By the Grace of G‑d. Wednesday, Fast of Gedalya, 5708. September 17, 1947
I am not a writer, nor the
daughter of a writer. My desire is to record some memories of the final years
of my husband, of blessed memory. I am unsure whether I will succeed. Firstly,
will I be able to put all my recollections into writing? And secondly, will I
have the peace of mind needed for such a task?
March 28, 1939,
at three o’clock in the morning, four agents of the NKVD
arrived at our home on 13 Barikadna Street. “Where is the Rav,
Schneerson?” they demanded.
As I started towards the room in which my husband was
at the time in order to inform him of our “guests,” they immediately followed
me. I noticed that they had stationed themselves at each of the doors, guarding
the entrances and exits to the house. Unceremoniously, they summoned him to his
study, where the senior agent showed him a warrant for search and arrest.
Not wasting a moment, they got right down to business—the
They rummaged through and searched all the books
which were organized in five large bookcases, not missing even one. One of the
agents was a lettered individual, and when a book seemed suspicious to them
they consulted with him as an expert.
They rifled through all works on Kabbalah, responsa,
rabbinic correspondence, and extensive correspondence from abroad, by letter
and telegram. They confiscated letters from the Rebbe [Rabbi Shalom DovBer] of
righteous memory, my husband’s semicha certificates
from Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim of Lodz
and Rabbi Chaim of Brisk;
a petition from the community of Jaffa that he serve as Chief Rabbi with the
visas for the entire family; correspondence with the Joint Distribution
Committee concerning financial aid for the Yekaterinoslav Province, and other
In a separate bookcase, among rare volumes, lay a
book which included a line handwritten by the Alter Rebbe and a complete bound
manuscript volume of Chasidic discourses
handwritten by the Tzemach Tzedek—these they sealed with several seals,
and I left them so, untouched, until I eventually moved away.
As for my husband’s own Chasidic
manuscripts, which numbered thousands of folios, they deliberated amongst
themselves, eventually, tying them up in a bundle and leaving them behind.
Three of them worked unceasingly, not stopping for
even a moment. At six o’clock in the morning, after they had searched all the
rooms, the senior one ordered, “Rebbe, get dressed and come with us!”
It was eight days before Passover. Knowing full-well
that he would not be home for the holiday, my husband asked to be permitted to
take along two kilograms of matzoh, which lay in a bundle. They allowed him this
I asked them how I would know where he is, so that I
could bring him some money and food. They told me to come to police
headquarters at two o’clock the next afternoon, where I would be told
The next day I went there, but, alas, I learned
nothing. I pleaded to be allowed to bring him something, but they responded
that he was not there.
Seeing the gravity of the situation, I submitted a
statement to the prosecutor declaring that my husband was ill. “If I will not
be permitted to bring him food from home, he won’t eat anything on Passover. I
therefore request permission to bring him food from my home.” On this request I
received a formal response: “You will not be allowed to do this. However, in
accordance with the law, all the food he needs is cooked for him in prison.”
On the arrest warrant, I noticed the signature of the
supervisor responsible for my husband. So twice every day—morning and evening—I
telephoned him at the NKVD office. Every time, he gave me the best reports:
that my husband was being cared for, and that he sits and reads from the siddur which he had brought with him.
This is how I continued for five long months. Every
ten days, as his turn came, I would go to the prison to bring him food or a
change of clothing, but they would always tell me that he was not there,
although the prosecutor would tell me that he was.
Spies at the Rabbi’s home
A month before my husband’s arrest, I noticed two scoundrels
who had begun to wander around near our courtyard all day, until late at night,
carefully scrutinizing everyone they saw. At first I dismissed my fears as speculative,
but a month later I understood all too well what they had been doing.
On Purim, a large crowd celebrated in our home until
six o’clock in the morning. Besides for the older people, there were a good
number of young people, including several university students for whom it was
absolutely forbidden to be present at such a gathering. My husband delivered
many Torah discourses with great passion, and the crowd was filled with joy and
with feelings of devotion to him. There was also dancing—something which people
were afraid to even think of in those days.
For some reason, this time it was difficult for them
to part from my husband. Later it occurred to me that they may have had a
premonition that this was the last time they were spending with him.
When they finally left the house, they did not all
leave at once but, rather, two or three at a time, in order not to attract
When I went outside, I saw the two scoundrels
loitering on the street. The day after the arrest, they disappeared. Indeed,
they must have been assigned to observe the goings on at our home.
Kosher matzoh with Soviet certification
government certified matzoh was baked for Passover. They were matzoh in
appearance only because they were not kosher at all.
This situation allowed my husband no rest. He took it
upon himself to make kosher matzoh available to anyone who wanted to obtain
them. He set himself to work—he koshered the two largest mills, acquired new
sifters, and set up Passover supervision using many supervisors.
My husband sent a letter to the Ispolkom
detailing ten requirements to be implemented at the baking and selling of the matzoh,
along with the demand that everything he—or the rabbis he had appointed—would
instruct, must be followed. They replied that all his requirements would be
met, and that regular flour from the market would not be used.
During that time, the population was fed using ration
cards. Every citizen was given a mere thirty grams of bread per day, and new
sacks couldn’t be obtained by even the highest institutions. But in
Dnepropetrovsk, in order to provide the Jews with kosher matzoh, the government
provided thousands of brand new sacks and white flour, while everyone else was
given only black bread.
The outcome was that people from all over Ukraine and
White Russia—and from Moscow and Leningrad as well—traveled to Dnepropetrovsk
to obtain matzoh. All the synagogues were stocked with crates waiting to be
filled with the matzoh.
On Friday afternoons, all the bakeries would
telephone to ask what time they must finish baking before Shabbos, and what
time after Shabbos they could fire up the ovens again. They would also inquire
on the procedure to be followed when drawing mayim shelanu.
All this took place, let us not
forget, during a time when a private individual who wished to follow a
religious lifestyle, to keep Shabbos as much as possible, was forced to hide in
total secrecy so that no neighbor or anyone else would notice.
Once, a supervisor reported that a dough made of four
pood of flour
had been left on the table for five extra minutes.
My husband immediately instructed that it be sent to chometz bakeries, and they supplied new flour for those matzos.
All the sanitary supervisors repeatedly inquired how
to do everything so that the matzos would be of the strictest kosher for
Passover standards. Even under the old [Czarist] regime, when religious
observance was strong, no other Jewish community managed to accomplish what my
husband achieved under the communist regime!
For the Jews who appreciated it, this was a true joy,
and for my husband it was a true spiritual pleasure. It cost him much of his
own health to ensure that other Jews would enjoy the festival. He himself,
however, would experience no Passover Yom Tov joy of his own. By then, he was
already under lock and key. For the eight days of Passover, he managed with
just water and the small package of matzoh he had taken along with him. He even
left a few pieces over for Pesach Sheni.
My husband achieved this all by travelling several times
where he pressed to obtain the approval of the Narkom,
and then of Kalinin in Moscow.