How did the Jews of Pest celebrate Passover before the war?

My grandmother told me how Passover was when she was a child, partly before the war and partly immediately after, writes Chana Deutsch on

How did the preparations for the holiday go?

Before the war, we were always on József Street [at my grandparents’ house]. Every year, they would bring up a new piece of kitchen furniture from the workshop [the family carpentry workshop in the house], and the old one would be taken down, repainted and sold. They also brought in a new stove, so nothing had to be made kosher there. At Karácsony Sándor Street [at my parents’ house], there was no new kitchen furniture; everything there had been thoroughly scrubbed. The kitchen had Eternit tiles on the counters. The way they made it kosher was to pour water on it and then throw a heated brick on it. But often the Eternit broke, so later they just used hot water to make it the kosher.

My dad spent all night cleaning the gas stove. He would burn the grate from the oven on the gas; it smelled awful all over the flat. The dishes that we didn’t change were taken to Kazinczy Street; there was a big mikveh there, where you could make the dishes kosher.

Did the search for chametz come after making everything kosher?

Yes. The night before Erev Pesach, we would put small pieces of bread around the apartment. My dad would walk around with a spoon and a feather and light a candle and look for the pieces. He gathered everything into a white cloth, tied it up when he was done, and took it to the synagogue to burn the next morning. Then we opened the matzah.

How did the preparations continue on Erev Pesach, when everything was already cleaned?

They brought down from the attic the large chest, which contained the Passover dishes and put them in the washed cupboards. The woven chest always meant Passover to me. Every year on Erev Pesach, we had beetroot soup: they boiled the beetroot, mixed hardboiled eggs with sugar, poured it into the soup and that was lunch with boiled potatoes.

The maid would just grate potatoes all day. There were two buckets in front of her, one for the peeled potatoes and one for the grated ones, because they were consumed in abundance. She also grated beetroot because that was used a lot as well. We used a lot of eggs too, hundreds of them. The fruit was brought in big crates by the grocer. There was a greengrocer with eight children, and we bought our fruit from him. At the Grósz. There was also machine matzah, but shmurah matzah was always made by hand.

What happened on the night of the seder?

When the holiday arrived, the men went to temple, and when they came home, the seder began. Grandfather would be lying half on the couch in his kitli, and I would sit next to him. At ten o’clock they made motzi [washing of hands and blessing said on the matzah], then they broke the first matzah, but sometimes it was later; they would go on talking for so long that we started dinner at midnight. There were a lot of us at the seder; many guests came: relatives, friends and people who had nowhere else to go. Some of these poor men were always invited by grandma; they sat at a separate table but in the same room.

The seder went on for a very long time because there was a lot of talking, explaining the texts and singing. My favorite part was when it was time to „serve the evening meal and feast.” Dinner was at 10-12 p.m. The celebration lasted almost all night. People talked, neighbors, relatives and others came over. The explanations and lessons were in Yiddish then. After the war, things changed; some of the family did not come back. But even then, they took the dishes away at Karácsony Sándor Street and always replaced everything in the kitchen down to the last piece. At that time, it was my father who was in charge of the seders, and they were in Hungarian.

What food was prepared?

At the seder evening meal, there was always a starter: eggs scrambled with onions, followed by broth with matzah balls, roast meat, potato latkes [grated potatoes mixed with eggs and fried in oil] and matzah hremzli [crushed matzah mixed with eggs and fried in oil like a pancake]. There were two kinds of beetroot, which I still make today, one thinly grated and the other cut into rings. Then there was cake and of course lots of wine, lots and lots of wine.

When they came home from temple in the morning, we had matzah brei [scrambled eggs mixed with matzah]. For dinner we had eggs with onions, eaten by the bowlful. Every day they baked four or five cakes because there was nothing else after lunch and dinner. The cakes were made of pure walnuts: 10 eggs, 10 spoonfuls of walnuts, and sometimes they added four spoonfuls of matzah flour. They also baked a lot of hremzli and latkes. Daddy drizzled honey on the hremzli.

They also boiled potatoes, smashed them, mixed them with eggs, salt and pepper, and then spooned them into hot oil. They were then fried and served with the meat. And there were loksn [gluten-free pasta] with the soup, which I still make to this day, even during the year, not just for Pesach. I mix 4-5 eggs with a glass of mineral water and potato flour to the consistency of pancake batter. Then I fry it like a pancake and cut it into strips.

The milk was brought by “Uncle Breit-breit,” I can’t remember his real name. He also brought the bread on weekdays, but on Pesach he only brought the milk. In those days, everything was kosher for Pesach, the milk, butter, whatever was needed. For breakfast, grandpa would soak the matzah in his coffee with milk. I couldn’t bear to look at it, but he loved it; the old people ate it. For black coffee, they mixed egg yolks with sugar, like for cake, and poured the hot coffee over it, but I don’t know why they did it that way.

Did people also buy new clothes, like for the autumn holidays?

Yes. Every time the children got new clothes, and mom also bought new clothes for herself. The morning after the seder night, we went to temple, we children too, but we didn’t pray, we played in the yard with my cousins. Each of us had a new dress, and I always had a beautiful dress. Sometimes we bought new clothes during the year, but twice a year it was compulsory: spring clothes for Passover, and autumn and winter clothes for the big holidays in the autumn. There was no schooling; I went to Jewish school, but I don’t remember what we did during these days.

And the end of the holiday?

On the last day, when the holiday was over, my uncle and I — there’s not much age difference between us — ran home from the synagogue. We got the bread we had ordered in advance and ran home so we could eat the bread first. There were no wax peppers in those days; we ate the bread with butter, sardines, radishes and spring onions; this was dinner every year, no matter how late the holiday ended.

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