Holocaust Survivors Mark Hanukkah Amid Worries of Israel-Hamas War, Antisemitism

Holocaust survivors from around the globe will mark the start of the fifth day of Hanukkah together with a virtual ceremony as Jews worldwide worry about the Israel-Hamas war and a spike of antisemitism in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Survivors can join an online ceremony of a menorah lighting Monday night to pay tribute to the 6 million European Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Several dozen survivors were also expected to gather in-person for a menorah lighting at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — the holiest place where Jews can pray.

“Holocaust survivors somehow overcame the depravity of concentration camps, death camps and killing centers, among other horrors, to become our living exemplars, providing a roadmap on how light can overcome darkness,” Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, said in remarks released to The Associated Press ahead of the ceremony.

The New York-based conference is organizing the event in observance of International Holocaust Survivors Night.

“Their resilience, their strength and their fortitude leave a truly indelible light in this world,” Schneider added.

Hanukkah, also known as Judaism’s festival of lights, marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century B.C., after a small group of Jewish fighters known as the Maccabees liberated it from occupying Syrian forces.

This year’s holiday comes as many Jews feel traumatized by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and in which the militants took some 240 as hostages. Israel responded with a bombing campaign and a ground offensive that has so far killed more than 18,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s Health Ministry. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Several celebrities and world leaders spoke about the attack in messages that were to be shown at the ceremony. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said “Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel has affected us all deeply. Something of abyssal evil broke free that day,” according to comments released to the AP.

“The perpetrators’ motive is clear: They wanted to hit Israel,” the chancellor added. “They wanted to murder Jews. In its repugnant brutality and abhorrence, however, the terror is also directed against humanity itself.”

Scholz, addressing Holocaust survivors, said he tries “to imagine how much the images from Israel, how much antisemitic hatred on the internet and on the streets around the world must be hitting you, of all people right in the heart.”

“This … pains me a lot,” he said.

The virtual event, which starts at 8 p.m. Monday in Germany, will also include musical performances, celebrity guests and messages from Holocaust survivors from around the globe.

Leon Weintraub, a Holocaust survivor from Sweden, who was in Israel during the Hamas attack, recounted what he experienced that day.

“On Oct. 7, I woke up from the sirens in the center of Tel Aviv. All at once I was again in September 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland,” he said. “A terrible feeling, a shiver, a feeling of dread to be again in a war.”

“We celebrate Chanukah now, the festival of lights. I hope that the light will also bring the people enlightenment,” Weintraub added. “That people will rethink and look at us people of Jewish descent as normal, equal. Human beings.”

American comedian Billy Crystal, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and actor Jason Alexander will also speak at the event, and there will also be a by a musical performance from Grammy and Tony Award-winning singer Barry Manilow, as well as the cast of Harmony.