How a Moroccan Jew celebrated liberation from Hitler with a Haggadah – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on July 3, 2021

The Nazis in World War II concentrated mostly on murdering Eastern- and Central-European Jews; the suffering of the half-million Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya under the Nazis is less well-known.

After years of relative scholarly neglect, researchers have begun to pay more attention to the experience of these Jews during occupations by the Germans, the Italians and the pro-Nazi Vichy government. According to the Yad Vashem website, Many of the Nuremberg Laws enacted against the Jews of Germany in the mid-thirties were copied in Morocco and Algeria, and the Jews found themselves in desperate straits.

The Allies successful military campaigns in 1942 and early 1943 culminated in the Axis powers surrender in North Africa, ending Jewish torment there earlier than in Eastern and Central Europe.

North African Haggadot customarily open with the line We departed from Egypt in great haste. The Hitler Haggadah begins, The Americans came in great haste. The traditional Haggadah features a discussion of the four types of children wise, wicked, simple, and unable to formulate a question and the approach a parent should take to each. In The Hitler Haggadah the passage reads, The Torah speaks of four sons: England, the wise one. Hitler, the wicked one. America, the good one. And Mussolini, who isnt worthy of our words.

Although not found in the earliest Haggadot, the vehi she-amdah prayer, which asserts the inevitability and universality of antisemitism, is central for many Jews. It was not only one [tyrant] who tried to destroy us. In every generation they try to destroy us. But the Blessed Holy One saves us from their grip. The Hebrew word hi (meaning she or it) at the beginning of that prayer has challenged interpreters of the Haggadah, as it has no obvious antecedent. The Hitler Haggadah fills in the gap: She being Russia, who stood up for our fathers, and for us. For it was not only Hitler who tried to destroy us, but also Mussolini and others, many others who tried to destroy us. And the blessed Allies saved us from their grip.

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The traditional Haggadah says, We cried out to the Lord, God of our fathers; as it is said: During that long period, the king of Egypt died; and the children of Israel groaned from their suffering and shouted out and their cries from their servitude rose up to God. The Hitler Haggadah says, And we cried out to Roosevelt, blessed be he, as it is written, And Hindenburg died, and Hitler rose in the place of his ruin and the Israelites groaned from their suffering and shouted out and Roosevelt heard their cries under the strain of oppression.

Where the traditional Haggadah speaks of Gods power, compassion, and salvation, Nisim focuses on human beings. The Jews cry out to Roosevelt, who hears their cries. Nisim even refers to President Roosevelt as tabaraka shemiyato (yitbarakh shemo in Hebrew; may his name be blessed or blessed be he in English), a phrase generally reserved for God. Roosevelt is not the only Allied leader who takes the place of God; a little later on Nisims Haggadah reads, Therefore we must thank Russia, honor and glorify Stalin.

In modern times, particularly in secular Zionist circles, rewriting Haggadot to concentrate not on God but on the accomplishments of Jewish leaders of the past (Moses, Miriam etc.) or even of the present (the pioneering Zionists) is not so unusual. Moving non-Jewish leaders to the Haggadahs central stage is.

While Nisim cannot be blamed for his ignorance of the future, in retrospect his festive mood about Hitlers defeat in North Africa in 1943 is jarring, since millions of Jews were yet to die at Hitlers hands in Europe. The dissonance makes Nisims work even more fascinating. It shows how one non-European Jew in this period could be so isolated and yet at the same time so daringly secularized and modern.


By Simon Coiffeur

/Nissim ben Shimon

in Judeo-Arabic

English translation:

Adi and Jonnie Schnytzer


108 pages; $19.99

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How a Moroccan Jew celebrated liberation from Hitler with a Haggadah - The Jerusalem Post

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