Europe was cloaked in darkness during Hanukkah of 1941. With war raging on all fronts, the Jews of British Mandate Palestine did their part in the fight against the Nazis. A picture postcard featuring a Jewish soldier in the British Army and his daughter was meant to warm the hearts of Jewish soldiers serving around the world. But one question remains – who are they?
The winter of 1941 was a dark one. At the beginning of the previous summer, after completing their conquest of western Europe, the Nazis stormed across eastern Europe to invade the Soviet Union. They were now besieging Leningrad, with fierce battles underway around Moscow. Early December saw another major turning point: the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II.
At the same time as their invasion of the U.S.S.R., the Nazis also began the mass extermination of Europe’s Jews. In Ukraine, Belarus and other countries, Jews were lined up in front of enormous killing pits and executed by the hundreds of thousands. In December, the first extermination camp, Chelmno, was established, and experiments of mass killings using gas vans were carried out. A short time later, the decision would be made to implement the “final solution to the Jewish question“—the total extermination of European Jewry.
Meanwhile, the situation in Mandatory Palestine was also looking bleak. German forces were advancing eastward in North Africa, and there were fears that they would eventually conquer the Land of Israel. In order to fulfill Ben-Gurion’s commitment to “fight the Nazis as if there were no White Paper,” (a reference to Britain’s resistance to Jewish immigration to Palestine) the local Jewish population provided thousands of volunteers who enlisted in the British army. Some of them were captured during fighting in Greece earlier in 1941.
And so, in the winter of 1941, quite a few young Jews from Mandatory Palestine found themselves on Europe’s frigid soil at the start of the Hanukkah holiday. These were not ideal conditions for celebrating a religious festival, but thanks to the efforts of some hardworking people who devoted themselves to the welfare of the Jewish soldiers scattered around the world, it was made possible. The National Committee for the Jewish Soldier, established at the initiative of Yosef Baratz, worked to meet all the needs of Jewish soldiers serving in the British Army.
The committee contacted the British military authorities to raise awareness of the needs of Jewish soldiers. Its members saw to cultural matters first, sending newspapers in Hebrew, organizing Hebrew theater events, and even arranging Hebrew and English lessons in the various army units. Alongside all this, the committee provided the soldiers with religious items such as bibles, tefillin and prayer books, as well as kiddush cups and candlesticks, so that they could observe the Sabbath. In addition, the committee naturally also sought to provide the soldiers, especially those who had been wounded, with financial assistance.
And so it was that during Hanukkah, in December 1941, the National Committee for the Jewish Soldier attempted to lighten the mood and offer encouragement and aid to the Jewish soldiers fighting the Nazis. Heading the effort was a huge gift drive for the soldiers. Dozens of volunteers including WIZO staffers, schoolgirls and members of the Working Mothers Organization, prepared packages that were sent to soldiers stationed in Mandatory Palestine and abroad. The soldiers in Europe received sweaters and warm woolen socks, as well as cigarettes (hey, it was the 1940s!), candy (yum!) and razors (handy!). Along with the packages, they also received letters and drawings from children back home, as well as the “Soldier’s Almanac,” a small booklet containing a yearly calendar, in addition to historical, cultural and geographical information the committee thought the soldiers should have.
The Winter Soldier Will Banish the Darkness
In addition, the committee also issued a special holiday postcard which it sold in kiosks and bookstores, featuring an especially poignant image of a father in a British army uniform lighting the Hanukkah candles while his daughter watches, mesmerized by the flames. Underneath the picture is a line from the Hanukkah hymn Maoz Tzur: “The head of the Benjaminite You lifted/ and the enemy, his name You obliterated.” The contemporary context and the hope for a miracle that would brighten the future of the Jewish people would have been plain to all.
Little is known about this image. This and two other photographs of the candle lighting were taken by Zoltan Kluger, who was then one of the most prominent photographers in the country. Today, these photos are in the Zoltan Kluger collection in the Israel State Archives. You can see all three here, here and here.
Kluger worked for the KKL-Jewish National Fund and other national institutions on numerous occasions. We don’t know who commissioned the photos from him, but it seems that they were taken in the Land of Israel close to the time the postcard was issued. Apart from the postcard published by the Committee for the Jewish Soldier, the photo also appeared in the 1941–1942 calendar published by Keren Hayesod. Beyond that, we haven’t been able to find out any additional information about the photograph or about the soldier-father and his daughter. We do do not know the identity of the soldier or that of the little girl, we do not know where the soldier was stationed, nor whether or not he survived the war. We also do not know whether Keren Hayesod commissioned the photographs.
Which is why we are turning to you, our readers! Perhaps one of you recognizes the soldier or the little girl? Perhaps you know what became of them? You might even have a copy of the postcard stored away somewhere. Let us know here in the comments!
Our thanks to the Israel State Archives for its assistance in the preparation of this article.