Passover in Bergen-Belsen

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 12:29pm

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Rafael Grosz on Passover in Bergen-Belsen

Rafael Grosz describes his memory of Passover as a child in Bergen-Belsen.


Passover, Bergen-Belsen, 1945.

These two thoughts do not belong together: Bergen-Belsen, the epitome of captivity; Passover, the celebration of freedom from slavery.  

Rafael Grosz lived through one and celebrated the other. Passover in 1945 began on March 29, just two-and-a-half weeks before the liberation of the camp by the British.

By all counts it was hell on earth. Corpses were piling up as many of the 60,000 starving, diseased and disheveled Jews who had been dumped in the camp over the preceding weeks succumbed to the impossible conditions. By a strange twist of circumstance, Grosz was one of 300 Jews who had indicated to the camp authorities that they kept Kosher. In the mayhem, which included a complete lack of provisions for inmates in the camp, the authorities decided to look more kindly on this self selecting group of pious Jews and help them to bake matzah. By this time they knew they would be facing war crimes and perhaps wanted to show some humanity in return for a good word later on – the motives are not clear. Grosz describes fetching wood from the forest, walking past piles of corpses. On their return, they dug a pit, lit a fire, covered it with a grill, took the flour the Nazis gave them and rolled matzahs with a broom handle, and we learn there was more than enough to go round.  

Hardly a warm family Seder, but Rafael Grosz held onto freedom in captivity, making the point that freedom is a state of mind that can never be taken if we choose to hold onto it.


Stephen Smith