Passover Latkes in Goebbels’ Castle
Corporal Sidney Talmud of Brooklyn was with the 38th Signal Construction Battalion marching through Germany in 1945. He had the opportunity to prepare food for a unique Passover service at Schloss Reydt, the Rennaissance-era palace used as a vacation home by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels had played the key role in creating an environment that allowed for the attempted destruction of Europe’s Jews. Though the extent of the Holocaust was not yet known, the irony of observing a holiday commemorating the liberation of the Jewish people in a palace intended as a tribute to Goebbels was lost on no one. Being at Schloss Reydt with 300 Jewish soldiers in 1945 was a cause for celebration that complemented the message of Passover perfectly.
The following is excerpted from an essay Talmud wrote in 1985 recalling the experience:
In the middle of March, 1945, I was approached by Lt. Shubow, our Jewish chaplain. He planned to conduct Passover services, and since I was the only Jewish cook in the battalion, would I supervise the food arrangements.
The next two weeks were hectic. We had been moving through Germany and finally stopped at München Gladbach. I solicited all canned goods from our Jewish soldiers and they responded generously. Since army kitchens worked primarily with frozen, canned, and dehydrated foods, I passed the word to our scroungers that I needed fresh potatoes. I soon had a truckload.
Erev Pesach came and our chaplain directed our convoy several miles to an imposing building called “Schloss Reydt.” This was Goebbels’ castle.
Directly off the veranda, where I set up two gasoline camp-stoves, was a gigantic banquet room that would easily accommodate the 300 GIs I would feed. On one wall was a picture of Hitler and one of my buddies had scrawled “Kaput” across it. For the next two or three hours I was too busy to deal with emotions. They came later. While I was frying latkes a fellow came by and inquired what I was doing. I offered him some pancakes while I explained our presence. Evidently the latkes agreed with him. He kept eating them and asking me lots of questions and that night his story flew across the Atlantic cable, and my parents were interviewed by Time and the papers, and WEVD, and they planted trees for me in Israel, and my mother, rest her soul, discovered that I had lied to her. I wasn’t having a great time in Paris after all. However, as mothers will, she forgave me.
When all the latkes were fried and eaten, I joined my comrades in the Passover songs. We had seen the atrocities and now we were savoring some small measure of vengeance and victory.
The Associated Press story that Talmud references above was picked up by many newspapers in both Yiddish and English. It quoted Chaplain Joseph Shubow: “This is indeed retribution. When this little monkey Goebbels decreed the burning of the synagogues seven years ago he little imagined that we would one day eat potato pancakes in his own home.”
Talmud would sum up his feelings this way: “…there wasn’t a seder [since] I recall when I didn’t for an ephemeral moment envision Hitler’s portrait with ‘Kaput’ scrawled across it and a tray of sizzling latkes just removed from the hot oil. And when the youngest completes his Four Questions and the company responds ‘Avadim Hayenu,’ I still get the sense of having been there.”