Creating Light in Darkness: Remembering the Holocaust on... Read More
Yom HaShoah is the day established by the State of Israel as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. As we remember and honor the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, many remarkable stories can be told through works of art found in the Jewish Museum’s collection, offering a reminder of the ability of human creativity to transcend such horrible anguish.
One object in the Museum’s collection followed an especially circuitous route. Created as a symbol of gratitude in a displaced persons camp in Germany as Holocaust survivors began their new lives after the end of World War II, it was given to the Jewish Museum in 1945. It also traveled to Washington, D.C. in 2011 for a presentation at the White House.
Created in a liminal state, this Hanukkah lamp from 1945 was hammered out of cartridge scraps and shell casings by Jews in the Landsberg/Lech Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. From 1945 to 1952, more than 250,000 Jews lived in camps and urban centers in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Filled with survivors of Nazi atrocities who had been ripped from their lives and families, the camps were home for people not only suffering from the trauma of war, but also those seeking out their families and loved ones, not knowing who had survived and who had not. Unwilling, or unable, to return to their homes from before the war, these camps offered a halfway house for survivors as they navigated the course of their new lives.
In an effort to give them usable skills as they reestablished themselves, the residents received vocational training in manual labor as a means of changing their economic conditions. The Hanukkah lamp was created in one of those workshops and dedicated to General Joseph T. McNarney, who served as the Commander in Chief of United States Forces in Europe from November 1945 to March 1947. In that capacity, he was responsible for the displaced persons camps in Germany and Austria. The lamp was presented to him shortly after he took office, perhaps at a visit to the camp. McNarney was considered kindhearted and humane, and when Jews fleeing postwar pogroms in Poland illegally infiltrated the American-controlled sector, he granted them shelter and care.
In addition, General McNarney enabled the publication of a complete edition of the Talmud to meet the thirst for Jewish education among surviving European Jews. Acceding to the impassioned plea of Rabbi Philip S. Bernstein, the American advisor on Jewish affairs, McNarney scrounged for scarce paper, imported sets of the Talmud from America to make offset copies, and requisitioned a printing plant to publish the edition, which came out in 1948.
The Hebrew inscription on the lamp, “A great miracle happened there,” is found on the tops or dreidels that children play with on Hanukkah in Ashkenazi communities. The phrase refers to the miracle of Hanukkah, but may also poignantly signify the liberation and salvation of the Jewish refugees.
General McNarney wrote: “The residents of this Center have established a number of training schools in several forms of craftsmanship and in one of these schools the students have fabricated a Menorah in the Hebrew tradition. They have inscribed and presented it to me as an expression of their gratitude to the Armed Forces of the United States.”
“I feel that in even greater measure, it symbolizes the restoration to health of these victims of Nazism and their will to live productive and useful lives,” General McNarney concluded.
On December 8, 2011 the menorah travelled with curator Susan Braunstein to the White House where it stood next to President Barack Obama as he addressed the assembled guests such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The lamp was specifically chosen because the 2011 holiday season was dedicated to honoring the men and women who serve so courageously in the Armed Forces. It burned brightly reminding us, then as now, of the light that is able to be created in dark places.
On Yom HaShoah, April 24 at 11:30 am, please join author Annette Libeskind Berkovits at the Jewish Museum for a discussion about her father’s remarkable story of survival during WWII as told her in book, In the Unlikeliest of Places: How Nachman Libeskind Survived the Nazis, Gulags, and Soviet Communism. She will be introduced by her brother, the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. This event is free with Museum admission and RSVP.
— Ruth Andrew Ellenson, Editorial Brand Manager, The Jewish Museum
Creating Light in Darkness: Remembering the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.