There’s something eerily familiar about this scenario that happened as Nazism was gaining political power. Again today, Jews are threatened, and again, a pall of darkness has fallen over Europe as the worst of humanity on the prowl for power and world dominion, unleashes its terror.
(lubavitch.com) In a now famous photo taken in 1931, a small brass menorah—all eight lights kindled—faced off against a menacing Nazi banner.
On the back of the photo an inscription reads: “Chanukah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.
It was the eighth night of Chanukah in Kiel, Germany, a small town with a Jewish population of 500. That year, 1931, the last night Chanukah fell on Friday evening, and Rabbi Akiva Boruch Posner, spiritual leader of the town was hurrying to light the Menorah before the Shabbat set in.
Directly across the Posner’s home stood the Nazi headquarters in Kiel, displaying the dreaded Nazi Party flag in the cold December night. With the eight lights of the menorah glowing brightly in her window, Rabbi Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a photo of the menorah and captured the Nazi building and flag in the background. She wrote those few words in German on the back of the photo.
There’s something eerily familiar about this scenario that happened more than 80 years ago. Again today, Jews are threatened, and again, a pall of darkness has fallen over Europe as the worst of humanity on the prowl for power and world dominion, unleashes its terror.
But again, the menorah’s lights answer. Sunday night, on the first night of Chanukah, while Paris’s citizens were yet reeling from recent attacks by Islamic terrorists and many thought it best to lay low, Chabad came out in full throttle to kindle the menorah at the Eiffel Tower, as it did last year and the years before that.
“The terror attacks in Paris have sought to throw darkness over us, but Chanukah is our opportunity to prove again that the light of goodness and justice is always more powerful,” Rabbi Mendel Azimov, director of Chabad activities in Paris told lubavitch.com.
Arnold Schwarzenneger, former governor of the State of California who was in Paris for the environmental talks, joined the menorah lighting. “To me, the menorah means light, and if we stand together shoulder to shoulder, goodness will always prevail over evil,” he said.
With strong cooperation from city officials who provided security, Paris’s Jews marked the first night of Chanukah joyfully, with the participation of France’s Jewish leadership. It will continue with additional lightings during the 8-day festival in 30 public locations throughout Paris.
When lubavitch.com reported on the story of the Kiel menorah in 2010, Rachel Posner’s grandson Yehudah Mansbuch, of Beit Shemesh, Israel, said, “My grandfather fled Germany in 1933, and moved to Israel. His community came to the train station to see him off, and before he departed he urged his people to flee Germany while there’s still time.”
The couple’s prescience saved an entire community; eight perished in the Holocaust, but the rest of the five hundred survived, having fled before the systematic slaughter began. “My grandmother wrote that inscription a year and a half before the Nazi Party gained power, Mansbuch said, “but she knew what was coming, and knew that they would never succeed in dispelling the lights of her menorah.”
Yeuhudah Mansbuch donated the menorah to Yad Vashem but kept the original photo. Every Chanukah, he takes his piece of history back home, and his son, who was named for his great-grandfather lights the menorah.
Not all Jewish families in Europe displayed their menorahs so openly back then. And after the Holocaust, even in the U.S., Jews were uncomfortable with public displays of their faith. Indeed, until the Rebbe led his Shluchim to inspire Jewish people everywhere to pull those menorahs out of the attic and dust them off, Chanukah was mostly a kitchen-table affair.
That all changed over recent decades, as Chabad fought and won court battles to secure the right to install menorahs on public grounds and celebrate Jewish pride openly, turning Chanukah into the most popular of Jewish holidays worldwide.
“Chabad is determined to remind people everywhere of this holiday’s historic message, and we will do that with the lights of the menorah that we will light publicly each night of Chanukah,” Azimov said.