Over 2,000 people attended the event at Brandenburg Gate, while Jews in Munich recognized International Holocaust Survivors Night. Religious and political leaders denounced anti-Semitism and far-right extremism.
Jews in Germany kicked off the eight-day Hanukkah celebration on Sunday by lighting Europe's largest menorah at Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.
Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer and Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, and a Jewish boy from Berlin lit the first candle on the 10-meter-high menorah.
Over 2,000 people were there to attend the 15th anniversary of the Brandenburg Gate menorah lighting, including Germany's Minister of Justice and Consumer Protection Christine Lambrecht, Berlin Governing Mayor Michael Müller and Bundestag Vice President Petra Pau.
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Berlin Chabad chairman Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal was also present at the ceremony. He spoke about the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the 75th anniversary of which will be observed on January 27, 2020, and decried anti-Semitism in modern society. "Anti-Semitism is a poison, no matter where it comes from," news agency EDP quoted him as saying. "We won't give in."
Schuster added that religious freedoms could again be at risk in Europe.
Anti-Semitism on the rise
The celebration comes after a turbulent year for Jews and other minority groups in Germany and across Europe, with far-right extremism on the rise and headline-making anti-Semitic attacks, including the attempted mass shooting in October at a Jewish synagogue in Halle, which left two dead and two others injured.
According to the Federal Prosecutor's Office, the assailant confessed to having both anti-Semitic and far-right motives."After the attack on October 9, there have been many signs of solidarity. That gives us courage," said Schuster.
A new candle will be lit on the candle at the onset of darkness each evening until December 30. The menorah consists of eight candle holders, and a ninth holder in the middle for a candle that is used to light the rest.
Hanukkah, also known as the "Festival of Lights" commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabees' victory over the Syrian armies in 164 BC.
Celebrations across Germany
Meanwhile in Munich, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (CLAIMS), commenced its own Festival of Lights. The organization aims to assist Jews worldwide in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution.
"Keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive is one crucial and increasingly difficult task," said Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.
"If we light this year's Hanukkah candle in Munich, there will be another light that reminds us that the darkness will never prevail and that our minds the world can illuminate," she said. The ceremony took place as part of the International Holocaust Survivors Night. New York and Moscow are also participating today, while Paris and Jerusalem follow on December 23.