The Story Behind the Posner Menorah

This Month* in Jewish History (TMJH) Presents: The Posner Menorah

*On the Gregorian calendar, this event happened in late December. However, it occurred during Hanukkah, which always begins on the evening of 28th Kislev and ends on 2nd Tevet on the Jewish calendar. This year, Hanukkah is from the evening of 28th of November to December 6th. 

In 1932, weeks before Hitler became chancellor, Dr. Akiva Posner watched in horror as this swastika was raised across the street from his apartment in Kiel. Dr. Posner had received his doctorate from Halle-Wittenberg University, and eventually accepted a position as leader of the Kiel Jewish community. By 1932, the Nazi party had established itself in Kiel, but Hitler had not yet become Germany’s chancellor. The Nazi party had been circulating propaganda about the Jews in the small community and stirring up discontent. In mid-1932, posters appeared on public buildings saying, “Entrance to Jews Forbidden.” Posner submitted a protest letter to the local newspaper expressing his disgust at the posters. The chairman of the local Nazi party invited him to a public debate. The debate was held under heavy police guard, and it became clear to Posner and the small Jewish community that the public sentiment had sharply turned against the Jews. It was at that debate Posner and his wife Rachel determined that they and their community needed to flee Germany. [1]

Late afternoon, on Friday, December 31, 1932, Posner looked across the street at a Swastika flying over the public building. He intentionally placed the family Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) in the windowsill so that its light from the upper floor would be clearly scene on the streets below and to the building across the street. Rachel pulled out her camera to shoot a photo of what now has become this iconic picture. She turned to her husband and said, “Juda verrecke, die Fahne spricht” [“Death to Jews, the flag says”]. Smiling she continued, “Juda lebt ewib, erwidert das licht” (“The Jewish people will live forever, the light answers”). [2] Rachel, Akiva, and their three children left Germany for Palestine but not before persuading their congregation to join them. Today, the Posner Hanukkiah and Rachel’s iconic photo are on display in Yad Vashem. Most of the congregation’s grandchildren now live in Israel. [3]

The Talmud says the Hanukkiah should be placed in a window as a witness to the Maccabean victory of Syrian oppression (Shabbat 21b). Many Christians understand the Hanukkah story as a lesson on how God kept his covenant with the Jewish people and preserved them so that through the Jews the Messiah would be born [4]. However, for Jewish people today, Hanukkah means far more.

First, Hanukkah signifies Jewish freedom from tyranny. Jews do not always go as sheep to the slaughter. The Hasmonean victory in 165 BCE tell a story of Jewish freedom fighters who were unwilling to accept the yoke of oppression and were willing to fight for the liberty to worship God and follow His commandments. Second, Hanukkah carries a prophetic message. Not a message of foretelling but forthtelling. It is the story of a courageous band who spoke out against injustice, oppression, and persecution. Today, where Jews are free to publish letters in the newspaper, articles online, and hold public meetings, it is the Jewish prophetic duty to speak out on behalf of other groups oppressed as Jews once were in Germany. Placing the Hanukkiah in a window proclaims the message that freedom once gained by Jews obligate them to speak out on behalf of those with no voice, whose light cannot shine as brightly as the Hanukkiah can for them.

For Messianic Jews, Hanukkah is a reminder that we have a prophetic role to our people and community, calling us to collectively turn back to the God of Israel and embrace Israel’s Messiah. The Hasmonean rebels fought for the right to obey God’s laws, but they also called on their landsmen to reject seductive secular culture and courageously follow God’s Word. Today, courageously shining the light of the Hanukkiah reminds Messianic Jews that Scripture calls us to be unashamed to identify with the Messiah and who we are. Yeshua said,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14–16 ESV).

Chag Hanukkah Sameach!

This article was written by Dr. Stan Meyer. For more by Dr. Meyer, read his article celebrating the birthday of acclaimed Jewish novelist Sholem Asch.


[1] https://www.yadvashem.org/artifacts/museum/hanukkah-1932.html

[2] Nicosia, F. & Scrase, D. Jewish Life in Nazi Germany. New York: Berghahn Books. 2012: Inside cover.

[3] Greenbaum, D. “Lighting Hanukkah Candles Under the Swastika’s Shadow”. The New York Times [Op-Ed]. 12 December 2017.

[4] Brickner, D. “Christmas Would be Impossible Without Hanukkah”. Jews for Jesus Newsletter. December 2002. https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/newsletter-dec-2002/christmas-would-be-impossible-without-hanukkah/

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