America, Land of Lights and Open Communication


Blind Hatredby Marion Marks

Blind hatred of a people, a race, a creed, a color or other Constitutionally protected categorization, such as cast on American Muslims by some today, brings back memories of the venom spewed in the 1930’s (and even today) against Jews of the world and especially German Jews. And, only if we can accept these differences can we approach the ideals of American liberty as the Constitution framers envisioned. This notice from history should be required study for those who foster division and hatred, because in remembering our past, we may see a path today.

It was the eighth night of Hanukkah in Kiel, Germany, a small town with a Jewish population of 500. That year, 1931, the last night of Hanukkah fell on Friday evening, and Rabbi Akiva Boruch Posner, spiritual leader of the town was hurrying to light the hanukkiah (often referred to incorrectly as a menorah) before the Shabbat set in.

Hanukkah 1931Directly 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 hanukkiah glowing brightly in her window, Rabbi Posner’s wife, Rachel, snapped a photo of the hanukkiah and captured the Nazi building and flag in the background.

She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Hanukkah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

The image, freezing in time a notorious piece of the past, has grown to become an iconic part of history for the Jewish community. But until just recently, not much was known about the origins of the photo.

Both the menorah and photo survived World War II, with the hanukkiah finding its way to Yad Vashem through the loan of Yehudah Mansbuch.

Menorah-Pres Bush
President Bush honoring the Hanukkah Lights

Mansbuch is the grandson of the woman who took the picture, and he retains the original snapshot. When Yad Vashem was putting together its plans to open the Holocaust History Museum, a team of researchers set out to learn more about this famous photo. Their inquiries led to Mansbuch, who explained how his grandmother and grandfather had lived under Nazi oppression in Kiel, Germany, eventually fleeing to then-Palestine in 1934.

Yehudah Mansbuch, the grandson of the family who took the photo, remembers:

It was on a Friday afternoon right before Shabbat that this photo was taken. My grandmother realized that this was a historic photo, and she wrote on the back of the photo that ‘their flag wishes to see the death of Judah, but Judah will always survive, and our light will outlast their flag.”

My grandfather, the rabbi of the Kiel community, was making many speeches, both to Jews and Germans. To the Germans he warned that the road they were embarking on was not good for Jews or Germans, and to the Jews he warned that something terrible was brewing, and they would do well to leave Germany. My grandfather fled Germany in 1933, and moved to Israel. His community came to the train station to see him off, and before departed he urged his people to flee Germany while there’s still time.”

The couple’s prescience saved an entire community; only eight of its five hundred Jews perished in the Holocaust, with the rest fleeing before the systematic slaughter began.

Today, Yehudah Mansbuch lives in Haifa (Israel) with his family. Each Hanukkah, Yad Vashem returns the now famous hanukkiah to the family, who light the candles for eight nights before returning the piece of history back to the Holocaust trust.

A lone man refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute in Nazi Germany, 1936
A lone man refusing to do the “Sieg Heil” salute in Nazi Germany, 1936

In America, the lesson of the lights now carries even greater significance as political rhetoric seeks to extinguish too many lights and close too many windows of communication that should remain open. In 1936 this single citizen in the photo refused to give the Nazi “Sieg Heil” salute, and we don’t know his fate. The point simply is that if we truly believe in the ideals of America, at least as much as the political paper-pusher running for public office proclaim along the campaign trail, more of us would be willing to speak out against the racist hate speech that is gaining momentum. I believe America stands for far more than what we see and hear in the news.