A Death Camp Passover
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
“History repeats itself.” “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Most of us have heard these sayings and they are oh so true.
When Passover comes around we tend to romanticize the epic of the Exodus because we are celebrating the freedom of our people and we seem to forget or smooth over the fact that slavery under Pharaoh was harsh, very harsh.
This year I want to take a different spin upon this Passover season and relate the Exodus with the Holocaust. If we really examine it, the two are more alike than we may care to admit.
The baby boys up to age 3 were thrown into the Nile, and sacrificed to its gods, drown, ate by crocodiles and other dangerous animals (Exodus 1:22).
The babies during the holocaust were thrown in the air and shot like clay pigeons; others were caught by the cold steel of SS bayonets.
Mothers are mothers in whatever century, so imagine how devastating this was in Egypt and in Germany and I’m sure they were not excused from making bricks or shining SS boots to mourn.
The passages about the Exodus from Egypt, the story of Passover, is to lengthy so I will summarize the Passover story through concise passages from Exodus and the Psalms.
9And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we:
10Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land.
11Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses.
12But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel.
13And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve with rigour:
14And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.
22And Pharaoh charged all his people, saying, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river, and every daughter ye shall save alive.
Psalm 10523Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.
24And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.
25He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants.
26He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen.
27They shewed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.
28He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word.
29He turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish.
30Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings.
31He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies, and lice in all their coasts.
32He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land.
33He smote their vines also and their fig trees; and brake the trees of their coasts.
34He spake, and the locusts came, and caterpillers, and that without number,
35And did eat up all the herbs in their land, and devoured the fruit of their ground.
36He smote also all the firstborn in their land, the chief of all their strength.
37He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.
38Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them.
44And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labour of the people;
45That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. Praise ye the LORD.
Psalm 1067Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red sea.
8Nevertheless he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make his mighty power to be known.
9He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness.
10And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy.
11And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left.
12Then believed they his words; they sang his praise.
22Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea.
I don’t doubt that some Israelites during the harsh slavery in Egypt began to doubt G-d’s existence, thought maybe G-d had forgotten about them, thought maybe He does exist or isn’t involved in human history or even got mad at G-d or thought that He hates the children of Avraham.
But G-d told Avraham in a dream that this would happen to His people.
“And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.”
G-d also said that if Israel forsook the Torah that they’d be taken off in to captivity and they did, into Babylon and Assyria and that horrible things would befall them and they did (Deut. 26-28). Even though some of Judah returned to the Promised Land but unfortunately Israel (10 Tribes) never did and were scattered through the world as well as the part of Judah that didn’t return with their Brethren. Some of Israel and the parts of Judah who never returned ended up somewhat assimilating or attempted to assimilate into the lands which they settled and they sadly enough were the ones rounded up in the Holocaust and the good suffered with the bad.
If one reads about the cruelty of the Babylonian and Assyrian and other captivities, it rivals that of the Holocaust. It just seems the Holocaust was worse because we had certain technologies available to us to be able to forever record the mind blowing horrors of what the Jews when through. It’s one thing to read in the Scriptures that babies were dashed against the stones (Hosea 13:16) and it’s another to see such from moving and still footage from the Holocaust that puts faces to the words of those Scriptures.
So I’m sure that the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian captivity was just as harsh and grizzly at times as the Holocaust was. But G-d was with our people in Egypt, Babylonia and Assyria just as He was with our people in Germany and all the death camps around Europe.
“There arose a new Chancellor over Germany who remembered not the great contributions to the political, economic and cultural life of his country that the Jews had made. He said, “The Jews are becoming strong and mighty in our midst. They have become haughty and arrogant, thinking they are just like us. We must rid ourselves of these Jews amongst us, lest they ally themselves with our enemies and weaken our country from within.”
And so the Chancellor decreed that all little Jewish children be put to death in the Nile, which he called crematoria. And he ordered that all the people be put to work at forced labor, giving up their possessions, toiling for the state, herded together in concentrated areas, which he called ghettos or camps; that husbands and wives be separated from each other, that children be taken from the arms of their parents, that they all be given but the most meager of food to eat. And he ordered that the weak, the infirm, the elderly, be put to death immediately, and that all the others work or starve to death slowly and painfully, until, finally, he decreed that all the Jews be killed, either shot with bullets or suffocated by poison gas in rooms he called gas chambers. And he ordered their remains to be burned in ovens.
And the pain and the suffering of the Children of Israel was great, and they called out to the L-rd G-d. And G-d heard their cries, and He spoke unto Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt and He said, “Go to Germany and tell the Chanvellor, ‘Let My People Go!’”
And Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt – flawed and reluctant though they were – went unto the Chancellor and they said, “We come to speak in the Name of the L-rd, the G-d of Israel, the G-d of those people you have enslaved, saying, ‘Let My People Go!’”
But the Chancellor hearkened not unto the voice of Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt, and he increased the work the Hebrew slaves, and their lives became even more bitter and their suffering became greater, and many, many more died at the hand of the despot.
And so the L-rd G-d brought plagues upon the Chancellor and upon his land. The first plague was called a naval blockad; the second plague was called battleships; and the third plague was called carrier-borne aircraft equipped with radar. The fourth plague was called infantry troops, and the fith plague was called tanks and armored vehicles. The sixth plague was called fighter planes, and the seventh plague was called bombers. The eighth plague was called paratroopers, and the ninth plague was called commando troops.
But after each plague, the heart of the Chancellor was hardened and he hearkened not unto the word of the L-rd, and he refused to permit the Children of Israel to go out from their slavery.
And so the L-rd G-d brought the tenth plague, which was called the D-Day Invasion, and from the D-Day invasion came V-E Day, the day on which the power of the L-rd was felt throughout the land. For on that day, there was not a house in all of Germany that was not touched by destruction and death. The most humble in the countryside, the rich and the mighty cities, the troops of the Chancellor’s armies, the leaders of government and the ruling party, and even the once-powerful Chancellor, who lay dead in his bunker, all saw the greatness and the might of the L-rd, who had come to redeem and deliver His people.
And the Children of Israel wandered in the desert of Europe for four years, until the L-rd brought them into the land that He had promised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the Land of Israel.
And you shall gather ever year, in remembrance of the Exodus from Germany, and you shall taste of the bitterness of oppression and you shall rejoice in your liberation. For you shall tell your children on that day, saying, “This is what the L-rd G-d did for our ancestors and for us when He brought us forth out of the land of Germany, from the house of bondage, and delivered us from slavery unto freedom. Halleluyah. Praise the L-rd.” – Living Judaism by Rabbi Wayne Dosick pg.23-25
Just as G-d led Israel out of Egypt by His Mighty Hand so too He led Israel out of Germany with a Mighty Hand, let us not forget this, this Passover season.
Chag Semach Pesach!