When British soldiers were in exile in Babylon


A homemade haggadah used by wartime British troops, which was so basic that its typewritten pages were bound with cardboard packing material, has recently been discovered.

The haggadah was used by Jewish soldiers who served in the British army in the Second World War and were stationed in Iran from 1942 to 1945. It was found by Israeli Aviram Paz, 60, a collector of haggadot, who believes that the document is the only one of its kind left in the world.

“They called themselves Jewish soldiers in Babylonian exile”, explained Mr Paz, who has a collection of 8,000 versions of the Passover story, which he keeps in a climate-controlled room at his kibbutz home in northern Israel.

“They were involved in defending oil facilities and refineries in the city of Abadan from possible attacks by the German and Japanese militaries,” he said. Iran was invaded in 1941 by Soviet and British forces because although it was officially neutral, the British owned oil refinery was strategically key to the Allied war effort.

The soldiers put together the haggadah using simple paper pages, printed using a typewriter. The covers were made from cardboard used by British police to pack equipment.

Another haggadah that Mr Paz has recently acquired is a 1954 version used by soldiers from the reconnaissance unit of Israel’s Givati Brigade. Made by soldiers, it contains illustrations and symbols relating to the Brigade, including its former insignia of a cactus and a sword.

“This is a haggadah with the style of [Israeli independence force] the Palmach and the kibbutzim,” Mr Paz said. “There are illustrations of the jeeps of Samson’s Foxes [a commando unit during the 1948 War of Independence].”

The oldest haggadah manuscript in existence dates to the 10th century and is part of a prayer book compiled by the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature, Saadia Gaon.

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