‘When I flipped it over to polish the underside, I saw the date 1919 engraved into the silver. I never understood its extreme value before.’: Mom shares history of family menorah

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“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I believe I could come up with that or more about this one.

This is a menorah I inherited from my grandmother a few years before she died at the age of 96.

This silver yet beautifully tarnished menorah has been lit with love every Hanukkah for as long as I remember.

But it’s not just because it belongs to my grandmother that makes it special. Part of its intrigue comes from it being 102 years old. That’s correct. This menorah was gifted to my grandmother in 1919, the year she was born.

She didn’t always have it, though.

It was left behind when she was taken from the Hungarian-Romanian border in 1944 to travel many sleepless days on an overpacked cattle cart carrying Jews to the Auschwitz Concentration camp in Poland.

Since the rest of her family remained safe in their home in Sibu, Romania, this menorah survived the war.

And her family returned it to her when she made her way back home after liberation.

I never fully understood the implications of this menorah when I was a child. I never understood its extreme value either.

How could I? I was a clueless child.

I knew my family both perished in and survived the Holocaust. I knew my grandmother was in the worst death camp there was.

But until I became an adult, this piece of silver never meant that much to me other than it was what my grandparents used to light the candles every year on Hanukkah. I took pleasure in standing on a chair and reaching over the table to light the colorful candles each year.

How times have changed.

I didn’t know it was as old as it is until I took it home with me. I never thought to look under the stem to see the century-old, engraved date. It wasn’t until I was getting it ready to light my first candles in my new home that I realized where it came from.

I had removed the nine small oil cups that were tightly tucked into their respective branches and prepped them to shine brightly once again. It was when I flipped it over to polish the underside that I saw the date 1919 engraved into the silver.

1919.

Before the war. Before my family was stripped from their homes simply because they were Jewish. Before anyone said that you could no longer light the eight candles that represent the Jewish people’s fight.

Since the baton has been passed to me, I make a point of lighting them in this exact menorah, trying my best not to skip a day. It’s not so much the holiday, for me, but more so what this piece represents.

It represents my family.

It represents my family’s history.

It represents a new life. A better life. A life of survival and freedom.

Happy holidays to everyone. May you make new and wonderful memories each year, no matter where you are.”

lit menorah
Courtesy of Karen Szabo

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