The Holocaust Haggadah

Selections from the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
June 1, 2004

Zygfryd and Helene Wolloch of New York commissioned a Passover Haggadah in 1981 in memory of their parents, who died in the Holocaust. What began as a personal tribute was soon recognized as an unparalleled contribution to Jewish art and history. The Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke owns an original portfolio of the limited published edition of the Wollochs' Pessach Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust.

Pessach Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust

Pessach Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust
Original portfolio, 1981
Illustrated by David Wander Calligraphy by Yonah Weinreb
Handprinted on Velin CuvÈRives, 250-gram paper

 

The Haggadah (plural, Haggadot) is the Jewish book of ritual used at Passover Seders in the celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. Religious scholar Cecil Roth has referred to the Haggadah, comparing it to other books in the Jewish tradition, as one of the most amenable to adaptation and artistic expression. The

"Holocaust Haggadah," as the Wollochs' Haggadah is commonly called, illustrated by David Wander with calligraphy by Yonah Weinreb, makes the point beautifully.

Wander and Weinreb juxtapose the themes of the Exodus and the Holocaust by emphasizing the shared histories of slavery, destruction, and redemption. Wander's art is powerful in its simplicity and directness. He depicts crematoria, burning books, and the Star of David alongside the traditional Hebrew text of the Haggadah. He also includes brilliant borders, flowers, and the Israeli flag to symbolize the eventual freedom of the Jewish people. His drawings are devoid of human figures, signifying the absence of those who perished during the Holocaust.

Two of Wander's drawings are particularly striking and well-known. One, a concentration-camp uniform placed within a passage reading, "In each generation one is obligated to regard himself as though he personally left Egypt." In the second image, four books illustrate the portion of the Haggadah text in which four children question the leader of the Seder. For the wise child, Judaism is an open book to be studied; for the wicked child the book is on fire; for the simple child the book is open but blank; and for the fourth child, who does not yet know to ask about the Exodus, the book is closed.

The Wollochs exhibited their Holocaust Haggadah at the Milton J. Weill Art Gallery at the 92nd Street Y in New York, where it received such wide public attention that they agreed to its publication in a limited edition to benefit the International Society for Yad Vashem. Herbert Goldman's Art Gallery in Haifa, Israel, was the publisher, and David Wander himself prepared the plates and oversaw the printing of his artwork at the Burston Graphic Center in Jerusalem.

Each hand-printed portfolio consists of twelve full-page prints signed and numbered by the artist, thirty-one illuminated pages, and thirteen black-and-white pages. A total of 290 Haggadot were produced: 250 were numbered 1 to 250; and 31 were numbered I to XXXI. Duke's copy is number 70 of 250. Nine artists' proofs were reserved for the publisher, the artists, and their colleagues.

Duke's Holocaust Haggadah is one of many impressive Haggadot within the Special Collections Library's extensive Abram and Frances Pascher Kanof Collection of Jewish Art, Archeology, and Symbolism. According to Eric Meyers, Bernice and Morton Lerner Professor of religion, Duke's Haggadah Collection, containing originals and facsimiles representing more than 1,000 years of Jewish experience, is a rich resources for students and scholars of Jewish history. Meyers says that the Duke Center for Judaic Studies intends to publish an online catalog of the collection, as well as a booklet highlighting selected holdings.