Dei'ah veDibur - Information &

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Kislev 5774 - November 21, 2013 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by











Chanukah Lights in the Bunkers and Camps of World War II

As the 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 I

1944 in Bergen-Belsen. After much toil the Rabbi of Bluzhov, Rabbi Yisroel Shapiro managed to obtain oil in time for the first night of Chanukah. Radiating a holy fire of his own, the Rebbe, trembling with emotion rather than fear, recited the three brochos and lit the first single flame. Tears of joy and sadness combined and poured forth from all those present. Suddenly, one of the inmates, a former member of the Bund of Warsaw who had cast off any yoke of Torah, approached the Rebbe and posed a question in a loud, clear voice.

"Rebbe, I know you to be a wise man. I understand your willingness to sacrifice your life for this mitzvah, for it infuses us all with the hope that now too Hashem may hand over the many into the hands of the few and the wicked over to the righteous. I accept that you said the first two brochos according to the halochoh. But tell me Rebbe, the third brochoh — how could you bless G-d for the fact that we merit to live and see this day? To thank G-d when hundreds of bodies of our fellow Jews lie lifeless around us, when thousands of Jewish souls are going up in smoke in front of our very eyes?"

His painful, piercing question knifed through the air, leaving all those present agape. All the inmates waited in silence to hear the Rebbe's answer.

"You have a point my son," replied the Rebbe slowly, "and while the third brochoh started to cross my lips, your very question crossed my mind. I had trouble working on how to recite the brochoh with true kavonoh.

"However, I paused and looked around at all my fellow prisoners. Their faces mirrored the pain and anguish we are all enduring and yet, beyond the tortured expressions, I saw a firm will, a preparedness to take part in this candle- lighting even on pain of death. For this I could truly say with elation the brochoh of shehechiyonu."


From the diary of an inmate at the Niderschall Camp in Germany:

Somewhere in that obscure existence of days and weeks that followed each other without name, date, rhyme or reason, someone discovered that in a number of days would be the first day of Chanukah. Word was passed around among us and we all agreed that, come what may, we would light a candle.

True, this was not one of the mitzvos for which a Jew is obliged to give up his life, but we felt that fulfilling it would be a life-giving spirit for all of us. Two hurdles had to be overcome. Although there was plenty of fuel in the factory where we labored all day, how would we smuggle some of it out into our barracks? The second problem: having procured the oil, how would we light a candle without bringing it to the attention of our German overseers?

We cast lots to decide who would bring the oil, who would hide it until Chanukah, and who would light the candle under the wooden board that served as his bed. The third paper to be picked bore my name. Shimon managed to persuade his work overseer that the machinery needed more oiling so they would work better and a can of oil was brought to the camp. But our hearts still skipped a beat at the question of how we would avoid the attention of our guards.

The first night of Chanukah came. The emptied tin of shoe polish that a German had thrown out was to be our menorah and a few threads pulled from our meager blankets were to serve as wicks. The oil was poured in and all was ready, when suddenly we realized we had forgotten to bring matches. Ben Zion, our strongman, was not fazed. Immediately he instructed everyone to stop eating the watery soup we had just been given. The remnants were gathered together to form five portions that were duly traded for a cigarette. With his precious cargo in hand, Ben Zion made his way to the kitchen, handed over the cigarette and was given the box of matches he demanded, no questions asked.

With my heart palpitating wildly, I recited the three brochos and lit the first candle to the sobs yet triumphant joy of the rest of us. Quietly we hummed and sung Mo'oz Tzur and Yevonim, while even those who were not shomrei mitzvos joined in.

For a few short, blissful moments, we forgot the torture and suffering, each of us allowing himself the luxury of delving a little into memories of years gone by, and into fervent prayer that Hashem save us with miracles as He did bayomim hoheim.

"What's going on here?" The hysterical scream of the Nazi guard snapped us out of our reverie as we all froze in a single moment. "I can smell oil burning," he continued to rant and, together with his dog, began to search the barracks. I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before he would find the flame under my bed and this would be my end. However, I was too frightened to stamp it out with my foot, for the movement would alert the dog and he would jump on me mercilessly.

It seemed there was no way out and I would die for my mitzvah. And then the Chanukah miracle occurred.

A loud siren, warning of an air raid from the Allied bombers, interrupted the search. As the guard stopped his search, all lights in the camp were extinguished and I seized the moment of confusion to stomp out the Chanukah light. Together we all ran outside, as we had been instructed to do at the sound of an air raid warning. I managed to grab our `menorah' with me as I ran, and threw it away outside in the darkness. "There will still be a search," came the threat of the Nazi as we ran, but his words rang hollow in the night air.


Pressburg, the city whose very name conjures up a picture of the famous yeshiva and bustling Jewish life, was already considered Judenrein by the Nazi masterminds. They were confident that this year on Chanukah not a single flame would twinkle in a window or doorway of Pressburg's houses.

Yet in a bunker, deep down under the floor tiles of the washhouse of a small cottage, nineteen Jewish fugitives were holding their own. The cramped space belied the greatness of the characters in this little hideout occupying it. Here were the gaon Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel, father of the underground hatzoloh, the Admor, the elderly Rebbe of Stropkov who, upon wishing to enter the bunker, sensed the reluctance of its occupants. They were afraid that if an emergency should arise and they would have to flee, how would the elderly Rebbe manage without endangering them all? The Stropkover promised that if they would allow him to take shelter with them they would all survive the war — as indeed they did. The respected Reb Shlomo Stern zt"l, a right hand to R' Michoel Ber, was also part of this group, as was his son.

As Chanukah neared the owner of the hideout, a gentile partisan who worked in the train station, was asked to bring them oil. On the first night of Chanukah, a candle was lit. Not by the window or the door of course, but a flame nevertheless that drew all the Jews around it, their eyes riveted to its dancing light. Soul-stirring talk of hope and encouragement was heard in the depths of the bunker. Pressburg's light was not extinguished.


All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.