Menorah casts light on early years of Nazism

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
The 1932 photograph of the menorah in the window looking toward Nazi flags. | Courtesy of YAD VASHEM ARTIFACTS COLLECTION

JERUSALEM, Israel – A menorah and a photo of it dating to 1932 stand as reminders of a time of the greatest religious persecution in modern history. 

The image and menorah – a brass holder for nine candles – are on display most of the year at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem. Each December the family who donated it takes it out to use in their Hanukkah celebrations, and to tell the story at schools and military installations.

The 1932 photo shows the menorah in a window at Hanukkah, backdropped against a Nazi flag draped from a building across the street from the Posner family apartment. The Nazi regime came to power the following year.

"Our grandparents saw the future and they already were worried about what would be," said Yehuda Mansback, grandson of Akiva Posner, who in 1932 was a rabbi in the Jewish community in Kiel, northern Germany, according to an account in "My grandfather in 1933 told his community that Jews have no more future in Germany."

Rachel Posner, the rabbi's wife, wrote a short poem that she penned on the back of the photo:

"'Death to Judah,' so the flag says. 'Judah will live forever,' so the light answers," Rachel Posner wrote.

Under Nazi oppression, more than 6 million Jews were systematically exterminated. What had been a religious community of 9 million in Europe withered to an ethnic population perhaps of 3 million world-wide. Today, estimates vary widely, but there are as many as 15 million Jews, with 75 percent living in either the United States or Israel.

For the most part, Americans think Nazism dates to when the United States entered World War II in 1941, or even "as far back" as 1939, when Germany attacked Great Britain. Some elderly Americans can bring to mind the date 1933, when the Third Reich became the ruling force in the western European nation.

This photo shows the oppression began even earlier.

The descendants of the Posners use the menorah in Israel every year at Hanukkah. | Courtesy of YAD VASHEM ARTIFACTS COLLECTION

Yad Vashem, Israel's national museum of Holocaust remembrance, has in its artifacts a newspaper article recounting a local Nazi Party chairman's "invitation" for Rabbi Posner to join him in a public debate, after Posner had written a letter to the editor expressing indignation at posters hanging in the city that read, "Entrance to Jews Forbidden."

The debate took place under "heavy police guard," according to Yad Vashem.

Before the Nazis came to power, about 500 Jews lived in Keil. The rabbi urged them to move with him to what then was known as Palestine.

"Mansback said his grandparents told him there were less than a dozen Jews in the town by the time the Nazis came to round them up in 1939," according to The Blaze's account of the international telephone interview.

The Posner's descendants use the copper-colored menorah every Hanukkah season, which this year is Dec. 16-24. The rest of the year, it's on loan to Yad Vashem.

"The menorah symbolizes that the future of the Jewish people is in Eretz Israel [the land of Israel], in the state of Israel and of course, living by the Torah of Israel," Mansbach said.

The menorah is emblematic of more than just this modern historical period.

It also symbolizes a time in Jewish history when a remnant stood for traditional Jewish values.

In 168 B.C., the ruler of the Syrian kingdom, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, began a campaign to quash Judaism, so that all subjects in his vast empire -- that included Israel -- would share the same culture and worship the same gods. He captured Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, and decreed that studying Torah, observing the Sabbath, and circumcising Jewish boys were punishable by death.

A remnant of Jewish families fled to the hills of Judea and formed legions that eventually defeated a larger and better-equipped Syrian army, and regained control of the temple. The golden menorah that had been fashioned by Moses according to the instructions of God had been stolen and a replacement made, but only a day's worth of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the high priest could be found. Miraculously, the menorah remained lit for eight days until new oil was available.

Jews celebrate these eight days as the holiday, Hanukkah, by lighting candles -- one the first night, two the second, and so on, until all are lit -- and giving thanks for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous," accodding to the website about Jewish practices,