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Seder Night in Cambrai, 1915

At the end of March 1915, in the city of Cambrai, France, a number of German-Jewish soldiers gathered to celebrate Seder night and the Passover holiday together – to the extent possible given the reality of the First World War. In order to prepare properly, Bavarian soldier Abraham (Adolf) Frankel (1891-1965), a doctor of mathmatics, prepared a registration list for participants. Another nine soldiers signed up, most of them from Bavarian units that were stationed on occupied French territory near the Belgian border. Frankel instructed participants as to how to request permits to leave their bases: they were to say that it was necessary for “religious needs;” he also recommended that they equip themselves with prayer books. All those who registered were interested in participating in both the evenings planned, on March 29 and 30. Dr. Frankel kept the list of Seder participants in 1915 with his personal belongings and preserved it for many decades. Together with his personal archive, he arrived with this list at the archives department of the National Library.


Abraham (Adolf) Frankel as German paramedic in World War I

Fifty years later, this same Abraham Halevi Frankel wrote a memoir, in German, even though he meanwhile had been living in Israel for almost 40 years. This book, which has not yet been translated into any other language, also includes a chapter about Frankel’s service in the German army during almost all of the years of the war. In this chapter, Frankel writes that during the first two years, he served as a paramedic. In 1915, he was stationed at the military hospital in the French city of Cambrai. Frankel explains in his book that he was responsible for the religious affairs of the Jewish soldiers: he filled the gap between their religious needs, and the availability of the army chaplain rabbis, who were not able to be always be where they were needed. It is reasonable to assume that Frankel organized the Seder in his capacity as the person responsible for religious matters. Regarding this job, Frankel wrote:

“New problems have arisen in matters pertaining to traditional life, mainly in relation to food, but also regarding prayer, phylacteries, the prohibition against shaving, and the like. Indeed, I have always succeeded in living according to the rules of kashrut, with the exception of a short period in the spring of 1918, when the rabbi of Congregation Adath Israel in Berlin, Dr. Ezra Monk, explicitly forbade me from observing kashrut. It goes without saying that usually it was difficult to observe the Sabbath.” (translation from Fraenkel’s memoir: Araham A. Fraenkel: Lebenskreise. Aus den Erinnerungen eines jüdischen Mathematikers. Stuttgart 1967, p.128).

During the second half of World War I, Frankel transferred to a weather-forecasting unit, a job that better suited his outstanding talents as a mathemetician. Immediately at the end of the war, Abraham Frankel returned to Marburg University, and later, went on to serve as a professor of mathematics in the city of Kiel, in northern Germany. In 1926, the mathematician visited Eretz Israel together with his family, and three years later, came on aliyah and was appointed as a professor of mathematics at The Hebrew University. In 1938, he was even chosen to be rector of the university. In Israel, he published mathematical works, and devised many mathematical terms for concepts that until that time did not exist in the Hebrew language.

List of Seder participants: