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A young girl from the Berlin-Mariendorf DP Camp holding a round shmurah matzah. With her is Captain J. Robbins, Jewish Chaplain for Berlin. Berlin-Mariendorf, Germany, c. 1947
A young girl from the Berlin-Mariendorf DP Camp holding a round shmurah matzo. With her is Captain J. Robbins, Jewish Chaplain for Berlin. Berlin-Mariendorf, Germany, c. 1947. Photographer: Alois Bankhardt.Courtesy of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
A young girl from the Berlin-Mariendorf DP Camp holding a round shmurah matzah. With her is Captain J. Robbins, Jewish Chaplain for Berlin. Berlin-Mariendorf, Germany, c. 1947
Fresh fruit and Passover matzah being delivered to the 4,400 Jewish migrants on the SS Exodus 1947, intercepted by the British attempting to enter Palestine. Port De Bouc, France, c. 1947. Photographer: Al Taylor.
Orthodox Jewish refugees in the Mariendorf DP Camp bake Passover matzah using the shmurah flour provided by JDC. Berlin-Mariendorf, Germany, c. 1948. Photographer: Alois Bankhardt.
Jewish refugees in Shanghai celebrate a Passover seder, with supplies provided by JDC. Shanghai, China, c. 1942. Photographer unknown.
Residents in a Displaced Persons camp baking matzah in New Palestine Camp. Flour and other Passover supplies were furnished by JDC. Salzburg district, Austria, c. 1947. Photographer: Jan Breit.
A Jewish refugee from Cracow at the detention camp holds her two year old son while he eats Passover matzah. Holiday supplies were furnished by JDC. Caraolos, Cyprus. c. 1947. Photographer: Al Taylor.
Two elderly occupants of a shelter for Jews transients in France at a seder. France, c.1947. Photographer unknown.
Young refugees at a Passover Seder holding up their matzot with pride at a children's canteen run by the JDC partner Federation des Societes Juives en France. France, c. 1947. Photographer unknown.
A crowd waits in line for JDC Passover distribution of wine, matzah, butter, eggs, cheese, kosher meat, macaroons, etc. Berlin, Germany, 1946. Photographer: Fritz Eschen, Eschen-Studio.
Woman with provisions supplied by JDC as part of Passover distribution. In an effort to give meaning to the first Passover spent in freedom after a decade under Nazi terror, JDC supplied over 2 million pounds of Passover supplies. Berlin, Germany, c. 1946. Photographer: Fritz Eschen, Eschen-Studio.
Two young women in the Sarotti Fabrik Bakery, where a goal of 85,000 pounds of matzah for Passover was set after a 10 year closure by official edict. Berlin, Germany, 1946. Photographer unknown.
A young girl from the Berlin-Mariendorf DP Camp holding a round shmurah matzo. With her is Captain J. Robbins, Jewish Ch
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Courtesy of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
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See Rare Footage of Passover Celebrations After the Holocaust

Apr 10, 2017

The Biblical story of the Exodus is one to which Jewish people turn every year, during the Passover holiday, which starts this year on Monday night, but it's also one that has been recalled in times that are far from predictable. The tale of the horrors of slavery and the deliverance to freedom resonates whenever there is extra reason to appreciate liberty.

So it makes sense that, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, the Passover holiday held special meaning. One can see how in this rarely seen footage from a Vienna camp for displaced persons (DPs), in which Jewish DPs celebrate Passover in 1947. The video was unearthed recently in the archives of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) during the course of a digitization project:

The images in the gallery above, also from the JDC archives, show that the experience of those in Vienna was one seen in many places around the world.

Before the war, celebrants would have traditionally marked the holiday with a seder — the ritual meal — at home and the central task of cleansing the home of any trace of bread other than the unleavened matzo that plays a key part in both the Passover story and the celebratory meal.

That was far more challenging during the war. Even those who were not sent to concentration camps would have felt the hardship of life in a ghetto, in hiding or in exile. They would have marked the holiday in a makeshift fashion, if at all. After the war ended, they would have found that many of their friends, family members and neighbors who had gone a different way had been killed, and that there was often no home to which they could return.

“The themes of Passover, going back to the language of the Exodus in the Bible, talk about going from slavery to redemption," says Linda Levi, director of the JDC global archives. "This theme was not lost on this population in particular.”

Many of those survivors ended up in Displaced Persons camps like the one in Vienna in which this video was filmed. The JDC worked in such camps, where one of their roles was to provide for holidays as part of their mission of supplying the spiritual needs of the people — including providing "massive" shipments of the eggs, matzo, wine and other foods needed for a proper seder. (There were up to 30,000 DPs in Austria at the time who were in contact with the JDC, says Levi.)

"An all-out effort was made to establish meaningful seders in all of the DP camps in the area," says Levi.

The JDC continues to provide Passover supplies to Jews in need up to today, including providing more than 50,000 boxes of matzo this year to elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union.

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