Hundreds of Holocaust survivors participated in the third candle lighting of Hanukkah in Berlin, Jerusalem and New York on Thursday — part of a tribute to survivors worldwide that was organized by the Jewish Claims Conference.
In Berlin, three survivors lit candles after sundown at the city's Jewish community center, while in Israel some 300 Holocaust survivors attended the candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.
In New York, survivors and their families were set to come together at the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. All three events were part of the International HolocaustSurvivors Night, which was held for the first time this year under the auspices of the Claims Conference.
Assia Gorban, a 84-year-old survivor in Berlin, said it was pure joy for her to light one of the candles and sing Hanukkah songs in the company of a rabbi and more than a dozen other survivors, most of the from the former Soviet Union.
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"I understand very well that the Germany of today is not the Germany of the past," Gorban said, referring to the 1940s when the country was ruled by Adolf Hitler's National Socialists, who murdered more than 6 million European Jews.
Gorban, who immigrated to Germany in 1992, was born in western Ukraine and spent several months of her childhood in a Nazi-run concentration camp before she managed to flee with her mother and lived under false identity until the end of World War II.
Despite all the hardship she went through, Gorban said, she had a fulfilling life, worked for many years as a teacher and is now enjoying her life in Berlin with her son, three granddaughters and one great-grandson all living close by.
"My life has been a beautiful life," the energetic woman said with a big smile. "I'm nearly 85 years, but I still feel so young — honestly, my heart is like that of one who is only 40 years old."
In Jerusalem, Rabbi David Grossman lit a candle at the Western Wall in the company of survivors and officials from event-organizers Claims Conference.
"Who dreamt in those dark times when this damned one (Hitler) wanted to do: Judenrein — to clean the world of the Jewish people," he said. "And here you have the privilege to stand in the holiest place for the Jewish people and that says that the Jewish people lives on."
More than 400,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive, living in Israel, the United States and all over the world.
The Claims Conference, a group that cares for Holocaust survivors and remembers the victims that perished, said it wants from now on to dedicate the third night of the Jewish holiday to Holocaust survivors in honor of their re-emergence from darkness into light.
Hanukkah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-night celebration which commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC after its desecration by a pagan ruler. Jews around the world celebrate it by lighting candles and eating fried food like jelly donuts or potato pancakes.