With Passover come and gone, thoughts of liberation and Jewish survival
linger in the hearts and minds of many. Linked inextricably with these
thoughts is the image of the Jewish woman, who has always been an agent of
continuity and vision for her people. From the enslavement in Egypt through
life in the desert and beyond, a beam of feminine light pierces the darkest
moments in Jewish history, pointing towards a better future.
This week, Women in Judaism shares the story of one Jewish woman who refuses
to give in to what another might consider impending doom. Lady Amelie
Jacobovits is the widow of the late Rav Lord Immanuel Jacobovits, Chief Rabbi
Emeritus of the British Commonwealth. Her Passover story of Holocaust
survival demonstrates how the powerful life force of a Jewish woman connects
our past, present and future.
By Lady Amelie Jacobovits
(Adapted from The Jewish Women's Journal, Summer 1993)
"Occasionally, one memory escapes from the vault that holds the terror of
those years. One Passover, my three-year old grandchild looked up at me from
his chair at the seder table. I don't even know what he said, because the
rush of Passover 1941 blocked everything else. I was a young girl hidden in
a dark cellar in central France. I was without other family - alone with
four other children, all of us strangers.
Today and in recent years, as I celebrate Passover surrounded by the comforts
and luxury of our London flat and the security of more than a dozen relatives
and friends, I realize that for all of their splendor, these holidays cannot
compare in my heart to that unique event 62 years ago. 1941 was the most
extraordinary Passover of my life. But before I describe it, let me explain
how I got to that cellar.
I was born in the years preceding World War II and lived content and well
loved by my family in Nurnberg. By 1933, however, my world was getting
darker till, one day, Nazi storm troopers marched into Nurnberg ordering that
all major buildings must fly the swastika flag by evening. In 1936, my
parents took us to Paris, as my father had been appointed rabbi of the
prominent Rue Cadet synagogue. Within a few years, as the political
situation deteriorated, my father was conscripted into the army and had to
leave us. In 1940, when the Nazis began bombing Paris, my mother fled with
us - her four children - on the last train before the main onslaught. It was
the eve of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The mass of people on that train - a tornado of humanity - repeatedly
wrenched us from one another. Months later, on another leg of our desperate
journey I lost track of my family altogether and began to wander from village
to village. Lone children all over were doing the same.
One night just before dawn I could go no further. I knocked on the farmhouse
door of what turned out to be a kind, courageous gentile farmer. He took me
to his cellar where I found another little girl. Eventually two boys and
another girl joined us. None of us admitted we were Jewish for several days.
It was a dire winter. Each morning, a few rays of light would poke their way
into the cellar through two windows high on the wall - our only eyes to the
world outside. The farmer had lowered us into the cellar through those
windows and every day through one of them he lowered a net with five morsels
of food and a bucket for our natural needs. Strange as it sounds, we were
very lucky. In that difficult winter, five homeless children developed
values so different from those today - as well as a bond of lifelong
One day, peering from the cellar up through the windows one of us noticed a
streak of sunlight in blue sky. A few days later, another saw blades of
grass penetrating the frozen terrain. We had no calendar or sense of time,
but we concluded that, if the weather was indeed changing with spring on its
way, maybe we were nearing Passover. Each of us children came from a
different range of Jewish commitment, yet we shared a strong desire to do
something to celebrate what we sensed was the upcoming Passover holiday.
When the farmer appeared with our food the next morning, we asked if he would
lower in tomorrow's basket a small amount of flour, a bottle of water, a
newspaper and a match. Two days later we received a small bottle of water,
but we had to wait several days for the flour. The entire region was drained
of provisions, with everything being transported north to Germany. Our host
the farmer had himself barely anything to eat.
A day later, a newspaper came through - and then a match. We waited a few
more days. We saw a full day of sunshine and blue skies, and we decided
that, in order to cultivate a festive spirit, we would switch clothing with
one another and wear them as if new. So we changed clothes; the two boys
trading and the girls exchanging dresses. Before evening we baked our
matzah, though we hadn't a clue how to do so. We poured water into the flour
and held the dough in our bare hands over the burning newspaper on the floor.
We produced something which resembled matzah and, whatever it was provided
enough for the five of us.
That night we celebrated Passover. One of us recalled by heart the kiddush -
the blessing that sanctifies the Passover night. Another remembered the Four
Questions - the part of the seder the young children recite. We told a few
stories of the Exodus that we remembered having heard from our parents.
Finally, we managed to reconstruct "One Kid, Which my Father Bought for Two
Zuzim," the song which typically ends the evening.
We had a Passover to remember. With no festive food, no silver candlesticks
and no wine - with only our simple desire to connect with God - we had a
holiday more profound than any we have known since. I thank God for allowing
me to live to be able to tell my children and grandchildren about it. Even
more, I feel obligated to the younger generations of my family, who never
experienced what I did, to pass on the clarity it gave me - the vivid
appreciation of God's presence in my life, of His constant blessings, wonders
and teachings…and of His commitment to the survival of the Jewish people.
Women in Judaism, Copyright (c) 2002 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and Project Genesis, Inc.