As heard in 2004 from a Holocaust survivor, who was an eleven-year-old child in the camps. At the time (in 2004) he was 71 years old and living in the United States.
Chanukah 1944. Auschwitz.
It was exactly 60 years ago. Time moves very quickly and very slowly for me. 60 years ago is both like yesterday and like a 1000 years ago. Those horrible days are frozen moments that never go away. Yet they are also very distant and apart – from another universe, another era.
I will never forget the last Chanukah in the barracks. Most of us were so consumed with scrapping together any morsel while avoiding the attention of the guards that we had no inkling which day in the year it was. Especially in those last weeks before the liberation, the Nazis were particularly unpredictable and cruel, and the chaos only made matters worse.
Yet there were a few who always knew the exact dates. They would tell the rest of us that today is Shabbos, Pesach and other significant days.
On this particular day a man would tell me that it was Chanukah.
That morning I went to the infirmary to try smuggling out some balm – anything to help relieve my father’s open sores. His disease – I am not sure whether it was Typhus or some other cursed ailment – was eating his body away, and whenever I could sneak over to see him I would see him silently struggling for some relief. As a child I was completely overcome by the sight of my suffering father.
That particular day, when I finally snuck over to my father’s bunk – if you could even call it that, it was more like a cattle pen – he was no longer there. I became frantic.
An older gentleman, who I did not know but I often saw talking to my father, came over to console me. He too did not know when my father was taken – to this day I don’t know if it was the disease or a Nazi bullet that took my father to heaven – but his was a calming presence.
Today was Chanukah and we celebrate the victory of the few weak over the many powerful oppressors.
He told me that today was Chanukah and we celebrate the victory of the few weak over the many powerful oppressors. We light the candles to demonstrate that our light is stronger than any darkness. Your father would be very proud to know that you carry on his light despite the blackness around us.
I was so moved by his words – and all the memories it brought back from my earlier years in Lodz – that I suggested to him enthusiastically that we should light the menorah tonight. He sort of smiled to me the child – a smile hardly concealing his deep anguish – and said that it would be too dangerous to try. I insisted and made off to get some machine oil from the factory.
I was so excited. And for this brief moment I was able to put aside my grief. I slowly made my way back, so not to be noticed, to the barrack with my treasured bit of oil. Meanwhile the strange gentleman had put together some wicks, apparently from clothing or some other material.
Now we needed fire to light our makeshift menorah. I noticed at the end of one building smoldering cinders.
We agreed that we would wait till dusk and at an opportune moment we would light our Chanukah lights.
Wait we did. As we were walking over to the cinders a guard, one of the especially ruthless ones, noticed us and grabbed away the oil and wicks we were concealing. He began cursing and frothing at us. A miracle seemed to happen when his superior barked some command that apparently needed his participation, and he ran off with our precious fuel.
The miracle however was short-lived. The animal yelled back at us that he will soon return to “take care of us.”
I was terrified. The gentleman was absolutely serene. And then he said to me – words that are etched into my every fiber until this very day:
“Tonight we have performed a miracle greater than the miracle of Chanukah. We have lit a flame more powerful than the Chanukah lights.
“The miracle of Chanukah consisted of finding one crucible of oil, which miraculously burned for eight days. Tonight we preformed an even greater miracle: We lit the ninth invisible candle even when we had no oil…
“Make no mistake. We did light the Menorah tonight. We did everything in our possible power to kindle the flames, and every effort is recognized by G-d. G-d knows that we were deprived by forces that were not in our control, so in some deeper way we lit the Menorah.
“We have lit the ninth flame – the most powerful one of all, so powerful that you can’t even see it.”
The man then promised me: “You will get out of here alive. And when you do take this ninth invisible flame with you and let it go free. Let it fly like a bird.
“Tell G-d that as great as His miracle of Chanukah was, we preformed an even greater miracle: We lit a candle even when we had no oil.
“Tell the world – show them the light that has emerged even from the darkest of darkness. We had no physical oil and no spiritual oil. We were wretched creatures, treated worse than animals. Yet, we in some miraculous way we found a ‘crucible’ where none existed – in the hell fires of Auschwitz.
“The fires of Auschwitz annihilated not just a Temple. They burnt to ashes the people themselves. In the Temple’s destruction the Divine wrath was released on ‘the wood and the stones.’ Here they have consumed our lives.
“So there was no oil. Not even defiled oil. No oil, period. Yet we still lit a flame – a flame fueled by the pits of darkness. We never gave up.
“Let the world know that our ninth flame is alive and shining.
“Tell every person in despair that the flame never goes out.”
As he finished these last words, the Nazi beast returned and viciously led him away behind one of the barracks…
I made my escape. A few weeks later the Russians arrived and we were liberated.
Here I am today to tell you the story of the ninth flame.
* * *
Chassidic thought explains that the light of Chanukah is rooted in a place that is beyond light and dark. It therefore has the power to illuminate and transform even the darkest darkness. As stated in Psalms (139:11-12):
Surely the darkness will shadow me, then the night would be light around me. Even the darkness conceals nothing from You, and the night shines as day; the darkness is as the light.
I have yet to find a source for the “ninth” flame, but perhaps the mysterious gentleman was referring to the secret Chanukah light that is beyond darkness and light, which only emerged in a place with no oil.
I later found a discussion about the ninth day of Chanukah in the Rebbe’s talks of Zos Chanukah 5738 and 5741.