The celebration of Hanukkah, an eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt, is observed with the lighting of a nine-branched candelabrum each night.
In the collections of the National Museum of American History is a Hanukkah lamp created by Jewish immigrant Manfred Anson, who combined his pride as an American and his Jewish heritage in this uniquely designed menorah, in which each of the nine branches is mounted with brass Statue of Liberty statuettes, embodying the theme of freedom, and surmounted by an American eagle. Significant dates in Jewish history are inscribed at the base of each statuette.
As scholar Grace Cohen Grossman writes, Anson's "lamp is a poignant reminder of what we celebrate."
"Anson used a souvenir figurine to cast the statuettes for the lamp, and the Statue of Liberty torch was transformed into a candle holder," wrote Grossman.
A native of Germany, Anson enrolled in an agricultural school at the age of 14, hoping to escape Nazi Germany by securing a visa to emigrate to Palestine.
Instead, prior to the beginning of the war, he was rescued by the Jewish Welfare Guardian Society of Australia. His parents, however, would be deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp; his younger brother, Heinz, would die in Poland's Majdanek camp, and his sister, Sigrid, would be sent to Bergen-Belsen in Germany. His parents and sister survived the war. But Anson would not see his parents again; they died before the family could reunite. Only his sister would find Anson, by circumstances that seemed almost a miracle.
"At the end of the war," wrote Grossman, "while in a rehabilitation hospital in Sweden, and unaware that her parents were alive, Sigrid wrote a letter addressed to ‘Manfred Anson, Australia.’ Amazingly, he received it, and the siblings were in touch once again." In 1963, the reunited siblings arrived in the United States. For Anson, the Statue of Liberty presiding over New York Harbor would forever stand as a powerful symbol of the security and safety of his new home.
In America, Anson began to collect and amass thousands souvenirs of the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell and the U.S. Capitol.
In honor of his new homeland, he designed the Statue of Liberty Hanukkah lamp for the centennial of the statue in 1986 and donated it the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Over the years, he crafted other Hanukkah lamps from the original, including this one, which he had made for his family.
“To use the Yiddish expression, Anson started with tchotchkes but made a masterpiece,” says Peter Manseau, the museum’s curator of religion. “Anson's design making use of miniature souvenir Statue of Liberty figurines playfully and cleverly conflates the miracle of the oil with the miraculous promise America represented to immigrants fleeing countries where they could not live in peace.”
The Statue of Liberty Hanukkah Lamp is currently on view in the exhibition "American Democracy: A Great Leap of Faith" at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.