The Hanukiyah and the Swastika: The story behind a haunting photo from 1931

“Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness” – Anne Frank

Last year we published an essay exploring the significance of the Hanukkah story in the context of the challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people, and illustrated the post with the following photo:

hanukkah

Though the symbolism of the image was likely clear, we were only recently able to track down the story, per a news report in December 2010. Here are excerpts: 

Yehuda Mansbach told Israel National News in an interview: “This Hanukiyah [Hanukkah menorah] is the only remaining memory of the congregation my Grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Akiva Baruch Pozner, led before escaping Germany.”

The photo [above] tells much of that history, says Mansbach, a resident of Beit Shemesh. “In this photo you see the Hanukiyah stationed at a window, with a Nazi flag across the street.” The photo was taken in 1931, says Mansbach, long before the Nazis came to power. But, as it happened, the house of Rabbi Posner, who led the community of Kiel in Germany, was right across the street from the local headquarters of the Nazi Party.

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

As Rabbi of the Kiel community, Rabbi Posner did everything he could to encourage Jews to escape Germany.

Indeed, Mansbach says, many did leave, and by the time the Nazis came to power, some half of the congregation had already emigrated, mostly to the U.S. and the Land of Israel.

The Hanukiyah made it to Israel as well, and ended up in Yad Vashem. But each year they make sure to “borrow” if for their family Chanukah celebration. 

May the light of truth continue to burn brightly.

Happy Hanukkah!

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