Celebrating the seder with Rabbi Leo Trepp

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Rabbi Leo Trepp is 97 years old. He now lives in San Francisco, but he grew up in Germany. In fact, he is the last living rabbi who led German-Jewish communities during the Nazi holocaust. Lonny Shavelson sent us a radio report and a short video on Rabbi Trepp.

MARCO WERMAN: We mark this year's Jewish holiday of Passover with an extraordinary Rabbi. He's 97 years old and now lives in San Francisco. But he hasn't always lived there. He grew up in Germany. In fact, he is the last living Rabbi who led German Jewish communities during the Nazi holocaust. Reporter Lonny Shavelson takes us to a special family Seder in northern California.

LONNY SHAVELSON: Rabbi Leo Trapp's voice is strong and clear. His memory even more so. Last Monday on the first day of the Passover holiday, he joined his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in San Rafael, California around an elegantly set Passover table.

RABBI LEO TRAPP: God's promise of redemption in the ancient days sustains us even now.

SHAVELSON: This is the 74th year Rabbi Trapp has conducted a Passover ceremony, which commemorates the enslavement of Jews in ancient Egypt. Trapp's first Passover as a Rabbi was in 1936. He was 23, newly ordained, and living in Oldenburg, in Nazi controlled Germany.

RABBI TRAPP: And what we all had to suffer, Jews sent away to concentration camps, Jews dying. It was a very rewarding rabbinate because the Jews needed me.

SHAVELSON: That sense of finding something to appreciate, even in the most devastatingly bleak circumstances imaginable, defines Rabbi Trapp's core.

RABBI TRAPP: I have to I have to fear, for instance, that my mother went to her death, concentration camp, knowing that she did something for God.

SHAVELSON: Rabbi Trapp also traces his most intense experience of God to the concentration camp.

RABBI TRAPP: We were called out at 4:00 in the morning. The head of the camp, he said you are the dregs of humanity. I don't see why you should live. These machine guns on the towers around the camp were all directed toward us. The only thing that came to me is dear God, if you want me to die for you at this moment, I'm ready, I'm ready. And then in the strangest of ways, God was with me. I know God was there, in the concentration camp with me. And it was the worst place for it. That's why it was the best.

SHAVELSON: At the Passover Seder, Rabbi Trapp tells the next three generations of his family how his experience with the Nazis connects him to the Jews enslaved in Egypt. But the Rabbi doesn't see either of those two disasters for the Jews as past history. Rather, he says, they are omens of the future. The Passover readings say that in every generation people have tried to annihilate the Jews.

RABBI TRAPP: It has happened over and over and over and over again. And you better not only be prepared, but have the inner strength to endure it and we shall fight against it.

SHAVELSON: Because, says the Rabbi, every holocaust has been followed by an ever deepening freedom.

RABBI TRAPP: And freedom is the most significant element in Jewish life.

SHAVELSON: The Rabbi breaks the matzo, the unleavened bread that symbolizes the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

RABBI TRAPP: This year we are here. Next year we'll be in the land of Israel. This year there are many people who are enslaved and impoverished. Next year, may all human beings be free.

SHAVELSON: For The World, I'm Lonny Shavelson in San Rafael, California.

WERMAN: Lonny also produced a video that takes you inside that family Seder. You can check that at the world dot org.