A Jewish menorah defies the Nazi swastika, 1931

By RHP | Posted on: May 17, 2014 | Updated on: May 29, 2014
She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Chanukah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “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 a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Chanukah, 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 Hanukkah finding its way to Yad Vashem through the loan of Yehudah Mansbuch. 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 the 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 menorah to the family, who light the candles for eight nights before returning the piece of history back to the Holocaust trust.

24 thoughts on “A Jewish menorah defies the Nazi swastika, 1931

    1. andysbhm

      here are supposed to be nine candles, not eight, because Jewish tradition requires a special candle in the middle to light the others.

      Reply
  1. Leta

    The author of the article should have noticed that the photo was taken before the candles were lit. The picture is still wonderful and we know that the candles were lit when the Rabbi got home.

    Reply
    1. Julia Khodor Beloborodov

      That would be because an orthodox rabbi’s wife would never take a picture after sundown on Friday, when the candles would’ve been lit. Orthodox Jews do not use electricity on Shabbat.

      Reply
      1. Mechel

        You are correct about not lighting candles after the advent of Shabbat. However, you are incorrect about electricity. Observant (Orthodox) Jews do use electricity, as long it was left on before Shabbat began. We do not turn electricity on or off manually, though we can have lights on a timer that is programmed before Shabbat.

        Reply
        1. Stephen

          even then, cameras of that era didn’t use any electricity anyway.

          Reply
    1. David Dubin

      We are a resilient people who will NEVER again allow ourselves to be diminished as a people.

      Reply
  2. empresstrudy

    So it was BEFORE the Nazis took power. 2 more years and it would be a capital crime.

    Reply
      1. Bill

        That did not occur until the Nürnberger Gesetze in 1935, four years later.

        Reply
  3. Bill

    In 1931 this was less so defiance, for the Nürnberger Gesetze (Nuremberg Laws) did not arise until 1935 and Kristallnacht wasn’t until 1938. In the early 1930s naive German Jews, to include rabbinical leaders and even Jewish military veterans of the Great War still thought they could purse their lips and God would sort it out.

    Reply
  4. Howard

    The point of the picture is that the light that Hitler imagined was his 1000 year Reich was extinguished, and the light of Chanukah is still burning bright because the Nazis could not extinguish the light of Judaism

    Reply
    1. Bill

      The Nazi’s had no desire to extinguish the light of Judaism in toto as you assert, in fact early in the Reich Nazi leaders enthusiastically supported Jewish colonization in Palestine. Rather Hitler and his henchmen simply wanted German Jews to keep moving and continue their diaspora elsewhere, beyond the “Father- and Sudetenland.” It was still an immoral and undemocratic policy, but there are degrees to consider when painting pre-war Germany with a broad brush (and here we are today with Presidential candidates extolling the very same policy). In those early days of the Nazis, after Hitler came to power, the German Zionist Federation Executive even recruited Baron Leopold Itz Edler von Mildenstein of the SS to visit Palestine and see colonization first-hand; Mildenstein’s visit to Palestine lasted for six months. When Mildenstein returned to Germany, Goebbels published his observations and advocacy in a special twelve-part series in Der Angriff, the leading Nazi propaganda magazine of the day (9/26-10/9/34). Of course what advanced after that is the better-known history we now condemn.

      Reply
  5. Sally Wald

    It is most remarkable and brave of the Rabbi and his wife. Their courage should be an inspiration to us all.

    Reply
  6. Martha Arnum

    Very tragic times during the occupation of the dear Jewish people. Thank goodness the Nazi’s could not destroy the lights of Chanukah.

    Reply
  7. Mel Kolstad

    I’m wondering about the vaildity of this photo – the Nazi party came into its true power in 1933, not 1931. And although the flag was designed by Hitler in 1920, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t flown until he became Chancellor. Perhaps the Hebrew year is just incorrect? Please advise. I’d hate to think this is a hoax.

    Reply
    1. Bill

      It never occurred to me before to look at this photo more critically from a forensic perspective until Mel’s remark above. The photo appears to be altered. What first drew my attention is the small Mogen David drawn at the base of the central candlestick, then I noticed that the background of the hakenkreuz flag has been lightened to make the flag stand-out more against the building background (there should be a darker window there, not simply a gray background). The photo may be real, but my impression is that it was clearly altered for propaganda purposes, such as that seen on this website.

      Reply
  8. loosethoughts

    I often wonder how long it will take before our current generations realize they do the same things their forefather’s percecuters did to them…

    Let’s stop the madness with more madness seems to be the current policy. Do to them before they do to us.

    Reply

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