Every year, Chanukah arrives just when we seem to need it most. When the days are at their shortest and the nights have grown unbearably long, the menorah casts its glow upon a people hungry for light. In 1938, the entireIt had been a long and terrifying trail world found itself sinking into a darkness unlike any it had known in modern history. If ever there were a need for light to guide our way, it was on this cold December evening in Germany, as the eighth and final day of Chanukah was about to begin.

The Geier family was sitting in their second-class compartment on a train headed from Berlin to Holland as they watched the winter sun slip beyond the horizon. It had been a long and terrifying trail that led from Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”) to this moment. They could still hardly believe they had managed to obtain an American visa and were now finally on what they prayed would be an uneventful journey to freedom.

Judah and Regina Geier and their two children, Arnold and Ruth, spent the duration of the train ride staring out the window, nibbling on sandwiches, reading, dozing, and trying to behave as if the world were still a normal place. But unlike most of the other passengers, the Geier family remained acutely aware of the dangers that awaited them as the train approached the German-Dutch border. There, Nazis, German police, and officers of the Gestapo would all be present for a final check of passports and travel papers.

For Judah Geier, however, there was an additional heaviness that weighed on his heart. As an Orthodox Jew and a cantor, his whole life had been devoted to following the ways of the Torah. Yet, here it was, almost nightfall, when the flames of the Chanukah menorah should have been rising to spread their light, and he was forced to sit quietly in his seat with only the harsh glare of a naked bulb to illuminate the graying sky. Surrounded by strangers, he was afraid to strike a match or recite a blessing for fear of calling undue attention to himself and his family. Regina Geier, sensing her husband’s inner struggle, tried to reassure him that G‑d, who sees and knows all , would surely understand his situation and, no doubt, grant him many more Chanukahs to celebrate properly.

Judah nodded gratefully, but did not seem comforted. In a place and time of such spiritual darkness, the light of the menorah seemed more important than ever – especially on this eighth night of Chanukah, which represents the culmination of the holiday, when all the candles are lit simultaneously to proclaim the miracle of Jewish survival. Under these dangerous circumstances, how could he possibly light the menorah? But, then again, how could he possibly not?

Judah turned the issue over and over again in his head as the train continued onward. Suddenly, the train screeched to a halt at the German-Dutch crossing, where it sat in the station for the longest ten minutes of Judah’s life as the border police and the Gestapo prepared to check everyone’s documents. He felt his wife’s body go still next to his, and even his children sat frozen in fear. One wrong answer, one nervous twitch, could mean the difference between escape and imprisonment, between a new life and certain death.

Then, it happened. A Chanukah miracle arrived at the German border just in the nick of time. With no warning, the entire station and every corner of the train was thrust into total darkness. All the lights were extinguished at the very same instant, leaving the passengers and the approaching officers groping in the darkness.

Without a second’s hesitation, Judah seized the moment and reached for his overcoat on the luggage rack above. He put his hand into one of the pockets and pulled out a small package. Before anyone realized what was happening, he struck a match, lit a candle, and quickly warmed the bottom of eight other candles. He then planted them firmly in a neat row upon the windowsill and, in a breathless whisper, recited the Chanukah blessings. As his family looked on in amazement, Judah carefully lit each candle and placed the ninth one – the shamashoff to the side. In the bright warmth of the menorah, his face radiated joy and peace for the first time in months.

Seeing the unexpected light in the window, the Gestapo and the border police came running. The sound of their boots striking the pavement with intensified blows echoed throughout the stillness.

Nevertheless, Judah continued to focus his thoughts on the Chanukah lights while his heart pounded as loudly and rapidly as the quickening footsteps.

When the officers burst through the door, Judah was braced for the worst, perhaps even the end. However, instead ofJudah was braced for the worst, perhaps even the end responding with rage to this brazen display of Jewish ritual, the officers only noticed the opportunity that it provided. By the light of the flickering candles, they would now be able to see clearly enough to begin checking passports and papers, and so, with characteristic Nazi efficiency, they set to work. As soon as the process was completed and they were about to leave, the chief officer of the border police turned to Judah and thanked him personally for having had the foresight to carry “travel candles” on his trip.

Meanwhile, the Geier family sat in stunned silence for close to half an hour, unable to take their eyes off the windowsill. Just as the candles were beginning to grow dim, every light in the station suddenly flashed back on. Judah, still in awe at what he had just witnessed, put his arm around his twelve-year-old son. With tears in his eyes, he drew him close. “Remember this moment,” he declared softly. “As in the days of the Maccabees, a great miracle happened here.”

As told by Arnold Geier (Judah’s son) to Pesi Dinnerstein