Before the Holocaust, approximately one-third of Warsaw was Jewish.
BY ILANIT CHERNICK APRIL 17, 2019 14:07
A Passover Seder will be held in the Warsaw Ghetto this week for the first time in 76 years.
On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out, which was on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover. German troops stormed the ghetto, intent on completing the deportation process within three days, yet were ambushed by Jewish rebels. This year, close to eight decades later, families of ghetto survivors will celebrate the Jewish festival of redemption together.
For the first time since the Warsaw ghetto was liquidated during World War II and all its residents were killed or deported to death camps, one hundred Diaspora Jewish families will celebrate a Passover Seder in the ghetto, along with the Rabbi of the local Lubavitch Jewish community and his family.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, Chief Rabbi of Chabad-Poland is hosting a special Passover Seder in what was formerly the Warsaw ghetto with approximately one hundred Jewish families from Israel, Europe and the USA expected to take part.
Yosef Nachum and Nakmi’a Ben-Shem are planning to fly in from Israel to participate in the Seder. Daughter Sharon Ben-Shem recalled that Warsaw Ghetto child prodigy Josima Feldschuh, «the celebrated young pianist of the Warsaw Ghetto, was my aunt.»
«She perished on April 21, 1943 shortly before her fourteenth birthday, while in hiding. Her very last meal took place the prior evening – the seder night of 1943,» Sharon said. «This year, we will be joining the Seder in Poland together with her family, her brother – my father – and sister – my aunt – and I.»
«We will be in Warsaw, in the seder night, in her city, precisely on the day that she passed away,» she added.
Sharon said that Warsaw was also home to her grandmother’s immediate and extended family. «It is deeply meaningful to us to be celebrating this festival of Passover together as free Jews in a place where so many, including our own family, perished tragically.”
The Seder will be divided into three groups and led in three different languages – Polish, Hebrew and English. Toward the end of the evening, they will merge and conclude the Seder as one.
Numbering among local guests are the members of the Szpilman family, whose uncle Władysław Szpilman was a world-famous pianist who survived the Holocaust. A film about Szpilman’s survival in hiding and on the run during the Holocaust, The Pianist, won several Oscars in 2003.
Albert Stankovski, director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum which is currently being constructed by the Polish government, will also attend.
“Before the War, approximately one-third of Warsaw was Jewish,” recounted Stankovski. “Commemorating pre-War Jewish Warsaw and celebrating the growth of the current Jewish community is of utmost importance to us.»
«The Passover celebration organized by Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler and Chabad Lubavitch is a vital part of this process,» he explained. «At the Warsaw Ghetto Museum…we aim to preserve, for future generations, the memory of the Jews of Warsaw who were imprisoned behind the ghetto walls during the German occupation and subsequently murdered in the German camps.”
The Warsaw Ghetto Museum will be housed in the historic building of the former Children’s Hospital established by Jewish families Bersohn and Bauman as a clinic for children of all faiths.
The Stambler family were sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to Warsaw with the mission of revitalizing Jewish life in Poland in 1991. Since then, the Stamblers have invested enormous energies to cultivate Jewish life, culture and resources in a city where Judaism was largely wiped out during the war. The communal Passover seder is one of their latest effort to rejuvenate the community and spread awareness of Jewish identity and Jewish life in Poland.
Yossi Stambler, Rabbi Stambler’s 13-year-old son will lead the Seder in Hebrew, while his father leads a parallel seder in Polish. Despite his youth, the boy has earned a reputation as a talented orator.
The English-language Seder will be led by several young Lubavitch rabbis from the U.S. who are traveling to Poland specially to participate in the event. One of them, Rabbi Levi Goldschmidt, is a great-great grandson of Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Gur-Aryeh, a well-known Jewish dignitary who lived in Warsaw before the war.
Gur-Aryeh was murdered in the ghetto massacre on Pesach. According to Holocaust historian Dr. Hillel Zaidman, on the eve of Passover 1943, Rabbi Gur-Aryeh and his family, along with other Lubavitch chassidim, covertly baked matzah at grave risk to their lives in order to be able to properly fulfill the commandments pertaining to the Jewish festival. The rabbi and his family perished together in the uprising.
The only survivor of the the family was Chaya, a daughter who was married to Rabbi Nachum Goldschmidt and lived in Tel Aviv. Goldschmidt’s grandson, who lives in New York, will be returning to his ancestor’s native land where he will co-host the Seder in English.
Rabbi Shalom Stambler said that this is «very significant for us to be celebrating Jewish holidays, and particularly the Seder night, which symbolizes Jewish freedom and the day that we united as a nation, in a place that not long ago others sought to destroy us. Throughout the ages, the Jewish people have been oppressed by many nations, yet we have always emerged triumphant!”