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Haggadot Then and Now - A Book Review

The Haggadah penned by Jewish soldiers from Palestine in Benghazi in 1943
The Egyptian Exodus from Egypt – Then and Now
By Aviram Paz
Maarechet Publishing House; Tel: 04 989 7558
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The author can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Over one hundred Haggadot written and illustrated by Jewish soldiers and refugees in the 1940s are featured in a 250 page hardcover publication entitled The Exodus from Egypt – Then and Now compiled by Israeli Judaica collector, historian and sculptor Aviram Paz.

"After making the decision to publish a book, the next difficult decision was to choose which of the Haggadot in my extensive collection to actually feature," explained Paz, an avid and highly respected collector not only of Haggadot but also of Hannukiot, Rosh Hashana greetings cards and a host of memorabilia, such as insignia, buttons and badges of soldiers serving in the Jewish Brigade and elsewhere in the Second World War.

Referring to the publication as an album, Paz explains that the Haggadot eventually chosen are divided into four sections. In the first section, some of the Haggadot featured were written by pre-State Israeli Jews who volunteered in the British Army during the early 1940s, fought in the deserts of North Africa and, as the Pesach holiday approached, created their own do-it-yourself versions with whatever material was available.

"From North Africa those soldiers continued on to Italy until the end of the war and then immediately mobilized to aid Holocaust survivors languishing in displaced persons camps throughout Europe. They helped the refugees to reach and build a new life in Israel," Paz explained to the Jewish Telegraph. 

The second section of the album is dedicated to the Haggadot of quarantined Jewish refugees in the transit and displaced persons camps; and the third section to Haggadot written by Haganah and Palmach emissaries who were sent to Europe to look after refugees and assist their aliyah to Israel. Also featured in this section are Haggadot created by those survivors whose aliyah to pre-State Israel was not only blocked by the British, but who then found themselves transported by the British directly from the illegal immigrant ships to British detention camps in Cyprus or Atlit in British Mandatory Palestine.

Intriguing Haggadot from the Haganah and Palmach divisions used during the War of Independence and much more are featured in the final and fourth section.

Among the Haggadot written and illustrated by Holocaust survivors featured in the second section is one penned in 1946 in the Bavarian town of Landsberg. The survivors made only 15 copies of the 60-page Landsberg Haggadah, where the survivors retold the story of their people's freedom from a previous incarnation. They were helped to prepare the Haggadot by emissaries from pre-State Israel. The Haggadah is handwritten in Hebrew but also has additional passages of accounts of the suffering of some of the camp inmates, the latter also handwritten, but in Yiddish.

Ironically, just over a decade prior to the liberated Holocaust survivors being housed in the Landsberg camp, and once more reiterating in writing the story of the Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land, Adolf Hitler - the mastermind of the Nazi atrocities against millions of Jews and others – dictated the first draft of his infamous book Mein Kampf whilst imprisoned in 1934 in the town of Landsberg.

The same prison was later used by the U.S. Army to hold Nazi war criminals sentenced to death during the Nuremberg trials prior to their sentences being carried out. Over 280 executions of war criminals were carried out at Landsberg prison, the last execution taking place in l951 - the same year that the last of the Jewish displaced persons, remnants of the Holocaust, were evacuated from the town.

A rather unique one among the many very special Haggadot featured in Aviram Paz's album was created in 1943 by Jewish soldiers from Palestine serving with the British Army in Benghazi, Libya. A dearth of paper did not deter the innovative adherents to tradition who wished to celebrate Pesach far from home as they would have had had they been able to join their families there. So they simply wrote up their version for the Pesach table in Libya on the flipside of official Libyan telegrams and abandoned Libyan military papers that they found. 

Hand-written pages from the Landsberg Haggadah

"The soldiers who wrote and illustrated the Benghazi Haggadah drove water supplies from bases in Alexandria to Benghazi. They drove through extremely tough desert terrain and by spring l943 had transported not less than 2 million gallons of water from Egypt to Libya. Unlike many other units of Jewish soldiers, the 405s as they were known were not transferred to Italy.

Paz finds it incredible that the Benghazi Haggadah survived, as the telegram paper used is extremely thin and fragile. But the messages on one side and Exodus story on the other are still clearly readable.

The avid Judaica collector estimates that this collection, within the wider collection of Haggadot Paz has accumulated over many years, contains roughly 90% of all Haggadot written and illustrated by serving soldiers in the 1940s. He is often consulted by other collectors from Israel and abroad and also invited to give lectures on his wide range of collections.

"I certainly hope this album, which is a preliminary documentation and study of the different Haggadot, will be used as an aid for research and further study of this important and interesting subject. Hopefully, the level of interest will be sufficient to give the impetus to start work on the next album of Haggadot or possibly other items from my collections", commented Paz.

Amiram Paz can be contacted by email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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