Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
All Departments
Jewish Holidays
TheRebbe.org
Jewish.TV - Video
Jewish Audio
News
Kabbalah Online
JewishWoman.org
Kids Zone
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

Wiring the Missouri

Wiring the Missouri

E-mail

(Note: The following transcript is from an interview of Milton Fechter by Eliezer Zalikovski for My Encounter With The Rebbe, a video project by JEM.)

I worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard from January 1943 till June 1945. A retired admiral came to City College and said that they were desperately in need of engineers for the Navy Yard. They were building the battleship Missouri there -- that's the battleship on which afterwards General MacArthur accepted the surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo Bay after the war -- and they were also working on a smaller battleship, the Idaho, and one of the aircraft carriers, but I forget the name for that one.

So they gave me my diploma early and I came to work there, in Building Three, on Flushing Avenue -- Flushing and Vanderbilt. The building, it's a giant building, is still there. It was a huge operation -- there were 77,000 people working there -- and our section had about fifty engineers and craftsmen, evenly divided between Jews and Gentiles. I mention this because at that time, that was one of the things that was on the Gentiles' mind, always to look who is a Jew.

New York City in 1943 wasn't like today. Up in the Bronx, for example, was an Irish man named Joe McWilliams, he was a big anti-Semite and he had an organization called the Christian Front. Half the New York City police were Irish, and many belonged to the Christian Front. And they created a lot of trouble for the Jews in the Bronx. In Brooklyn, Ridgewood, you had the Germans, and before the FBI broke up what they called the "Bund," they used to march at night in Hitler uniforms on Bushwick Ave.

There was this guy I went to school with for five years -- I was three years with him in high school and then two years with him in City College. A fellow from a good family, with money. I'm sitting next to him in class. It's Friday, June 1940, the professor comes into the class, and he had a long face. Gentlemen, he says, I have some very sad news to report, it just came over the radio, that France had surrendered to Hitler. My heart fell all the way down.

This guy sitting next to me, turns around to me and his eyes are blazing hate. And here is what he says to me: "You'll get yours next." I tell you, I couldn't say a word. I was so stunned. Five years I go to school with him, and didn't know what was in him...

I'm trying to give you a picture of the times. It's different today. It's completely different today. Then, you're in a room with 50 people, everyone knows who the Gentiles are and who's a Jew... The fact that people were so busy working on the war effort, that had dampened a bit the anti-Semitism that had raged in New York City for a number of years prior to the war, but it was still there.

Our section was separated from the electrical section by a wooden fence about three feet high. And that section had about three hundred men sitting at drafting tables. So I turn to the man next to me, and I said, what are they doing there? And he said they are all doing wiring diagrams for the ships, mostly the Missouri. So much electrical wiring goes into a ship, you have no idea.

I take a look, and you have three hundred people in white shirts, because in those days most people wore white shirts. And in the middle is sitting a guy with a black beard, earlocks, a black hat and a black suit.

So I turn to the guy next to me, I said who is that? He says, "He's a rabbi, and he is also an electrical engineer, a graduate of the Sorbonne." I looked over there, and I said to myself, boy I've got to give this guy credit. If I were sitting among all three hundred, I couldn't wear earlocks and a beard, and feel comfortable. He sat there serene as if he was sitting amongst his chevra, and that really struck me.

So, I went over and introduced myself. He told me his name is Schneerson. But he didn't tell me he was the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I didn't ask him. Nobody knew, as far as I knew.

He spoke quietly, he was a gentleman and he had two very smart eyes. He was a very self-contained individual. He wasn't interested in what someone on the left thought of him, or someone on the right thought of him. He was content with himself and he obviously had a lot of inner strength. It was very illuminating to me, to see a person in a hostile milieu to be so serene.

Friday he left early because of the Shabbos. And Saturday he didn't come in, Jewish holidays he didn't come in. He was the only guy that got that accommodation. Nobody else left for Saturdays or Fridays or holidays. Only one man, him.

I came up there a couple of Sundays to see some people there and I'd see him sitting there all by himself in that vast hall. Oh, it was more than a block long, that building. You take a look at it. It was quite a building.

He came in Sunday, I guess because he didn't come in Saturday. And he worked all by himself Sunday. And, I'll tell you one thing, the rabbi had a lot of courage, to be there all alone on Sunday. The rats that ran around there were about that big. And he sat by himself, drawing the wires for the various electrical wiring that goes into a ship. You couldn't give me a million dollars to sit there by myself on Sunday.

I didn't see him very often, because he never came to the cafeteria. He wouldn't go to the cafeteria; it wasn't kosher. So I didn't speak to him that much, only about three times altogether. But as I say, I was very impressed with his serenity. You see, if he'd sat among three hundred guys with beards and he was perfectly at ease that would be one thing. But to sit among three hundred goyim, completely oblivious to everything around him, that was something that struck me.

Later, when I read in the paper that he became Rebbe, I wasn't surprised because I saw that he was a very bright man and he obviously he had a lot of inner strength. He could have continued working as an engineer. He had the capabilities, the math he knew more than most of us there. Sure he was an engineer but that wasn't his life, he didn't make it top priority with him. His life was rabbinical and not engineering. He had hobbies, and engineering was one of them, but he was a rabbi at heart. Sometimes he was an engineer, but the Rebbe was always a Rebbe.

From an interview of Milton (Moshe Leib) Fechter by Eliezer Zaklikovsky
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
E-mail
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (2)
June 27, 2010
Rebbe working at the Navy Yard; for the MISSOURI
What a lovely, inspirational story of WWII. Hurrah for Rebbe Schneerson!
Mike Snyderman
New york, New York/USA
June 25, 2009
I am in Love with the rebbe
Seriously can one person make such a change! what a light to the world! G-d please give us even a portion of this soul's light and I would be soo happy.
Benjamin Levy-Agami
London, UK
FEATURED ON CHABAD.ORG