For the first time since Nazi troops stormed the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 to kill or deport its residents, 100 Diaspora Jewish families are to celebrate a Passover Seder at the site.
Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, the chief rabbi of Chabad-Poland, will host the special Seder in the heart of what was formerly the Warsaw Ghetto with Jewish families from Israel, Europe and the US.
It is being held 76 years to the day since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on 19 April 1943, the eve of Passover, when Nazi German troops stormed in. They had expected the deportation process to last three days, but were ambushed by Jewish rebels.
Stambler said it would be “a magnificent show of spiritual triumph, families of Ghetto survivors celebrating the Jewish festival of redemption together”.
Among those flying in will be Yosef Nachum and Nakmi’a Ben-Shem (previously Feldschuh). Their daughter Sharon described how her aunt – child prodigy Josima Feldschuh, the celebrated young pianist of the Ghetto – died on 21 April 1943, just before her 14th birthday, while in hiding.
“Her very last meal took place the prior evening, the Seder night of 1943,” she said. “This year, we will be joining the Seder in Poland together with her family. We will be in her city, precisely on the day that she passed away.”
She added: “It is deeply meaningful to us to be celebrating Passover together as free Jews in a place where so many, including our own family, perished tragically.”
Other guests include members of the Spielman family, whose uncle Vlaidslav was a world-famous pianist, and Albert Stankovski, director of the Warsaw Ghetto Museum, which is currently being constructed by the Polish government.
“Before the war, approximately one third of Warsaw was Jewish,” said Stankovski. “Commemorating pre-war Jewish Warsaw and celebrating the growth of the current Jewish community is of the utmost importance to us. The Passover celebration is a vital part of this process.”
The Warsaw Ghetto Museum will be housed in the historic building of the former children’ hospital established by Jewish families Bersohn and Bauman as a clinic for children of all faiths. The exhibition at 60 Sienna Street will open on the 80th anniversary of the Uprising.
The communal Passover Seder, which will initially be divided into three – given in Polish, Hebrew and English – is Rabbi Stambler’s latest effort to rejuvenate the community and spread awareness of Jewish identity and Jewish life in Poland.
Among the young Lubavitch rabbis travelling to Poland for the event is Rabbi Levi Goldschmidt, a great-great grandson of Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Gur-Aryeh, a Jewish dignitary in Warsaw before the war. Gur-Aryeh was killed in the Ghetto on Pesach, hours after covertly baking matzah.
Stambler, whose 13-year old son Yossi will lead the Seder in Hebrew, said: “It is very significant for us to be celebrating Jewish holidays, and particularly the Seder night, which symbolises Jewish freedom and the day that we united as a nation, in a place that not long ago others sought to destroy us.”