Passover in Auschwitz

Haggadah Section: -- Exodus Story

Menachem Mendel of Kotzk maintained that "whoever believes in miracles is a fool; and whoever does not believe in miracles is an atheist."

How can the idea of the miraculous be meaningful to us today? We may be guided by the biblical Hebrew term for miracle, nes, which means "sign." A miracle is an event that signifies something of significance, something that makes an important difference in my life or in the life of my community. A miracle is an intimation of an experience of transcending meaning. The sign-miracle does not refer to something beyond or contrary to logic or nature. It refers to events and experiences that make us take notice of the extraordinary in the ordinary, the wonder in the everyday, the marvel in the routine. Signs do not violate reason or nature. They are natural moments in our lives that we recognize as transforming.

—Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

Passover in Auschwitz, as told by Rabbi Nissen Mangel

How it happened I don't know, suddenly we hear tonight is Pesach / Passover. Passover as everyone knows is the festival of liberation, when the Jewish people were liberated from the bondage, the enslavement in Egypt, the liberation. And people celebrate, Passover!

We heard tonight is Passover; our barrack had over 1,000 inmates who were Jews. We have to celebrate! Afterwards, at that time I didn’t think of it, what did we celebrate? Liberty? Freedom? We were much more enslaved than the Jews in Egypt... In Egypt not six million Jews were killed, not even one million were killed. Children were drowned in the Nile, but one and a half million children in the Holocaust. They at least had some food in Egypt, what did we have? We were eating earthworms, but nobody questions that it is a festival, a holiday of liberation, we have to celebrate.

Everyone sits up on their cot. How do we celebrate? It’s called the Haggada; there is a certain ritual, a certain prayer that you say. I remembered the "Mah Nishtana," I said with my childish voice loud, and the whole barrack, a thousand people, sings after me. Someone else remembered "Shema Yisroel," a different section. We sang "Ani Ma'amin" ("I believe"). singing songs of liberation from Egypt

And can you imagine 1,000 people singing, the SS comes in... Such a thing is unheard of! Singing in a concentration camp, in a death camp? Singing? The SS comes in with his rifle, and he says "If you don’t go to sleep immediately, you will all be shot!" and it wasn't just a threat, he meant it.  So of course everyone hit their pillow, the plank of wood. Believe me ladies and gentlemen it didn't take 10 minutes. The SS walked out of the barrack, and everyone jumped up again to sing. This time he comes in again, furious! He held up the gun, "Everyone go to sleep.” If you don't do this immediately everyone will be shot!" Of course everyone laid down again. He came, he left, a third time.

Everyone sat up singing, praying... we couldn't dance but, we were celebrating the festival of liberation. Was everyone in this barracks religious? Certainly not, I am sure there were some assimilated Jews, nonreligious Jews. But at this moment everyone realized it was Passover, the day of liberation. Not one person protested! No one said, "If you want to do it, go do it somewhere else!" “And sing there and pray there, but don't endanger my life.” Not one person raised their voice like this. Then I saw every Jew is a believer! The only question, some unconsciously, some consciously. This is when I saw every Jew believes.

Three times the SS warned us, you are going to be shot, to be killed. We know the SS did this! But we jumped up and continued celebrating. He came in and he looked around bewildered, and we were sure this was our end... Ladies and gentleman, he looked around several times and walked out.

Rabbi Nissen Mangel

Colorado State University

February 23rd 2015

(1:35 - 1:40)

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