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25 Kislev 5774 - November 28, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Chanukah Lights in the Bunkers and Camps of World War II

As the flickering Chanukah flames cast their serene glow over our homes we're reminded of the times when these lights told a different story. In the not-too-distant past these candles were lit under fire — literally — kindling a spirit of renewed hope in the heart of those who struck the match to echo the heaviness of their heartbeats and those of their spectators.

Part II

In the children's barracks of the Auschwitz death camp — a name that sends a shudder down every Jewish spine — boys from different countries and backgrounds were grouped together.

"The one thing that united us all," recalls one of the boys in his diary, "was the tefillos that we prayed together in the corner of the barracks and our mesirus nefesh for mitzvos.

"As the month of Kislev came around, we all had but one desire: to light the Chanukah candles. At least one candle, one night — it was our dream.

"After our combined efforts and daring, the first night of Chanukah saw a small wick being lit atop the highest wooden bunk. Who knows if that was the only candle lit in the entire Auschwitz, though it was occupied by thousands of Jews? We, at the time, had the notion that it was the only Chanukah light in the entire world, for we were sure that all the rest of Jewish life had been annihilated. Yet we felt that this flame would light our path into the future, into a continuity that would bring us an eventual triumph over our cruel oppressors."


"In the labor camp where we were deported in the heart of Germany, the spirits of Jewish women were long broken. Far away from a father's house and a mother's apron we had been swallowed by this whirlpool of blood and torture. However, with the advent of Chanukah, I formed a bold plan to light a menorah! The wicks were pulled from our threadbare rags that served as clothes. When a friend asked me why I was removing the little material I had to cover myself with, I let her in on my secret, and she offered to procure me five potatoes. These were cut in half, scooped out and filled with machine oil that another woman succeeded in obtaining.

"After the first night lighting, I saw how the women's faces radiated the glow that the flame cast, bringing a feeling of serenity and hope.

"I became more daring and decided to continue lighting night after night.

"By the fifth night of Chanukah, we were used to the idea and our fear lessened as we lit the flames. When the time came for lights out, we left our potato menorah burning so we could watch the dancing flames as we returned each of us to her wooden `bed' for the night. Sleepily we sang Mo'oz Tzur softly and some of us began reminiscing about Chanukah back home.

"Suddenly, our false sense of security was shattered. The door burst open and the shrieking voice of our kapo cut through the air.

"You are signaling to the enemy's airplanes patrolling overhead. I shall have you punished severely for this!"

Twenty-four pairs of accusing eyes glared at me in the dim candlelight. After all, this was all my work. I had no choice but to speak up. In a steady voice that belied my paralyzing fear, I told the red-faced kapo, `Listen here! These are no enemy signals. We are merely celebrating our festival of lights — Chanukah, when the few Jews overcame the many and mighty Greeks.'

"I have no idea how I dared to say what I did, but I felt that a strange voice was speaking forth from my throat.

"Without a word the kapo turned on her heel and left the room, leaving us all to wait for the worst, which we were sure was yet to come.

"To our great surprise, we were left unpunished. Not only this, but the next day the kapo called me and gave me an extra portion of cereal, like she would give to those who helped her carry her sacks."

Another Chanukah miracle had occurred.

!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Written as Reflections on the 50th Anniversary of the Kindertransport. (This poem was written by my aunt, Mrs. N. Wagschall, who was niftar suddenly this past Rosh Hashanah.)

As we have just lit the fifth Chanukah light

I cast my mind back to that memorable night

The fifth night of Chanukah, fifty years ago

When Vienna's streets were covered with snow.

We had been busy packing all day

And soon, very soon, we'd be going away,

Having to leave our dear parents behind

With heavy hearts and a troubled mind.

Rav Schonfeld had really worked under strain

But his tireless efforts had not been in vain.

Battling with committees, he had won the fight;

Our children's transport was leaving tonight!

In a taxi Papa sat with us three.

For Haschi for sure an adventure it would be.

Blanca, too young still to worry or care;

But for me this parting was very hard to bear!

At the station, children's excited faces;

They had gathered there from various places.

With a trembling voice, Papa gave us a brochoh

Entrusting us to Hashem's Hashgochoh.

The train was moving, we were on our way;

Morning had broken, and brought another day.

We were sitting, chatting, the time moving fast;

We made new friends — so the hours passed.

But suddenly, our train stopped in its track —

Were we in trouble? Would they send us back?

No! On the frozen lines the train had got stuck,

We hoped to proceed soon — but no such luck!

After seven hours we were moving again.

The blizzard had meanwhile turned into rain.

It was getting dark; soon it would be night.

Where would we see the sixth Chanukah light?

But Hakodosh Boruch Hu's help is always near,

Our group received the news with great cheer:

Gaby Fischer would kindle for us a menoire;

Our spirits were lifted by the chasdei haBoire!

Six lights shining in the window of our train.

We were moving on — it was snowing again.

We crossed the Dutch border just before noon;

Today was Friday. It will be Shabbos soon!

To a Rotterdam transit camp we were taken,

To quarantine barracks so cold and forsaken!

Still, soon it would be Shabbos again,

Peace at last, after so much strain!

The management were refugees, like us,

We were not treated with too much fuss.

We got ready for Shabbos, tried to look bright

As a man lit the seventh Chanukah light.

At the camp over Shabbos we wanted to stay,

Till after havdoloh, then we'd be on our way.

But suddenly, a new event shattered our peace:

The barracks were needed for new refugees!

It was hatzolas nefoshos, so we were told;

The new transport was waiting in the bitter cold

A hetter had been given for us to go;

Whether it was true we were never to know!

We were packing, in tears — gone was our joy.

Each one of us felt like a Shabbos goy.

A six-year-old cried: "But I can't take my case!

It's muktze!" she sobbed with a tear-stained face.

Hours later, during the Channel crossing

The seas were raging, our ship was tossing.

"Our punishment!" my mind was in turmoil.

"Would we live," I wondered, "to see British soil?"

But then we had landed, the storm had passed,

To a Harwich guest house we were taken at last.

Over a steaming glass of lemon tea

Our spirits rose — not for long, you will see.

The landlady said (so embarrassed she looked!):

"I'm afraid, for today these rooms are booked.

Remember, today is `Chogge' Eve;

I'm frightfully sorry, but you must leave

Our freie transport leaders at once agreed.

Chillul Shabbos? Much they cared indeed!

By then, our minds were totally numbed;

We couldn't think straight and so we succumbed.

We arrived in London, at Liverpool Street,

Standing on the platform with frozen feet.

We stamped the ground as the wind was blowing,

To keep the blood circulation going.

When three stars appeared, we couldn't keep still;

Taxis gave us a free ride to Stamford Hill.

A warm welcome for us there, everyone so kind

To us, quite exhausted in body and mind.

Mr. Weissmandl* welcomed us there that night

To kindle for us the eighth Chanukah light.

His "heimishe" nussach was music to my ears.

"Home from Home" I thought — drying my tears.

*Reb Moshe Dovid, a brother of Reb Michoel Ber.


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