December 25, 1938 was a day for celebration around the world. For many it was Christmas, for some it was Chanukah – and for the Geier family it was the day they would escape the murderous clutches of the Germans. Shortly after Kristallnacht,the Geier's had received their passports and visas to leave Germany for the United States.
It was a sunny but cold day as their train bound for Holland pulled out of the Berlin station. The Geier's shared their second-class compartment with two very stern-looking Germans. Arnold Geier, age 12, and his sister, 15, sat quietly with their parents. In a whisper, Arnold overheard his mother reassure his father that God would forgive him for not lighting his menorah that night. Mr. Geier was a cantor and a devout Jew and had packed a small menorah and some candles in his briefcase.
"Not long after darkness," recalls Arnold, "the train slowed and puffed its way into a special railway station at the German-Dutch border. We braced ourselves for our final encounter with the German police, Nazis and Gestapo. Just a few more miles and our old lives would be behind us.
The train sat in the station and the Geier's watched as the Border Police and the Gestapo carefully compared lists and prepared to check everyone's passports and papers.
"Finally, small groups of officers boarded the train for their inspection. Papa looked tense and broke out in a sweat. I was afraid. Suddenly, without any warning, all the lights in the station and on the train went out. A number of people lit matches for light and the glow on their faces was an eerie sight. I felt like screaming.
In the confusion, Mr. Geier stood up, managed to find his overcoat, and pulled eight small candles out of his coat pocket. He struck a match and lit one candle. Using that candle he warmed the bottoms of the other candles and lined up all eight candles on the window sill of our compartment. He quietly recited the Chanukah blessings, and lit the candles.
"For the first time in a long time, I saw a smile appear on Papa's face. Then someone shouted, 'There's light over there!' The Border Police and the Gestapo men soon came to our compartment and used the light of the candles to conduct their checking of the passports and papers. One of the officers commended Papa on his resourcefulness for thinking ahead and packing 'travel candles.'
"About a half hour passed and then, as suddenly as they had gone off, the lights flickered on again. The officers thanked Papa and left our compartment to finish their work throughout the train.
"Remember this moment," Papa said to me, "like in the time of the Maccabees, a great miracle happened here."