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"... you have creatively transplanted a piece of Jewish tradition into German soil" (Stefan Zweig)
With Passover beginning, we highlight a very unique item of artistic craftsmanship from the LBI collection, the Offenbacher Haggadah.
The Offenbacher Haggadah was commissioned by the German-Jewish lawyer and notary public Dr. Siegfried Guggenheim. Originally from the town of Worms in Rhineland-Palatinate, Guggenheim moved to Offenbach am Main, where he became heavily involved in local Jewish cultural life. Guggenheim served as head of the Jewish community in Offenbach from 1932 to 1938. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Guggenheim first lost his permission to work as a notary and, in 1938, as a lawyer. Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, he was deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Luckily, he was able to leave the camp after three weeks. Guggenheim managed to immigrate to New York, where he became an American citizen in 1943, living in Flushing, Queens. Besides his interest in religious traditions and (German-) Jewish history, Guggenheim was a passionate art collector, generous supporter of the local art and culture scene, and well-integrated into the cultural and social life of Offenbach. Being German and Jewish as well as bringing together traditional Jewish culture with modern and liberal perspectives on religion were no contradictions for Guggenheim. This unique combination was what made the creation of the Offenbacher Haggadah possible.
The history of the Offenbacher Haggadah began long before any publication was planned, when the Guggenheim family gathered around the Seder table in their house to celebrate Passover. Guggenheim wanted to provide his children with an extensive education in Jewish religion and tradition but realized that young people were losing interest. He began to think about how he could organize a Seder evening that would help his children to develop an interest in Jewish customs. Every Seder evening, he tried to bring up something new that the younger people were interested in, telling funny anecdotes, emphasizing the beauty of the arrangement in which the festivities took place but without excluding the old stories. Guggenheim also included short explanations about the different rites and religious traditions in order to provide the children with a deeper knowledge of Judaism. Guggenheim’s premise was that “the father of the house needs to convince the children that he is taking care of them, so they are inclined to listen to him”. The love and dedication Guggenheim had for his children was one of his motivations to compose the Offenbacher Haggadah. As a result of this devotion, the first written approach that he created was a notebook with songs for Passover for the children, which later served as the base of the collection of songs in the Offenbacher Haggadah.
Throughout the years, Guggenheim created a large collection of stories, anecdotes, and songs from which he wanted to print his own Haggadah. Based on the Haggadah by the German-Jewish Rabbi Caesar Seligmann, Guggenheim added material by gathering contributions from many sources including German-Jewish Rabbis and scholars such as Leo Baeck, Max Dienemann, Meier Hildesheimer, Moritz Lazarus and Israel Lewy. Guggenheim created a potpourri which combined different Jewish denominations, ranging from liberal to orthodox. Not only the religious content was important. Guggenheim also emphasized the aesthetic composition and artistic design of the Haggadah, giving “content, form and character the maximal possible uniformity and balance” - directly from the eyes to the heart.
After 14 years, Guggenheim printed a book with all the material he had collected: it was such a bulky book that it was not possible to read it on a single Seder evening. Bruno Italiener, a reform Rabbi from Darmstadt who knew Guggenheimer’s work, urged him to publish his Passover material, which he thought would fill a gap in liberal Judaism. Together with his friend, Rabbi Max Dienemann, Guggenheim made a selection of the material to create a usable, artistic edition of his Haggadah. The final choice contained an alternation of songs, prayers, explanations, instructions for the Seder evening and other texts remembering the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, mostly translated to German by Guggenheim himself. A few of the songs were kept in Hebrew but written with German letters so that everyone could sing along.
The name Offenbacher Haggadah was quickly found. Guggenheim wanted to tie in the tradition of Haggadot, Jewish prayer books, and Hebrew publications that were printed in Offenbach since at least 1714. Also, the mostly Christian artists and craftsman involved in designing and manufacturing the Haggadah were from Offenbach and the surrounding region. The typographer and illustrator Rudolf Koch (1876-1934), who created the special font for the Offenbacher Haggadah, was one of them. Fritz Kredel (1900-1973), one of Koch’s students, designed and crafted the hand-colored wood cuts. Koch himself was a friend of Guggenheim and an important figure in the artistic scene in Offenbach, where he worked as professor at the Offenbach Institute of Technical Education (nowadays University of Arts and Design Offenbach am Main). For him, the production of the Haggadah was characterized by the unique collaboration of different craftsmen, who didn’t act under the control of one authority, but who were “united in one spirit”. (Guggenheim in his own memoirs added that the sharing of wine bottles helped to smoothen the process). The first edition of the Haggadah was published in an edition of 300 copies in 1927. It was printed by the Offenbach based print shop Heinrich Cramer while the print types were produced by the company Gebrüder Klingspor, also from Offenbach.
The Offenbacher Haggadah soon became symbolic of the Jewish religious renaissance in Germany in the 20th century. It was widely reviewed, mostly, but not exclusively, in German-Jewish newspapers. It represents a variety of unique collaborations through the combination of many different religious texts by a great number of German-Jewish scholars, the collaboration of several artists and craftsman from Offenbach, and the collaboration of Jews and Christians. According to Ismar Elbogen, a German Rabbi and rector of the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, the Offenbacher Haggadah “is a whole aesthetic, imagery, philosophy and apologia of Judaism in one piece” and “what Baeck [i.e. Leo Baeck] used to call the unique and the special.” (das Eigene und das Besondere). In addition to the Haggadah, artists also created other objects for Guggenheim and the Passover seder, such as tapestries with scenes from the Haggadah. In 1960, one year before his death, Guggenheim commissioned a second edition of the Haggadah that was published in New York City.
Siegfried Guggenheim died in Flushing at the age of 87. Although he changed his residence from the river Main to the East River, he remained connected to his German identity through the years. Guggenheim was buried in the family grave in Offenbach am Main.