Eve Kugler BEM: Passover in 1938

When I moved to England over 20 years ago, I was surprised to learn that here the search for the afikoman was all wrong, at least to me.

Whereas here the father hid the afikomen and the children had to find it, in our Ashkenazi German Jewish family was the other way around. The children hid it. Usually the father unable to find it in order to be able to continue the Seder eventually agreed to pay the children some small sum for it.

My mother used to tell the story that when she was 12 and my grandfather, unable to find the afikomen, offered the usual Mark or two to each of his three daughters my mother refused the money and insisted she wanted a bicycle. After more than an hour during which my mother refused to budge, my grandfather agreed to fulfil her dream of owning a bicycle.

Late in 1938 Hitler decreed that Jews had no right to comfortable family homes. Lists were published and prominently displayed in every city, town and village in Germany and Austria of a small number of Jewish homes. If your name was not on the list, you had to move to a home that was.

We would have been homeless had not my grandfather’s home been on the list. He had already taken in a dozen homeless Leipzig Jews who were sleeping in every corner of the apartment, when my mother brought my two sisters and me to him. She moved to a home on the list in our hometown of Halle.

To avoid arguments, my now-widowed grandfather had created a schedule listing the specific times when people could use the kitchen. But on Pesach the women decided to pool their time and limited food for one joint Seder. Uniformed Nazis walked past house in the street below, while they chopped nuts for charoses and formed matzoh balls for the soup.

People sleeping in the dining room removed their possessions; wooden leaves were slotted into the dining room table and it was covered with grandmother’s beautiful hand-embroidered tablecloth. My sister and I set the table with her pesachdig dishes and silverware.

Now women and children who had been strangers just weeks before were smartly dressed guests as grandfather sat at the head of the table and led the Seder, once more telling the thousand-year-old story of the escape from Egypt of the Jewish people.

And when the last glass of wine had been drunk, the last prayers said once more and we came to the end of the Haggadah, never were its final words spoken with more fervour, prayer and hope: Next year in Jerusalem.