A brass menorah memorialized in a historic photo from Nazi-era Germany has returned to the country for the first time since the Jewish family it belonged to escaped with their lives nearly 90 years ago. And, on Monday night at sundown, the second night of Hanukkah, the candles of the cherished menorah were lit in Germany for the first time since 1931.
The original 1931 photo, taken by Rachel Posner in her home in Kiel, Germany, represented the Jewish mother-of-three’s defiant display of a menorah on the last night of Hanukkah in December that year – with the Nazi party flag flying ominously in the background.
At a time when the Nazis were rising to power, most Jews dared not risk displaying a menorah in an open window, as is the custom during the eight-day Festival of Lights, opting instead to celebrate with curtains drawn.
“They were not scared — they were very proud Jews,” Nava Gilo, a granddaughter of Posner’s who lives in Israel, told The Post.
On Monday, Gilo and her brother Yehuda Mansbach lit the candles of the menorah alongside Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Federal President, at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. The two Posner descendants also displayed the family heirloom at Kiel’s Warleberger Hof City Museum, alongside an exhibit featuring the original Posner family.
In 1931, the Nazis were just one year away from becoming the largest party in Germany’s parliament. The Posner home was located across the street from what was a local Nazi headquarters.
Rachel Posner and her husband Rabbi Akiva Posner, along with their three young kids, recognized the historic moment and took the photo.
On the back of the photo, developed in 1932, Rachel wrote in German what family members now say was something of a prophecy:
“Death to Judah” — so the flag says
“Judah will live forever” — so the light answers
“My grandmother looked far into the future and she agrees we’ve had a victory over antisemitism. I think the most important thing is what’s written on the back of the picture — she was like a prophet,” Gilo, 68, said. “She saw it and she was right. They fled as persecuted Jews and now we come back as proud Israelis after 90 years. The language, the message, is even stronger than the picture itself.”
The image would go on to become a powerful symbol of hope, resilience, and Jewish survival.
The Posner family was forced to flee Germany by 1933 by way of Antwerp and arrived in Palestine by Hanukkah 1934, with their cherished menorah safely in tow.
The menorah, made of simple brass, has been displayed on loan in Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, save for one week every year when it is returned to the family to enjoy during Hanukkah. The Posners and their descendants now number more than 100 members.
“It’s not such an expensive hanukkiah [menorah], but it has another sort of value,” said Gilo.
Dani Dayan, the former Consul General of Israel to New York and current chairman of Yad Vashem, told The Post that he used to post the photo of the menorah on his social media channels every year for Hanukkah, and was stunned to discover its backstory.
“I never imagined it still existed,” Dayan told The Post. “I was stunned that it survived — it’s really very moving.”
He noted the disturbing echoes of unchecked antisemitism today. “When I came to the US in 2016, I naively thought that antisemitism would be low on my agenda,” said Dayan, noting that 15 Jewish people were killed during his five-year tenure, including 11 at the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh in 2018. “It’s clear that I was wrong. Antisemitism is a very serious problem we’re facing. We’re far from the 1930s, but we have experience now. We know what can happen. When it shows its first signs, we must fight vigorously and defeat it. ‘Never again’ is now.”
While in Germany, Gilo noted the significance of speaking to local schoolchildren.
“It’s important to speak up against antisemitism and talk with young people and students so they understand. It’s an educational mission for us. There’s a big silent majority that are against antisemitism and BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement against Israel]. It’s an opportunity to raise their voice.”