Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Passover In Herxheim

On March 26th it was decided to hold the Passover Celebration at Herxheim. Orders were issued to all units that all Jewish men would be relieved from combat to come to Herxheim on March 28th for the Seer Supper.

I called in two men of the Jewish faith to help me make appropriate plans.  They had both helped me many times in arranging for Jewish services.  One was a lieutenant.  The other was a sergeant.  One was a Conservative Jew.  The sergeant was Orthodox.  I soon had a lesson in differences among my Jewish men.

The lieutenant asked, if I could get some canned chicken.  The sergeant said, “No, we cannot use that.  We couldn’t be sure it is Kosher.”  He asked for eggs.  I remembered my last purchase of eggs.  One dollar apiece.

The Seder feast requires four glasses of wine for each person.  We had only twelve bottles of Kosher wine.  That would not go far with our anticipated attendance of 200 men.

They continued to argue.  The sergeant wouldn’t preside, if it was not strictly Kosher.  The lieutenant would not bring the ceremonially cleaned cooking dishes, if it were not done his way.

I finally said, “I cannot make ritual decisions.  You two come to some agreement, and I will try to get what you decide is necessary”.

They finally decided to use both canned chicken and as many eggs as I could get.  They would use the Kosher wine at the head table, and serve such wine as I could secure for the rest of the men.  We had plenty of Matzos and I could secure appropriate vegetables for the required “bitter herbs.”

I went to Lt. Colonel Carter, Division Quartermaster.  He was very co-operative.  He would supply the canned chicken, the vegetables, even the eggs.  The wine was another matter.  He had none.

As I was walking down the street, worrying over my problem, I was met by one of our C.I.C. sergeants.  He asked, “What is the matter, Chaplain?  You look pretty glum.”

I told him that I was getting ready for the Jewish Passover, and needed about fifty gallons of wine.

“Your prayers are answered.  Come with me.”

He took me to the home of the local Gauliter.  There he showed me several huge tuns of wine.  I had never seen such big barrels in my life.

“You can take all you want, but please don’t waste it.  There are some of us Christians who would appreciate a taste.”

The lieutenant came with several water cans and carried away about fifty gallons of fine wine.

Now I had to find a place to hold the supper.  I went to the Burgomeister.  “Where is the local synagogue?”  I had difficulty making myself clear.  Finally he understood.

“We burned it to the ground.  There is no place for Jews here.”

I told him that I MUST have a place for a banquet for two hundred men.  They must have table cloths, napkins, dishes, table ware, and wine glasses.  The Germans must set it up.  We would bring the food and the wine.

We decided to use the local theater.  The Germans cleaned the place, and arranged the tables.  On Wednesday morning I inspected the place to be sure everything was in readiness.

At 1930 hours we held our Passover.  We had set 200 places.  When General Dahlquist arrived with his aide, we had 201 men present.  We managed to set up the extra place.  It was the first public Seder fest there since Hitler had come to power.  Perhaps it was the first in all Germany.  Everything went well.

General Dahlquist made an appropriate address.  Despite any ritual differences the men seemed to thoroughly enjoy the occasion.  When the party was over, several of the men came to me and offered to help clean up the place.

I told them, “That will not be necessary.  This time the Germans will clean up after you” The Germans did.  They now understood my “Mussen”.

Some weeks later I received a letter from the sergeant, Tec 3 Joseph Wechsler, of the G2 section.  Among other things he wrote, “Now that victory has been achieved in Europe, I feel confident that Jewish soldiers will again be able to practice their religious tenets to the fullest possible extent.  I know that in our Division they will be able to do so, because even while we were in combat you succeeded in arranging regular Friday evening services and a Seder of which we can be justly proud.  For the sincere interest and concern in the religious welfare of the Jewish men of the Division which you have shown during all that time, I want to thank you today on behalf of all of us.”


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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