Note: The 12th of Tammuz is the anniversary of the liberation of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from his exile in Soviet Russia in 1927. The Rebbe was arrested in June of that year by agents of the Yevsektzia (the "Jewish Section" of the Communist party) and the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) because of his work to preserve Judaism throughout the Soviet Empire. The Rebbe was sentenced to death, for his "counter-revolutionary" activities, but a miraculous confluence of events forced the Soviets to commute it, and then to release him altogether.

The following is a translation of two excerpts from the Rebbe's diary, written several months before his arrest.

13 Adar I (February 15)
2:00 AM

...I left covertly, and I went to Novi Rodi, which is in Kremlin Square, and bought fruit. I went to the hotel and ordered hot water with tea and honey, and then I waited to receive the son and grandson of Chassidim: Mark Saminovitch Bashkov—chairman of the Tcheliabinsky Sovnorkom and member of U.G.P.O.--to chat about his memories. Moments after 7:30, Mark Saminovitch entered, hat in hand.

I asked him to sit and he inquired as to my health and said that if I had time for him, he would be free till 9:30. He would then have to leave for a meeting scheduled at ten, and the next day he would be travelling to Tcheliabinsk.

Me: I have arranged my schedule so that I will have adequate time.

It was very significant to me to hear his family recollections of years past, which were intertwined with my own family history and religious traditions that were then being uprooted from their source without logic or reason.

He spoke at length about his travels as a member of the G.P.U. to visit various cities until he was designated to a high position.

Suddenly the door opened, the official Kratov and three youths entered with him, one of them in a police uniform. All of them, aside from Kratov, had guns in their hands. Kratov, in a rage, called out: "Citizen Schneersohn, you are under arrest. Do not move from your place. If you do, they will shoot you and you will be to blame for you own death. Tell us where your luggage is so that we can search it. "Garshka," he said to one of his deputies, "close the door."

Bashkov sat staring; though his face reddened he did not utter a word. Already accustomed to searches and to the investigators constantly saying things designed to induce fear, I sat placidly and answered, "The small suitcase is there, and the large one is next to my bed behind the partition between the living room and the bedroom."

Kratov commanded his assistants to search, sat on one of the chairs, and related how he had beaten Jewish Rabbis and teachers, knocking out their teeth and destroying their eyes. In his birthplace, the city of Amitzlav in the region of Mohilev, there were two rabbis. One was 75 or 80 years old and the other one about 50. He had harnessed both of them to a wagon of refuse from the stable of Kuzma the shoemaker, ordering them to pull it. The older Rabbi stumbled, fell to the ground, breaking his hand and foot, and died on that very day. The other Rabbi pulled the wagon and threw up, falling to the ground. Kratov said, "I honored him with a kick, and he rolled over with an outcry of great pain. After two days he also died."

His comrades scattered my clothing about, searched in the pockets of the garments and shuffled the pages of my books. They placed the writings on the table, and Kratov commanded me to stand. He searched the pockets of my clothing, placing everything on the table, and said, "We atheists and communist youth will destroy the fanatic Jews, the Rabbis and teachers and those like them; we will totally eradicate them, leaving no trace. You, too, Citizen Schneersohn, will share their lot. There are two possibilities, either to the wall, that is to be shot by the firing squad, or to the exile region of Solovaki where you will rot!"

After concluding the search of my pockets, he turned to Bashkov saying: "And now, Comrade, stand and we will also search you. Perhaps—or certainly—you are an emissary of Citizen Schneersohn to build mikvaot (ritual baths) or to organize childrens Torah classes to support the counter-revolutionaries, the Rabbis, teachers, and their colleagues from the Black Hundreds."

Bashkov (coldly and deliberately): Comrades, it appears that Citizen Schneersohn is not knowledgeable in the law of the land, but you are most assuredly apprised of the legal requirements, (he cited the chapter and the section of the law:) Anyone who makes visits to conduct searches, whether from the police, the G.P.U. or U.G.P.O., must show his identification with his picture attesting to his identity. Moreover, he needs to show a more specific document—a Warrant—for his activity conducting searches in the dwelling of such-and-such a person, and if he finds something relevant to his search he can arrest whomever he wants; he has that permission. This document needs to be sealed with the stamp of the agency that assigned the search to him. And therefore, show me your documents, and I will know who you are.

Kratov exploded in rage and began to shout: "I am a member of the Yevsektzia appointed by ____ (he named one of the agencies, but I dont remember which one). I am responsible for the surveillance of this hotel, overseeing its officials, orderlies, guests and all those visiting. A nobody comes from the street, a glutton, look"--he pointed with his finger to the table of fruit--"a bourgeois glutton." He ridiculed Bashkov: "And this dog also demands to see my documents! Stand and let me search your pockets. If not, I will deal you a blow that will disfigure your face. Pig, son of a dog! Comrades, let us commence our task. It looks like we have caught a fat fish in our net." He placed his hand on Bashkovs shoulder, commenting, "We will find a place for you also in the dungeons of the clinic on Lubyanka Street."

Bashkov: I demand obedience to the law.

Kratov and his associates laughed derisively and approached Bashkov. Abruptly, Bashkov rose in anger, removed his hat from his head and said a single word in a loud voice, the meaning of which I did not know, taking his identification from his pocket.

Kratovs face turned white. They all recoiled and stood like blocks of wood, petrified as if thunderstruck.

Bashkov (to Kratov): Come here and show me your identification.

Kratov (in a trembling voice): It is in the desk of the hotel office.

Bashkov: Go and bring it.

He then commanded the others to approach in order and display their identification. He made a notation in his book and then inquired for the search warrant. They answered that they did not have one but that Kratov surely did. He informed them that they could leave and that tomorrow they were to appear in the U.G.P.O. office to see the investigator, Comrade Yarmulov.

Kratov presented his identification.

Bashkov: Where is the search warrant?

Kratov: I have no such document. I acted on my own judgement due to my responsibility over the hotel guests. I suspected Citizen Schneersohn of being a counter-revolutionary, and so I was allowed to conduct a search.

Bashkov: Fine, tomorrow morning come to the G.P.U. office to investigator Yarmulov. He will explain to you the laws regarding investigations and searches. He will also teach you the proper way to address people.

Kratov stood to plead for mercy.

Bashkov: I must conclude my conversation with Comrade Schneersohn. Do not detain me, for I must leave in a few minutes.

Bashkov apologized for the incident and said that it was caused by the wild youth, impetuous and displaying inadequate self-discipline. He assured me that they would never dare to do this again.

Me: This will not improve the situation; it is common knowledge that the harassment is from the Yevsektzia, overwhelmingly consisting of hot-headed youths, impulsive in their actions.

Bashkov requested of me that should this recur, I should contact him at his residence at the address he had given to me. He left. I closed the door of my room and recited the evening prayers. I reflected on Divine Providence, perceiving with my own eyes actual Divine intervention.

Twice I heard knocking at the door, but did not answer. I surmised that Kratov or his friends would ask me to plead on their behalf, and I did not want to see them. The telephone rang a number of times, but I did not respond. Finally, the fourth time I answered, asking who was calling&

 

12 Adar I (February 14)
11:30 PM
Bolshoi Moscovsky Hotel, Room 16

&The meeting began at 12:15 PM and lasted until 4:30. We checked the financial records and discussed the proposals. We also debated the vocational work that we had organized. Rabbis G., K. and M. prevailed over Rabbi M. and Mr. A. H. that the direction and support of the vocational work should be under the central office, as it had been until then. For a long time we debated whether we should all go to the Doctor or if I should go alone. We also debated the amount of support we should request. It was decided that I should go alone and that I should request the amount I found appropriate, depending on the situation at the time of the visit.

We prayed minchah (afternoon prayer) together and arranged to meet at 4:00 PM the next day at the home of Rabbi S. Y. at the engagement meal. The treasurer Mr. G. and I went to the Doctor. We came at the appointed time, 6:00, the Doctor came out to receive us, and I saw that he was in good spirits. I understood that it was surely due to some successful community work, for that inevitably puts him in a good mood. He loves productive community work in any area.

The Doctor brought us into his "paved chamber" and said happily, "Yesterday in the bank and today in my office, I heard about you and your tremendous work in several areas of the country, both in religious matters and concerning material support.

"As I sat yesterday in the Jewish Bank, Mr. A. L. Fuchs and Mr. Orenson told me of the successful results of your work for the vocational project, in addition to your helping dozens of families purchase machines for weaving and sewing, and also for making copper buttons and shoelaces, etc.--the campaign has stirred the interest of hundreds of families in vocational work.

"Yesterday and today I was also visited by people from the Kiev, Poltava, Zhitomir, Minsk, and Vitebsk regions, and I heard from all of them that various young men had visited their towns—secretly they were told that these were Rebbe Schneersohns emissaries—to inspire them to undertake hand-vocation work. Some of them were promised support to purchase equipment, which had a significant impact.

"This work impresses me, and I am prepared to help you with all of my abilities since I see it as a source of livelihood for thousands of families."

At that moment I saw that G‑d had given me a proper view. My assessment, as I told the treasurer Mr. G., was correct.

After we left the meeting, Mr. G. and I went to my friend, the Chassid Reb Boruch Shalom Kahn in Zharadye to eat lunch.

Mr. G. told me of the committees discussion after I left them alone to decide my two questions. "All of us as one spoke of the diligence of your work, and the unbiased way it was carried out, without distinguishing between the Chassidic and Ashkenazic communities—not to mention that all of those involved with the efforts, which involve mortal danger, are students of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah. Rabbi Y. K. stressed that if not for your great effort in the country and abroad, we would not have received even 10 percent of what we do now. So we decided that you should go alone and decide yourself what to propose to the Doctor."

"I am firmly resolved," I told Mr. G., "to ask the Doctor to double his support for the vocational budget. I still do not know how to discuss it, but surely G‑d will help, as it says: The preparation of the heart is mans, —one must prepare ones heart to focus on G‑d. Then one can be sure that ..from G‑d is the answer of the tongue."

As we traveled to the Doctor, we discussed the proposal to double the budget, but we did not know how to present it. However, since the Doctor himself began to praise the vocational project, I saw the hint of Divine Providence giving me an opening, and I said:

"This is true, the vocational project work that I began three years ago did not net huge results for the first two years, except from the cigarette factories and weaving in Rostov and in Tchernigov and Mohilev. But this year the project was completely successful, and many more people want to participate. I have come to suggest that the Doctor bring machinery and equipment from abroad. A certain amount will be donated, and a specific amount will be paid off gradually."

The Doctor: Bringing equipment from abroad is immensely difficult.

But he was prepared to help buy equipment within the country, and he was interested in hearing an organized proposal.

Me: The Jewish committee for manual vocation proposes that within several months various pieces of equipment should be distributed worth more than 60,000. It can be purchased domestically.

The Doctor: When do you need the amount you mentioned?

Me: Presently 50 percent will suffice. In a month or five weeks another 20 percent will be needed, and the rest in 8-10 weeks.

The doctor pondered and then scribbled with a pencil on a piece of paper. My heart was to the heavens. I prayed to G‑d that heavens mercies would be evoked in the merit of my holy fathers and that He give the Doctor the proper decision: to cover the budget.

The Doctor: Yes, I am giving you the above budget at those times: 50 percent now, 20 percent in one month, and 30 percent in two months.

He turned to Mr. G. and told him to come the next evening to receive the first payment. He also told his assistant and his agent about the two payments, for he was planning to travel abroad in two weeks.

Me: Now I wish to propose something regarding support for the religious and Torah institutions, yeshivot, chadorim, rabbis and shochatim.

The Doctor: Yes, I have heard of your work in the Crimea settlements, that you appointed rabbis, shochatim and childrens teachers. Last week Professor Haffkine—whom you know well from last year—returned from his travels to visit the settlements. In every place he visited he also interested himself in the religious institutions, and he was amazed at how they were organized. He was told that they were all Rabbi Schneersohns work and he expressed a desire to meet with you. But now he is visiting the cities of Caucasia to investigate cholera, with which he has been involved for 40 years, and he will remain there for around two months. It would be good for you to meet with him when he returns to Moscow; it could benefit the communal work.

 

For additional excerpts from the Rebbe's diary, including a description of his arrest, click here

From The Heroic Struggle (Kehot 1999).