Heirloom haggada conjures memories for survivor

Zehava Fleischer donates Holocaust-related items to Yad Vashem.

FERENC GRUBER, Zehava Fleischer’s father 370 (photo credit: Courtesy Zehava Fleischer)
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 are.
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 there.”
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.”
The mass 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 story.”
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 Auschwitz.
Meanwhile, Fleischer said she was looking forward to the seder with her family this year.
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.
“We were very modest children, “ she recalled. “Even asking for a bicycle was asking a lot.”