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Celebrating Pesach as a “Mrs. Lieutenant” in Germany

Yesterday I was actually nostalgic for a time when I was a “Mrs. Lieutenant.” That time was the first week of May in 1972 right before my husband got out of the army.

Before leaving our three-bedroom quarters in the U.S. Army’s Perlacher Forst housing section of Munich, Germany, we had to pass inspection for our quarters. This meant that everything – and I mean everything – had to be spotless. Not just spotless on the outside, but spotless on the inside too.

We did what most officers did – hired a special cleaning team to ensure that we would pass inspection. The team descended like a host of locusts – and our quarters easily passed inspection. Worth every penny, and I’ve never again seen anyone clean that thoroughly.

I thought of the cleaning team yesterday as I determinedly tried to ensure that my stove was spotless inside and out. Of course, my cleaning for Pesach this year and for many years before has been much easier than the first time I cleaned for Pesach – in the spring of 1971. No automatically defrosted refrigerators and no self-cleaning ovens then. (The army cleaning team also didn’t have the advantages that these modern engineering marvels offer.)

Here’s what I wrote home from Munich on April 11, 1971:

“Thursday night Mitch and I cleaned all evening. We scrubbed the refrigerator, cleaned the over (we had cleaned the top last weekend), cleaned the food shelves, etc. At 10:30 I was still washing the kitchen floor. Then we searched for chometz with a candle but couldn’t find the blessings to say as our Haggadah didn’t have it in so we said approximately what we knew the blessings to say. The rabbi came during our cleaning to give us wine and more gefilte fish, and Friday evening his wife told me how pleased the rabbi was at how hard we were working to clean the house.”

The letter also included a description of how we obtained kosher for Passover food in Munich. This was a far cry from the numerous Jewish and non-Jewish stores right near our house in Los Angeles where we can get an unbelievable assortment of kosher for Passover food items.

That April 1971, when Mitch and I really cleaned for Pesach for the first time in our lives, we were Jews living in Germany, a country that only 30 years before had tried to make the world judenrein – free of Jews. This year of 2008, may all who are celebrating Pesach throughout the world truly appreciate this holiday celebrating our freedom. We are still here!