FERENC GRUBER, Zehava Fleischer’s father 370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Zehava Fleischer)
The temptation of the afikoman is hard to resist no matter how old you
The first thing Zehava Fleischer did when her brother handed her the
Haggada their father read from before the Holocaust was to check if it still
contained the prized piece of matza that children traditionally steal from their
elders on Passover night in return for a reward.
“My father would always
hide part of the afikoman in the last page,” she recalled on Sunday, the week
before the start of the Jewish holiday. “When my brother gave it to me I
immediately opened the last page but, of course, it was not
Fleischer, née Gruber, does not know how the family copy of the
text that tells the story of the delivery of the Jews from servitude in Egypt
survived the war. She was only 16 when the Germans occupied Hungary, her country
of birth, in May 1944.
“Many family possessions were hidden including the
Haggada,” she said. “I was young and not told everything.”
deportation of Hungary’s Jews to death camps began shortly thereafter. Fleischer
was separated from her family and sent from Budapest to a labor camp. She
survived, but her father, Ferenc Gruber, and other relatives were murdered at
Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland. After the war she made aliya and
started a family in Israel, but her elder brother stayed behind. Decades later,
when the grip of communism on Hungary began to loosen, he came to visit her in
Israel bearing a special gift: The worn-out Haggada from which their father read
at the seder.
“It is in Hungarian and Hebrew,” she said proudly. “It even
has the wine stains left by my father.” It has been a cherished family heirloom
in the Fleischer-Gruber household ever since. Nonetheless, earlier this year the
octogenarian decided to donate it to Yad Vashem for safekeeping as part of its
Gathering the Fragments Campaign. “I thought it will be best kept there,” she
said. “I’m happy I did it because I see people are interested in its
Besides the Haggada, Fleischer also gave the diary she started
writing when the Nazis invaded in 1944. Both are now part of a growing body of
Holocaust- related items collected by the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Many
artifacts are related to Passover.
Another such recently donated item is
a sheet of music composed by Yisrael Eliyahu Maroko, the former chief cantor of
Amsterdam. The piece, which is a composition of “Had Gadia,” (An Only Kid) from
the seder liturgy, was done in April 1941, before Maroko was murdered at
Fleischer said she was looking forward to the seder with her family this
Though the years have passed, she said the ritual of searching for
the afikoman is more or less the same it was, with perhaps one exception: The
prize for finding it nowadays is bigger than it used to be back then.
were very modest children, “ she recalled. “Even asking for a bicycle was asking