Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, falls this year at a challenging time for Israelis and Jews around the world. But we should take solace not only in the miracle that we celebrate each time we light the menorah but also in many other chapters of our history where we discovered glimmers of light as darkness approached.
One that touches me came during the bleakest of times. It’s the story of what a Jewish sculptor-architect secretly created in the Theresienstadt ghetto in northern Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic), a walled transit camp for western Jews enroute to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. There, Arnold Zadikow, deported from Germany in 1942, was assigned to work in a workshop that created decorative arts for the Nazis. A young Czech woodcarver, Leopold Hecht, stole wood from the Germans so that he and Zadikow could craft a menorah for the boys’ residence.
The men took on this dangerous mission so that the children could celebrate Hanukkah and learn about Judaism, since Jewish teaching was forbidden. The lamp carries a Hebrew inscription, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the celestials?” (Exodus 15:11). This rare example of Jewish ceremonial art created during the Holocaust was found in the camp (where Zadikow perished in 1943) after the war. It’s now in the permanent collection of New York’s Jewish Museum.
In The Breman’s Holocaust exhibition “Absence of Humanity,” we reveal many instances of Jewish resilience in the face of Nazi persecution. Our guests tell us they draw strength from these stories. It’s the way of our people that in the darkest night, we await the dawn. I feel certain that the darkness that troubles our souls today will only make us more resolute to share our stories and rich culture, to hold up candles to the enveloping darkness.
Leslie Gordon is the executive director of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.