established two Jewish Holidays in Galus (exile), Chanukah and Purim.†
They enacted these holidays because without these vehicles of expression
we would not be able to withstand the hardships of Galus. Chanukah was
established as a day Le`Hodos U`Lehallelď To give thanks and praiseĒ [to Hashem] (for the miracles he performed
for the Macabees). Chanukah is not just a commemoration of a victory and
miracles that happened over 2,000 years ago. Our annual observance of these
eight days give us the strength and fortitude to overcome the tribulations of
every generationís persecutions and to keep the light of Judaism burning
presented here is a well-known story that occurred during the Holocaust.
We urge our
readers to read and be inspired by this vignette of the dark days of our recent
THE FIRST CHANUKAH LIGHT IN BERGEN BELSEN
Bergen Belsen, on the eve of Chanukah, a selection took place.
Early in the morning, three German commandants, meticu≠lously dressed in their
festive black uniforms and in visibly high spir≠its, entered the men`s
barracks. They ordered the men to stand at the foot of their three-tiered bunk
selection began. No passports were required, no papers were checked, there was
no roll call and no head count. One of the three commandants just lifted the
index finger in his snow-white glove and pointed in the direction of a pale
face, while his mouth pronounced the death sentence with one single word:
The men selected were marched
outside. S. S. men with rubber truncheons and iron prods awaited them. They
kicked, beat, and tortured the innocent victims. When the tortured body no
longer responded, the revolver was used . . . .
brutal massacre continued outside of the barracks until sundown. When the Nazi
black angels of death departed, they left behind heaps of hun≠dreds of tortured
and twisted bodies.
Chanukah came to Bergen Belsen. It was time to kindle the Chanukah
lights. A jug of oil was not to be found, no candle was in sight, and a hanukkiah
belonged to the distant past. Instead, a wooden clog, the shoe of one of the
inmates, became a hanukkiah; strings pulled from a concentration-camp
uniform, a wick; and the black camp shoe polish, pure oil.
far from the heaps of the bodies, the living skeletons assem≠bled to
participate in the kindling of Chanukah lights.
The Rabbi of Bluzhov lit the
first light and chanted the first two blessings in his pleasant voice, and the
festive melody was filled with sorrow and pain. When he was about to recite the
third blessing, he stopped, turned his head, and looked around as if he were
searching for something.
But immediately, he turned his
face back to the quivering small lights and in a strong, reassuring, comforting
voice, chanted the third blessing: Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King
of the Uni≠verse, who has kept us alive, and hast preserved us, and enabled us
to reach this season.
Among the people present at the kindling of the
lights was a Mr. Zamietchkowski, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Bund. He was a
clever,†††† sincere person with a passion for discussing matters of reli≠gion,
faith, and truth. He never missed an opportunity to engage in such a
soon as the Rabbi of Bluzhov had finished the ceremony of kin≠dling the lights,
Zamietchkowski elbowed his way to the rabbi and said, Spira, you are a
clever and honest person. I can understand your need to light Chanukah candles
in these wretched times. I can even understand the historical note of the second
blessing, `Who wroughtest miracles for our fathers in days of old, at this
season.` But the fact that you recited the third blessing is beyond me. How
could you thank God and say `Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the
Universe, who has kept us alive, and hast preserved us, and en≠abled us to
reach this season`? How could you say it when hundreds of dead Jewish bodies are
literally lying within the shadows of the Chanukah lights, when thousands of
living Jewish skeletons are walking around in camp, and millions more are being
massacred? For this you are thankful to God? For this you praise the Lord? This
you call `keeping us alive`?
you are a hundred percent right, answered the rabbi. When I reached
the third blessing, I also hesitated and asked myself, what should I do with
this blessing? I turned my head in order to ask the Rabbi of Zaner and other
distinguished rabbis who were standing near me, if indeed I might recite the
blessing. But just as I was turning my head, I noticed that behind me a throng
was standing, a large crowd of living Jews, their faces expressing faith,
devotion, and concentration as they were listening to the rite of the kindling
of the Chanukah lights. I said to myself, if God, blessed be He, has such a
nation that at times like these, when during the light≠ing of the Chanukah lights they see in front of them the heaps of bod≠ies of their beloved fathers,
brothers, and sons, and death is looking from every corner, if despite all that,
they stand in throngs and with devotion listening to the Chanukah blessing `Who
wrought mira≠cles for our fathers in days of old, at this season`; if, indeed,
I was blessed to see such a people with so much faith and fervor, then I am
under a special obligation to recite the third blessing.
years after liberation, the Rabbi of Bluzhov, received regards from Mr.
Zamietchkowski. Zamietchkowski asked the son of the Skabiner Rabbi to tell
Israel Spira, the Rabbi of Bluzhov, that the answer he gave him that dark Chanukah
night in Bergen Belsen had stayed with him ever since, and was a
constant source of inspiration during hard and troubled times.
Based on a conversation of the Grand Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Israel
Singer, with Aaron Frankel and Baruch Singer, June 22, 1975. I heard it at the
Source: Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust by Yaffa Eliach. Oxford University
Press. New York