The tale of Hitler’s Haggadah in Morocco
If you’re looking to add some novelty to your Pesach seder, why not consider bringing Hitler’s Haggadah to your table?
Before you express outrage, rest assured that the Nazi dictator didn’t own or publish his own Haggadah. This unique volume named after him was in fact penned by a Jew, and while it may not be a traditional Haggadah, it adds a meaningful dimension of salvation to the timeless account of Jewish redemption.
Called Hitler’s Haggadah, this supplemental text has garnered considerable attention in the press in recent years. It’s believed to have been written by a Jew called Nissim ben Shimon, also called Simon Coiffeur (Simon hairdresser) in French on the book’s cover, in Rabat, Morocco, in about 1943. It followed the 1942 Allied invasion, Operation Torch, that brought about an eventual Allied victory against the Axis powers in French North Africa.
In a novel spin on the Pesach story, the text recounts the events of that invasion, and frames them within the familiar narrative. Writing under what is probably a pseudonym, the author presents a wartime Pesach narrative in Judeo-Arabic, inserting large pieces of the original Haggadah text while injecting certain novelties into the narrative.
“He does actually what the sages have told us for generation upon generation: to see ourselves as if we are part of the exodus,” Jonnie Schnytzer, a PhD candidate at Bar-Ilan University, reportedly told American Jewish news outlet, The Forward, earlier this month.
Schnytzer discovered the text in 2019, and has since worked on translating and adapting it for re-publication this year under the title, The Hitler Haggadah: A Moroccan Jew’s Wartime Retelling of the Passover Story.
“[The author] suddenly sees ‘wow this is happening today’,” Schnytzer says. “The Allied forces, instead of G-d, are the ones that bring plagues upon Hitler, instead of Pharaoh. He’s retelling a story, the story of his generation, which is the Allied forces beating Hitler and Mussolini.”
While the text’s format is familiar, names and locations are often altered, with Rabbi Joseph Stalin asking how Berlin suffered 10 plagues and Hamburg a whopping 50; the Royal Airforce named as a plague; and Mussolini cast as the son who doesn’t know how to ask.
The Axis forces are treated similarly in the text, which poses the question: “This Italy that we are fighting, for what reason?” It goes on to explain, “Because of Mussolini, who stuck to Hitler, saying, ‘Be careful not to betray me.’ And He brought upon them Montgomery, and their dough didn’t even have time to turn into macaroni. And then the Eighth Army appeared, and they immediately fled.”
Comically, the writer adds that “they baked the dough and made spaghetti. When they kicked them out of Egypt, and they didn’t have time to shape [the dough]. Nor did they even have time to fast.”
Schnytzer writes in his blog at The Times of Israel that the text is “deep, dramatic, and sometimes comical”. “Above all, it carries an inspiring message of Jewish unity, solidarity, and a shared fate.
“One might think it’s tasteless to have chosen such a title, but bear in mind that Hitler’s Haggadah wasn’t a traditional Haggadah but more of a supplement, giving a rewritten take, a modern reading of the Magid section.”
Beyond that, the text is also a crucial window onto the oft neglected experience of North African Jewry during the war, addressing what Schnytzer calls a “black hole” of awareness. According to the Jewish Museum of Berlin, Jews living in North Africa were constantly threatened by the Germans during the North African campaign from 1940 to 1943. In the German-allied French colonies of the Vichy regime, racial laws and forced labour camps had already been established for the Jewish population.
Moreover, Nazi forces occupied Tunis for a time, establishing labour camps in which Jews perished from disease and lack of food. Morocco, too, faced the grim reality of anti-Jewish laws and ghetto confinement in some cases. Fortunately, the tables were turned by the Allied victory, a miracle and inspiration for the Haggadah’s author.
“It’s important for each of us to understand the narratives and stories of different groups, and ideally, for it to become part of how we see ourselves as Jews,” Schnytzer reportedly told The Forward.
“There’s an incredible message here, an inspirational message of Jewish solidarity, because he’s a Jew living in Rabat, in North Africa, and yet he’s worried about what’s going on with his brethren in Germany, in Poland.”
Thanks to Schnytzer’s efforts, the text has become widely available internationally, featuring unique artwork and an accessible translation. The project was initially backed and funded on the Headstart funding platform, but is now available for purchase on Amazon.
“When I first read Hitler’s Haggadah, I fell in love with the work,” Schnytzer writes on the Headstart page. “Not only because of its charm, but also because it opened a window into a whole new world for me, another piece of the diverse mosaic called the Jewish people.
“Hitler’s Haggadah, in spite of its name, is an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the part of the narrative of North African Jewry, precisely on a night whose sole purpose is to tell the story of our people – a people originally from one place, in time scattered across the globe and now, many generations later, which has a homeland once more.”
- ‘The Hitler Haggadah’ can be bought on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Hitler-Haggadah-Moroccan-Retelling-Passover/dp/1951324013
The never-ending voice
And Charlton Heston came down from Mount Sinai and gave us the ten commandments. Oops! Sorry, make that Moses. And he was carrying the tablets with the Big 10, repeated this week in Deuteronomy as part of Moses’ review of the past 40 years. He describes how G-d spoke those words in a mighty voice that didn’t end.
Rashi writes that Moses is contrasting G-d’s voice with human voices. The finite voice of a human being, even a Pavarotti, will fade and falter. It cannot go on forever. But the voice of the Almighty didn’t end, didn’t weaken. It remained strong throughout.
Is this all the great prophet had to teach us about the voice of G-d? That it was a powerful baritone? Is the greatness of the Infinite One, that he didn’t suffer from shortness of breath, that He didn’t need a few puffs of Ventolin? Is this a meaningful motivation for the Jews to accept the Torah?
Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He foresaw what no other prophet could see. Perhaps he saw his people becoming caught up in the civilization of ancient Greece, in the beauty, culture, philosophy, and art of the day. And they might question, “Is Torah still relevant?”
Perhaps he foresaw Jews empowered by the industrial revolution, where they might have thought Torah to be somewhat backward. Or maybe it was during the Russian Revolution, where faith and religion were deemed to be absolutely primitive.
Maybe Moses saw our own generation, with space shuttles and satellites, teleprompters and technology. And he saw young people questioning whether the good book still spoke to them.
And so, Moses tells us that the voice that thundered from Sinai was no ordinary voice. This was a voice that wasn’t only powerful at the time, it didn’t end. And it still rings out, still resonates, and speaks to each of us in every generation and every part of the world.
Revolutions come and go, but revelation is eternal. The voice of Sinai continues to proclaim eternal truths that never become passé or irrelevant. Honour your parents, revere them, look after them in their old age. Live moral lives, don’t tamper with the sacred fibre of family life. Dedicate one day every week, and keep that day holy. Stop the madness. Turn your back on the rat race, and rediscover your humanity and your children. Don’t be guilty of greed, envy, dishonesty, or corruption.
Are these ideas and values dated? Are these commandments tired or irrelevant? On the contrary. They speak to us now as perhaps never before.
Does anyone know this today better than us South Africans?
The G-dly voice has lost none of its strength, none of its majesty. The mortal voice of man declines and fades into oblivion. Politicians and spin-doctors come and go, but the heavenly sound reverberates down the ages.
Moses knew what he was saying. Torah is truth, and truth is forever. The voice of G-d shall never be stilled.
Memory versus history
Devarim is the parsha associated with Tisha B’Av, the Jewish national day of mourning. After Shabbos, we will recall the destruction of our holy temple nearly 2 000 years ago.
But why remember? The world cannot understand why we go on about the Holocaust, and that was less than 80 years ago! For more than 19 centuries, we have been remembering and observing this event, and it has become the saddest day in our calendar. Why? Why not let bygones be bygones? It’s history. What was, was. Why keep revisiting old and painful visions?
They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris, and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple. “When did it happen?” asked the emperor. “Some 1 700 years ago,” was the answer. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot their past would be destined to forever have a future.
Elie Wiesel famously once said that Jews have never had history. We have memory. History can become a book, a museum, and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive, memories reverberate, and memory guarantees our future.
Even amidst the ruins, we refused to forget. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. As they led the Jews into captivity, they sat down and wept. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept remembering Zion.” What did they cry of? Their lost wealth, homes, and businesses? No. They cried for Zion and Jerusalem. “If I forget thee ‘O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.” They were not weeping for themselves or their lost liberties but for the heavenly city and holy temple. Amidst the bondage, they aspired to rebuild, amidst the ruins, they dreamt of returning.
And because we refused to forget Jerusalem, we did return. And because we refused to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities the world over, while our victors have been vanquished by time. Today, there are no more Babylonians, and the people who now live in Rome aren’t the Romans who destroyed the second temple. Those nations became history while we, inspired by memory, emerged revitalised and regenerated and forever it will be true that am Yisrael chai (the people of Israel live).
Only if we refuse to forget can we hope to rebuild one day. Indeed, the Talmud assures us, “Whosoever mourns for Jerusalem, will merit to witness her rejoicing.” We dare not forget. We need to observe our national day of mourning this Saturday night and Sunday. Forego the movies and the restaurants. Sit down on a low seat to mourn with your people; and perhaps even more importantly, to remember. And, please G-d, He will restore those glorious days and rebuild His own everlasting house soon.
Exile is a state of being
In parshas Massei, the Torah traces our journey in the desert by listing all 42 camps that we passed through. This is a forerunner for Jewish history. Even the most superficial knowledge of Jewish history reveals that a large chunk of it has been spent in exile. Under the nations of the world, the Jewish people suffered immensely. How are we meant to understand this? There are four main points to appreciate.
Chazal tell us that the Jewish people are so beloved by Hashem, that when they were sent into exile for their sins, Hashem accompanied them. The greatest demonstration of His love is the fact that the Jewish people have survived almost 2 000 years of persecution and numerous attempts to annihilate us. So great is this miracle, it surpasses the collective miracles of the exodus of Egypt and our wandering in the desert and in the land of Israel.
Second, when the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, their survival was supernatural – they were wholly dependent on Hashem. He rained down bread from the sky, provided a well of water, and protected us with seven miraculous clouds. This was the education needed to sear into our consciousness the perspective that Hashem is the source of everything, and we must strive to fulfil His will.
Land, prosperity, and institutions of statehood were put at the Jewish people’s disposal not as goals in themselves, but as a means for the fulfilment of the Torah. When Jews lost sight of their true purpose and began to emulate the ideals of the nations around them, worshipping wealth and prosperity, they were deprived of those things that they had begun to worship, leaving their land with only the Torah to guide them.
Exile was meant, first and foremost, to benefit and perfect us. The Jewish people witnessed powerful empires disappear while we endured, devoid of might and majesty, but loyal to Hashem. How many times have Jews been offered a doorway to earthly pleasure and security if only they renounce their loyalty to G-d? How many times did Jews scorn the lure of wealth and pleasure and even sacrificed their most precious treasures in this world – their wives, children, brothers and sisters – for Hashem?
Chazal tell us that a third benefit of exile was to inspire conversion. Indeed, there have been many great converts in our history.
Fourth, the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world for our protection. If we were all under the jurisdiction of one ruler, he would attempt to destroy us all.
Exile isn’t just banishment from Israel. Exile is a state of being that also applies to individuals. Every person experiences tranquil periods when he finds it easy to learn Torah and pray with concentration. Yet when times are hard, he struggles. It’s specifically at these times that he mustn’t become empty of Torah and prayer, rather, he must strive to sanctify “desert” periods.
Banner1 week ago
Days of wreckage and reckoning
Featured Item1 week ago
Gesher lifeline extended for another six months
Featured Item1 week ago
Doctors stay put under fire at Hillbrow Clinic
Featured Item1 week ago
Young doctor and school volunteers speed up vaccine drive
Letters/Discussion Forums1 week ago
Chief rabbi should consult before speaking out
Letters/Discussion Forums1 week ago
Seeking descendents of Levin and Maisel
Voices1 week ago
Keep calm and a cool head in the chaos
Voices1 week ago
The day before the night