On April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover, German forces entered the Warsaw ghetto, intent on liquidating all the Jews who remained there. The troops were surprised by a small but determined group of resistance fighters, who, while ultimately doomed to fail against the might of the German army, kept up the fight for nearly a month.
Now, on the 76 anniversary of the start of the uprising, 100 Jewish families are returning to Warsaw for the Passover Seder—a ritual service and celebratory meal centered around the retelling of the Exodus story. According to the European Jewish Press, the event will take place in “the heart of what was once the ghetto” and marks the first time that a seder has been celebrated there since the uprising.
The families will be arriving from Israel, the United States and Europe, and will be divided into three groups for Seders conducted in Polish, Hebrew and English, reports Ilanit Chernick of the Jerusalem Post. Toward the end of the night, the families will come together to conclude the Seder.
This event marks the latest effort by Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, chief rabbi of the Chabad movement in Poland, to revive Jewish culture in Warsaw, which was once home to the largest Jewish community in Europe. After the German invasion of Poland, Jewish residents from Warsaw and other locations in the country were forced into a ghetto, where they lived in abject conditions. Between July and September of 1942, approximately 265,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to the Treblinka extermination camp, and another 35, 000 were killed. Realizing the Nazis’ fatal plan, underground groups began formulating plans for resistance.
They put up a valiant fight, but the uprising was ultimately crushed; more than 56,000 Jews were captured by the Germans, 7,000 were killed on the spot and another 7,000 were deported to Treblinka, where “almost all were killed in the gas chambers upon arrival,” according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The site of the Warsaw ghetto is, in other words, laden with a difficult history of Jewish persecution and resilience. It 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 [where] not long ago, others sought to destroy us,” Rabbi Stambler said, according to Chernick.
Some of those attending the Seder event have family members who lived and died in the ghetto. Sharon Ben-Shem, who is traveling to Warsaw with her father and aunt, revealed that she is the niece of Josima Feldschuh, a budding piano composer who died of tuberculosis at the age of 12, while imprisoned in the ghetto.
“She perished on April 21, 1943, shortly before her 14th birthday, while in hiding,” Ben-Shem says. “Her very last meal took place the previous evening–the Seder night of 1943.”