we are slaves. Next year free people.” The Hitler Haggadah changed it to “this unleavened bread, these paled faces of our fathers who feared Hitler … next year free in Palestine.”

The section of the Haggadah that starts with “we cried out to our God and he heard our voice,” and ends with the Ten Plagues, is changed in The Hitler Haggadah to “we cried out to Roosevelt may his name be blessed, as it says: Hindenburg died, and Hitler rose up from the place of his destruction … and Roosevelt heard their cry.”

Likewise, instead of the traditional “we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…,” The Hitler Haggadah reads: “We were slaves to hateful Hitler, but the Allies have saved us from his hand … if the British and the Americans would have not come, we wouldn’t have been saved.”

Or instead of the story about Rabbi Eliezer and his friends discussing the Exodus all night long, The Hitler Haggadah tells another story in which “great Mussolini, Hitler and Goering the bastard, Ribbentrop and [Henry] Channon the Italian, were conspiring all night long, until the angels of destruction … threw them into the furnace.”

So with the Ten Plagues, seen as inflicted by the Allies upon Germany. According to The Hitler Haggadah, the Ten Plagues were “propaganda, bombing, panic, sirens, black-outs, trenches, miscarriages, refugees, hiding in basements, black market.”

And in The Hitler Haggadah, generals take the place of the sages, so “Rabbi Colonel Knox says … Rabban Montgomery says” and so on. But perhaps most striking of all, the Allies’ leaders take the place of God, which is why “we must thank Russia and praise Stalin … glorify America and exalt de Gaulle … before whom we will say Hallelujah.” That is not to say that God is absent. He is present, but hardly, “blessed be He who has brought the English and the Americans,” who did the rest of the work. The absent God is a major problem troubling post-Holocaust Judaism.

At any rate, Avishai Bar Asher, who studied this unique Haggadah in depth, says that it is this change of roles, where generals are rabbis and Allied leaders are god-like, that shows that the author never intended his Haggadah to replace the original one. Instead, says Bar Asher, the author uses allegory dotted with satire, irony and humor to describe an otherwise unbelievable event, reminiscent of the almost unbelievable event of the Exodus.

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