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Article: Delight In the Light

Delight in the Lightcandle-barbed-wire

 

 

Leah (from Hungary) was twenty years of age when the Germans entered our village in Hungary in 1944. My brother was in the Hungarian army, but the rest of the family my father, mother, grandparents and uncle were all gathered in the village school. We were taken by train to another Hungarian town and then by cattle truck to Auschwitz. I was then taken to Birkenhau. It was routine for people to arrive at the camp by cattle truck. Some time later, one of the girls told me that she knew that my parents perished in Auschwitz.

When we arrived at Birkenhau everyone was put into the main hall, where we were told to completely undress and take off any jewellery; our hair was then shaved off. Those who were designated for work detail were then offered a choice of clothes. I was one of the lucky ones who was offered work and I was eventually transferred to a work camp at Breslau-Hundfeld. My number was 53047. The situation at Breslau was better than at Birkenhau. The buildings of the camp were new and in every room there were only twenty-four people. Everyone had their own bed, a mattress and two blankets. [In Birkenhau 100 slept in the room and there were no plllows, sheets, or blankets.] In the room there were two tables, benches, and a stove. Everyone had a plate, a cup and a spoon. In the hallway there was a common wash room and toilet. The work was hard. We worked twelve hours a day on machines, making ammunition. One week we worked days and the following week we worked nights. At the end of a working day we had to clean the camp and wash endless laundry. The food was sparse; we were doing Hitler’s work on a cup of soup. But it was tasty since it was cooked by girls from our group who used to run a restaurant.

Chanukah In the Valley of Death

The days of Chanukah were approaching and I decided that this holiday must be celebrated in one way or another. I felt that there was a need to strengthen the spirit of the girls since all of us felt despair and fatigue.

A week before the holiday I examined the remnants of cloth that were supplied to us for cleaning the machines and started separating the cotton from the other threads. Those threads I hid under a mattress in the camp. When one of the girls saw me she asked me what I was doing. I shared my plan with her and asked her to obtain five potatoes. She was very excited with the idea and managed to scrounge the potatoes. I cut each one in half and scooped out a hole in the middle for the oil. I made the wicks from the cotton threads and put them in the potatoes. I took some oil from a little bottle of machine oil and there before us was a menorah.

On the first night of Chanukah, after we had eaten and when all the girls in our room were seated on their beds, we invited the girls from the other rooms to join us. I lit the first candle and made the blessings. We sang, together, the first verse of Ma’oz Tzur, which nearly all of us knew by heart and we all remembered and discussed how we celebrated Chanukah in our homes. I saw the wonderful effect that this evening had on all the girls and I was convinced that I had done the right thing. I, therefore, decided to continue to light the candles on each night of Chanukah.

For four nights everything worked out. On the fifth night, for some reason we were late lighting the candles. When it was time for lights out, a whistle was sounded, and all lights had to be extinguished immediately. We put out the electric lights the instant that the whistle sounded, but the candles on the menorah were still alight. The whole camp was in darkness except for the light from the menorah. Since everything happened so fast we were unable to extinguish the candles in time. The SS women guard ran to the room, certain that we were signalling to the aeroplanes of the enemies of the Germans, which sometimes flew overhead at night. She burst into the room and was shocked at the sight in front of her; a neat and tidy room with each girl sitting on her bed, all singing together. I screamed ‘achtung!’ and my blood froze inside me. For a few seconds I imagined the punishment I would get; twenty-four heads shaven or worse, twenty-four pairs of flaming eyes, with nooses around our necks! When she roared ‘what is happening here?’ I recovered and answered, ‘we have a holiday in memory of the Maccabees, when a few Jews had a victory over their enemies.’ I didn’t think what I was saying, but I was forced to answer because the question was directed to me. It was as if a dybbuk spoke out of me. I had no intention of defending myself since it never occurred to me that we would be discovered. The SS guard left the room without adding a word.

The first one to recover was my good friend Sarah who said ‘put the candles out, let us see what tomorrow will bring!’ She left the room quietly. I obeyed without uttering a word, I put out the candles, hid the potatoes and went to bed. I couldn’t fall asleep. After a while my friend in the next bed whispered ‘are you asleep?’ ‘No,’ I said. She asked ‘did you go crazy with that speech of yours?’ I replied ‘I didn’t think as I was speaking. Is this a sign that I can no longer be trusted?’ ‘No,’ she said ‘but first we must think and then talk. I was terrified, go to sleep. Say goodbye to your hairdo. Or worse!’ I thought ‘If the price will only be my hairdo it will have been worthwhile.’ With the attitude of the S.S. it could easily be a matter of Life or Death.

Delight

What happened the next day was inconceivable: the SS woman who caught us, came in and ordered the girls from our room to collect the food for the meals. In this way we received extra food, for carrying the food barrels. When I thought about that night I decided that it had all been worthwhile. Many years later and with millions of Chanukah candles being lit across the world, no doubt the miracles continue to glow, from Strength to Strength.

From: Mother Slept on the Stove by HOD Publications

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