The Haggadah That Brought the Nazis to the Seder

A glimpse into a Haggadah written for the residents of the displaced persons camp in Munich, illustrated by a Holocaust survivor.

For many of the residents of the displaced persons camp in Munich in April, 1946, the upcoming Passover Seder symbolized more than the Jewish people’s historical redemption; it was the reality unfolding before their eyes. Many of the survivors clustered together in the displaced persons camp had hoped that they would celebrate Passover of 1947 far from the land where their loved ones had been slaughtered, far from the land in which the Nazis and their collaborators aimed to destroy them and the entire Jewish nation. Those in the know spoke about that Passover night as the “Seder of the exodus from Europe”.

Yosef Dov Sheinson, a resident of the camp, wanted to express this sentiment in a Haggadah which he wrote for the Seder in the displaced persons camp. The excerpts in Hebrew and Yiddish which Sheinson added to the traditional haggadah are accompanied by woodcuts by the Jewish-Hungarian artist Zvi Miklos Adler, who signed his name in the Haggadah as “Ben Binyamin”.

Depicting the horrors of the Holocaust which he himself experienced during the war years, Adler’s harsh drawings complement the text of the Haggadah. In an illustration corresponding with the well-known sentence “for not only one has risen against us to destroy us” we see a soldier shooting several wretched looking prisoners, while another soldier leads a group of stooped prisoners toward an unknown destination. The picture gradually fades away as the prisoners move away from the center of the event.

“For not only one has risen against us to destroy us”

The intertwining of traditional text and modern pictures illustrates the way the creators of the Haggadah grasped the historical moment in which they lived: in each and every generation a person must see himself as if he left Egypt, but it is not in every generation that a person undergoes horrors which darken his world and dwarf the suffering experienced by his ancestors.

“For Pharaoh only made decrees against the males, and Laban wished to uproot everything”

The need to talk about and deal with the terrible topic is tangibly and explicitly expressed in the Haggadah in an illustration which is hard to look at, and under which is written, “Therefore we are obligated…”

While this excerpt in the Haggadah is usually dedicated towards praise and thanksgiving to God for redeeming us from Egypt, the expression on the face of the survivor at the bottom of the picture shows quite the opposite.

“Therefore we are obligated…”


“And they oppressed us and imposed hard labor upon us”

Passover Seder in the U.S. Army

A copy of this haggadah reached Rabbi Avraham Klausner, an American army chaplain who was in the midst of preparing for a Seder of the U.S. Army forces stationed in Munich. He decided to conduct the Seder according to this haggadah, making a single change – he added an introduction addressed to soldiers in General Eisenhower’s army (whom Klausner compared in his introduction to a modern-day Moses).

Rabbi Klausner’s introduction is in the same vein as Sheinson and Adler’s work, equating Hitler with Pharaoh and the suffering the Jews endured in Egypt with what the Jews went through in the concentration and death camps.

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt”

The invite list to the Seder conducted by Rabbi Klausner in the Munich Theatre, held on the same night as the Seder of the displaced persons camp in Munich, is preserved in the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People. The list shows that only a few of the five hundred participants of the Passover Seder conducted by Rabbi Klausner were Holocaust survivors. The majority were soldiers in the U.S. armed forces.

A partial list of the invitees to the Passover Seder of the U.S. Army in Munich

The letter A was stamped on the title page of Rabbi Klausner’s private copy, indicating it belonged to the U.S. Army. On the same title page is the date and the location of the Seder at which the Haggadah was used: Munich, Germany, April 15-16, 1946″.

The title page of the Haggadah

Rabbi Klausner’s personal copy is currently stored in the Haggadah Collection of Aviram Paz. It was lent to the National Library for its “Next Year We Will Be Free Men” exhibition – an exhibition of unconventional Passover Haggadot from the years leading up to the founding of the state.

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NLI Participates in 66th Jewish Book Week

Thousands flock to the annual festival in London to engage in the extraordinary world of Jewish books.

At the start of March, the National Library of Israel participated in the 66th Jewish Book Week– London’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and one of the leading Jewish literary events in the world.

With thousands of people flocking to the annual festival, Jewish Book Week consistently features a fascinating, extensive and varied program, presenting writers and speakers from across the world, from the most prominent of authors, to the first-time published.

Dr. Stefan Litt, archival expert for European language holdings at the NLI, along with writer George Prochnik, and Professor Susan Suleiman, participated in a panel chaired by Rebecca Abrams on “The Jewish Question in 20th Century Literature,” to discuss how some of the leading writers of the last century identified as Jews and how this impacted their writing.

Dr. Stefan Litt, George Prochnik, Professor Susan Suleiman, participate in a panel chaired by Rebecca Abrams.

The NLI holds the personal archives and materials from several of the writers who were discussed by the panel – including Stefan Zweig, Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin, and Franz Kafka.

“During the panel, Susan expressed a unique take on the subject,” said Stefan Litt. “She divided the Jewish question into two parts: Where do I see myself as a Jew in the non-Jewish world, and where do I see myself as a Jew in the Jewish world.”

“This panel was important as self- identification is still a question for authors and their writings today,” explained Dr. Litt.

Dr. Zvi Leshem, Director of the Gershom Scholem Collection and Judaica reference librarian at the National Library of Israel, chaired a discussion with George Prochnik, author of Gershom Scholem – Stranger in a Strange Land, a book that explores the life of Scholem, the renowned researcher of the Kabbalah, and his emigration from Berlin to the Land of Israel in 1923.

Dr. Zvi Leshem and George Prochnik discuss “Gershom Scholem – Stranger in a Strange Land”

“It is interesting to see how many people are still interested in Gershom Scholem. Our session was packed,” said Zvi Leshem.

“During the panel we discussed the continued interest in Scholem and his work and concluded that Scholem represents more than just himself. His trajectory as the 20th century academic trying to find his own path to Jewish identity through the Kaballah is something that resonates,” explained Dr. Leshem.

On the final day of the festival, the NLI hosted a session on “The Story of Hebrew,” a book by Professor Lewis Glinert that explores the historical narrative of the Hebrew language.

Professor Lewis Glinert and Jeremy Dauber discuss “The Story of Hebrew.”

Professor Glinert and Jeremy Dauber discussed the importance of the Hebrew language and its unique preservation by the Jewish people across history to its modern renewal- both spoken and written Hebrew – over the last 70 years.

The session opened with a video presentation “Letter of Lights,” featuring a deeper look into the art installation created by Micha Ullman for the new National Library building in Jerusalem.

Emmy Noether: The Jewish Mathematician Who Changed the World

Emmy Noether faced many challenges on her way to fulfill her passion for mathematics, as an educated and Jewish woman in Germany between the world wars.

Professor Emmy Noether (on the left) with mathematicians at Göttingen, Spring 1931 From the Emmy Noether Mathematical Institute

The Early Years

The mathematician Amalie Emmy Noether was born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, to a traditional Jewish family with a passion for mathematics. Her father, Max Noether, was a renowned professor of mathematics, and her younger brother also worked in the field. Noether originally chose to study teaching – a track open to educated women at the time – and specialized in teaching languages. After completing her studies, she decided to dedicate herself to the family business of mathematics.

But how could she study mathematics at university when women were forbidden to do so? Noether came up with a solution. As she was forbidden from registering herself for studies, she attended lectures of the mathematics department as an observer. Many of the lecturers who taught her were friends and colleagues of her father’s. They were very impressed by the younger Noether’s mathematical prowess, and eventually allowed her to sit in on examinations for the courses she took.

Noether completed her doctorate summa cum laude in 1907.

The Fight for Fulfillment

Noether did not make do with a mere certificate. She wanted to continue to study and teach in the field in which she excelled, but the only positions open to her were those of an unpaid teaching assistant. She couldn’t teach under her name, only under the name of other lecturers.

In 1915 she received an invitation from Felix Klein to join the mathematics department at Göttingen University, where the greatest mathematicians in Germany of the time gathered, at least until the Nazi rise to power. In Göttingen, Noether could teach, for no payment, under the name of the mathematician David Hillbert. Hillbert taught the first class of the course and Noether then taught the rest of the classes as a “teaching assistant”.

Her colleagues, Felix Klein and David Hillbert, tried to help her attain permission to teach at the university under her own name, and sent an application to the Ministry of Education requesting that Noether be given a position as an external lecturer. They expressed their concern that if Noether should not receive a permanent position, she will move to another university and Göttingen University will lose a talented mathematician. The response they received from the Ministry of Education proves that it was impossible for women of that time to teach under their own names and to receive a salary for their work. Talented mathematicians, such as Emmy Noether, were simply unable to advance in their profession and make a living from it.

Letter from the Ministry of Education. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Berlin, July 20, 1917

With regard to accepting women to teaching positions, the regulations of Frankfurt University are identical to those of all the universities: women are not allowed to be appointed to positions of external lecturers. It is completely impossible to make an exception to the rule in one university. Therefore, your concern that Miss Noether will leave, move to Frankfurt and receive a position there is completely unfounded: she will not be given the right to teach there, just as she will not receive such a thing in Göttingen or in any other university. The Minister of Education has expressed this time and time again and emphasized that it supports its predecessor’s instructions, and therefore women will not be permitted to receive teaching positions in universities.

Therefore, there is no concern that you will lose Miss Noether as an external lecturer in Frankfurt University.

Two years later, in June 1919, Noether finally received permission to teach under her own name due to changes in legislation that were passed at the end of the First World War. She received the position of an external lecturer with low wages, without tenure, and without any social benefits.

Noether was glad she could remain and teach in Göttingen. The place was a magnet for the foremost minds of the period, with whom she could hold endless discussions on mathematical topics, express her creative mathematical thinking and continue to develop her work on the topic, which was her greatest desire.

March 12, 1918, a letter to Felix Klein, professor of mathematics in Göttingen on the topic of her research. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Noether was a colorful and cheerful figure. She had round glasses perched on her nose and always dressed in loose comfortable clothes. She was very concerned for her sickly father and brothers. Perhaps she dreamed of love or of children of her own, but she never married and never started a family.

The time she taught in Göttingen, between the two world wars, was a period of flourishing for Noether. She was full of inspiration, generous in her ideas for research and advice for her students and colleagues and she cultivated a group of student-admirers known as “Noether’s children”.

The Nazi Rise to Power: Dismissal of the Jews from Göttingen

Emmy Noether’s letter of dismissal. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Letter of the Prussian Minister for Science, Art and Adult Education, Berlin, September 2, 1933

The Prussian minister responsible for science, art and adult education,

On the basis of article 3 of “The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” from April 1933, I nullify your teaching permit in Göttingen University.

Signed, Stuckhart, on behalf of the minister


To the external lecturer Professor Ms. Dr. Emmy Noether in Göttingen.

True copy of the report from August 7, 1933.

For your information, please note and carry out.

The wages of Professor Emmy Noether must be ceased as of end of September 1933.

In Göttingen she encountered the work of Albert Einstein and worded the mathematical equations which stemmed from his general theory of relativity. According to “Noether’s theorem” which deals with the relationship between symmetry and the conservation laws of nature “each law of conservation represents symmetry of the nature at its foundation, and every symmetry in nature provides a law of conservation”. These formulae which Einstein himself was unable to phrase in mathematical language, have tremendous impact on modern physics to this very day.

Göttingen served as one of the foremost centers of mathematics in Germany, until the Nazi party rose to power. Like Noether, many of the researchers and teachers in the institution were Jewish. Noether continued to teach there until the publication of the new Nazi racial laws in 1933, which included the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” – a law which led to the dismissal of all the Jews from their positions.

A year after the Jews were dismissed from the institute, the Nazi Minister of Culture Bernhard Rust asked the non-Jewish mathematician David Hillbert (who unsuccessfully fought against the law) about the truth behind the rumor that the mathematic institute suffers greatly since the dismissal of the Jews and their supporters.

Hillbert replied that the institute did not suffer, it simply no longer exists.

Fulfilling the Dream

With the help of Albert Einstein, who had already reached America at that time (and was unable to return to Germany, where the Nazis had dismissed him from his position and burned his works), Noether receive a position in the Bryn Mawr Women’s College in Pennsylvania. She emigrated to America, and for the first time in her life, taught and earned respect, honor and full employment. She was invited to deliver weekly lectures at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, but as a woman could not be appointed for a teaching position at the university.

Noether taught in Bryn Mawr College for a year and a half. In 1935, she became ill and underwent a simple operation that went awry. She died a few days later at the age of 53.

Noether’s picture hangs in almost every room of the mathematics faculty of Bar Ilan University, in the research institute named after her. Students of mathematics throughout the world are familiar with her, but more people should know about the incredible contribution made by Amalie Emmy Noether, who paved a path for women in the world of mathematics and science, and changed the face of the world by giving names and formulae to the physical laws that perpetuate our world. Essentially, modern physics as a whole owes her a debt of gratitude.

Photograph of Amalie Emmy Noether. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

“Within the past few days a distinguished mathematician, Professor Emmy Noether, formerly connected with the University of Göttingen and for the past two years at Bryn Mawr College, died in her fifty-third year. In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

(From the obituary for Professor Emmy Noether written by Albert Einstein in the New York Times, 1935)

Thanks to Chaya Herr from the Edelstein Collection for her help in writing the article.

A Nice Jewish Doll: She Goes By “Barbie”

How Ruth Moskowitz Handler, the Jewish creator of the Barbie doll, changed history and the toy industry forever.

"Barbie Reads Torah" by Jen Taylor Friedman, HaSoferet. Posted with permission

When Ruth Handler (formerly Moskowitz) traveled to Switzerland in 1956 with her family – her husband Elliot and their children Barbara and Kenneth – they came across a small figurine in a shop with a striking appearance: she was blonde, thin, and tall at 11 inches (28 cm). Her name was Lilli.

Bild’s “Lilli”

The Lilli doll was a novelty item for adults. The all-American Barbie doll, named for little Barbara Handler of course, debuted in 1959 would soon become a mass-produced doll for young girls (and also boys, we don’t judge, and neither should you). Barbie eventually solidified her status as the most popular doll in the history of toys. The Ken doll, which debuted a few years later, was named for Ruth Handler’s son Kenneth, of course.

Elliot, Ruth, Barbara, and Kenneth Handler in their home, 1960s. From Ruth Handler’s, “Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story”, 1994.

Ruth Handler’s story, and Barbie’s, is part and parcel of the American story. The daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Ruth Moskowitz was born the youngest of 10 children in Denver, Colorado. As a teenager she was sent to be a shop-girl in her aunt’s store, where she not only learned the basics of running a business, she fell in love with it.

During her marriage to Elliot Handler, the two formed a plastic and wood business, making props and toys for Hollywood studios and toy shops nationwide. Along with another business partner, the Handlers formed “Mattel”.

In 1959, after three years of development, Barbie sprang fully formed into the world, bathing suit and all. Barbie was a child’s toy with adult outfits, accessories, and most importantly – a job.

The first Barbie, 1959

Handler herself wrote in her autobiography, “Dream Doll”:

“The idea had been the result of the many times I had observed my daughter Barbara playing with paperdolls with her friends… Barbara and her friends always insisted on playing with adult female paperdolls. They were simply not interested in baby paperdolls or even those representing ten-year-olds, their own age… I discovered something very important: They were using these dolls to project their dreams of their own futures as adult women.”

The Barbie doll was the first “adult” doll intended for girls – not a doll in the shape of a baby or a child, but one with which the young girl could play at being a grown up. Barbie was a loyal, mature companion.

Contemporary Barbie

The Barbie doll may not have a particularly Jewish “look”, but her heritage is Jewish and full of chutzpah. Ruth Handler was ambitious and held her own in the male-dominated world of business. She thought of young girls not merely as consumers, but as the future generation of women in America and all around the world. Well, almost all. Back in 2003 Saudi officials declared the “Jewish Barbie Dolls” a threat to morality.

You can’t please everyone.

Though Barbie’s Jewish roots may be bleached blonde, they are undeniable. Just by immigrating from Europe, changing her name and weaving herself into the very fabric of American life, the Barbie doll became an international sensation – a cultural icon that is both inspired and inspirational.


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