Preserving Tradition: The Legacy of Hans Adler’s Seder Plate

by Andrew Roth, Project Archivist

Just in time for Passover, the JFCS Holocaust Center recently received a beautiful, three-tiered Seder plate as a donation from 98-year-old Holocaust survivor Hans Adler. This striking Seder plate not only has a fascinating history but also imparts an often-overlooked aspect of the Jewish refugee experience: the desire to hold on to the cherished and familiar while adapting to a new life in a new land.  

seder plate from the Tauber Archives

The plate was used at Passover by the Adler family in Stuttgart, Germany, where Hans was born to Jakob and Bella in 1929. Jakob, known as Jack, studied to be a cantor but was unable to pursue this profession in Germany, and so became a traveling sales representative for a large liquor company in the south of the country. After the Kristallnacht pogrom in November 1938, Jack was interned in Dachau and released only upon agreeing to leave Germany immediately. The family emigrated in early 1939, sponsored by a great-aunt in California and an uncle in New York. After a short stay in New York, they moved to the west coast. Jack was able to serve as a cantor in San Francisco, where he officiated at special High Holiday services and occasionally at one or two established congregations. Jack passed away in 1946; Bella, who later remarried (to Eric Brent), passed away in 2003 at the age of 98.  

As a devout family, the Adlers cherished their religious traditions, with Hans fondly recalling the use of this Seder plate from his childhood in Germany. Crafted by the renowned Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik (WMF), a prominent manufacturer of household metalwares, the plate bears markings suggesting it was produced between 1910 and 1925. Notably, a 1923 WMF catalog features an identical Seder plate in its collection of “articles for Jewish rituals.” While its exact value remains unknown, a silver-plated three-tiered plate like this would undoubtedly have been a prized possession. The significance of the plate is underscored by its inclusion among the limited belongings permitted for the family’s departure from Germany, reflecting its profound sentimental value and symbolic importance. 

seder plate from the Tauber Archives

As they had in Germany, the family continued to use the Seder plate in San Francisco until Jack’s death. Subsequently, Bella used it and loaned it whenever she arranged or participated in a Seder until shortly before her death. It presumably served as a reminder, perhaps bittersweet, of the German-Jewish world they left behind. At the same time, it served as an emblem of continuity, hope, and rebuilding in their new American home. 

The Passover seder tells a story of persecution and exile, but it takes place most often at home surrounded by family. This well-loved and well-traveled Seder plate exemplifies this interesting dualism, so evocative of the Jewish refugee experience in the US. 

Learn more about the Tauber Library and Archives at the JFCS Holocaust Center.

Posted by Admin on April 22, 2024

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