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Title: A Passover in Rome

Title: A Passover in Rome
Author: Henry Welch and Rose Kryger
Publisher: Vantage Press, New York, NY

 

At Rose Kryger’s funeral, her son Meir, now a physician in Winnipeg, was surprised to learn from the rabbi’s funeral oration that his mother had some bottled up secrets and had yearned to be a writer. After the week of shiva, he discovered a spiral-bound notebook and some audio cassettes in a drawer.

A text of over 200 pages, written in Yiddish, was the only valuable heirloom that Rose Kryger bequeathed, and hers is a story of an indomitable survivor of the Second World War, and her narrow escape from persecution. Neither she nor her nuclear family ever fell in the hands of Nazis, nor were they interred in concentration camps.

This is a story of survival that simply had to be told, complete with pathos and even a bit of humor.

Henry Welch, Rose Kryger’s nephew Zvi, and the co-narrator of this book, relates the story of a Polish-Jewish couple who were hidden by their local Catholic parish priest, disguised as servants. After the war, they were so grateful to him for saving them from the Holocaust that they offered to convert and become Catholics. Their decision having been made – they were baptized and lived for years as Catholics until one day, some Jews who had survived returned and renewed their Jewish community.

The husband and the wife grew nostalgic as they saw Jews shopping for fish on Fridays and preparing for Shabbos and attending services in the local shul. They admitted to themselves that there was something missing in their lives, so they too decided to prepare and enjoy a real Shabbos meal, with gefilte fish, chopped chicken livers, and roast goose – the works!

Then their priest came by and discovered them eating meat on a Friday, the man wearing a kippah with a wine glass in hand making Kiddush. The Shabbos candles were lit and the table was set with a big, crispy roast goose. He barged in, bewildered and confused and said: “You can’t eat goose on a Friday.”

The Jew put his fingers in a glass of water and sprinkled a few drops at the goose and said: “goose, goose – you are no more goose – you are now a fish.”

Rose apparently began her manuscript as a result of a family gathering at a Passover celebration in Rome in 1984. After the discovery of her “work in progress,” her nephew Zvi added his own story in between hers and the combination fleshes out a truly fascinating story.

There are many thousands of stories about this era, told and re-told by the survivors and their families, but few cast a happy ending as this one does, or are as spell-binding and entertaining.

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