Holocaust survivors say there was a dark side to Chanukah in Berlin this year

Jews in Germany used this year’s Chanukah celebrations to reflect on atrocities old and new


In a Berlin Christmas market, just a matter of steps from where 12 people were killed in a lorry attack one year ago, a small crowd gathered on Monday to see a mayor and rabbi light Chanukah candles.

The usual holiday crowds circulated among festive huts purveying kitschy gifts, candied nuts and mulled wine.

Some munched on bratwurst in rolls and watched, curious, as a few dozen people sang blessings over a giant chanukiah set up on the edge of the market. Jam doughnuts were handed out for free, and old and young peeled off their winter gloves to grab the sticky treats.

Addressing the crowd alongside district Mayor, Reinhard Naumann, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal said they would not be singing the usual holiday songs out of respect for the victims.

Listening to him was Israeli tourist Dalia Elyakim, whose husband Rami was one of the 56 people wounded in last year’s attack when Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri drove his lorry into the Breitscheidplatz market.

Amri was shot and killed in Italy four days later.

The candle-lighting was one of many Chanukah celebrations in Berlin, where the Jewish population officially numbers less than 10,000.

Another event in Berlin, sponsored by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, saw Holocaust survivors gather for a ceremony and meeting with political leaders including Wolfgang Schäuble, the German parliament speaker.

Ceremonies were also held in other German cities — Bremen, Hanover, Offenbach and Munich — as well as in Jerusalem and New York. Several hundred survivors participated.

Greg Schneider, the Claims Conference’s executive vice-president, told the JC he hoped to make the event a tradition.

“We need to dedicate at least one night of Chanukah to reminding the world about Holocaust survivors,” he said, because the Chanukah story “resonates with their story of resilience.”

Rüdiger Mahlo, who represents the Claims Conference in Germany, said that the Berlin group told Mr Schäuble they were worried about a return to prevalent antisemitism.

There have been several virulently anti-Israel demonstrations in this and other German cities since US President Donald Trump announced his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The survivors told Mr Schäuble that “the very aggressive atmosphere and demonstrations at the Brandenburg Gate, right in front of the chanukiah there, reminded them of 1938,” Mr Mahlo said.

“It is clear that it is not the same as 1938 but, on the other hand, you have to accept these fears.”

At the city’s Jewish community centre in former West Berlin, Marlene Herzberg, 83, said she often found herself reaching out to comfort elderly neighbours who fear the rise of far-right political groups in Germany.

She was born to a Jewish father and Christian mother and survived the Nazi era because her mother had her baptised. Her father fled to South America.

“The world should be filled with light,” said Ms Herzberg, a retired teacher who underwent a halachic conversion later in life and chose to be called Sarah — the name forced on all women of Jewish background by the Nazis.

Even if you’re not religious, you can believe in miracles, said Rudolf Rosenberg, 92, whose family escaped Nazi Germany in 1935 and ended up in what was then Leningrad. A retired educator who taught Russian in the former East Germany, he returned to live in Berlin after reunification in 1993.

His miracle is “that I fled Berlin at the age of 10, and that I am here again.”

According to Mr Schneider, there are some 450,000 survivors living around the world, most of them former Soviet citizens who had fled Germany. About 90,000 who survived concentration and death camps, in ghettos or in hiding, are still alive.

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