[Entry #1:] Motzaei Shabbos Tetzaveh,
10 Adar I, 5687 (
תרפ"ז; 1927), 7:30 PM

In an hour and a half, at 9:15 on the express train, I have to go to Moscow in order to prepare everything for the thirteenth meeting.1

The goals and times of my journeys are known only to my wife, the Rebbitzin; to my confidant,2 R. Elchanan Dov Morozov;3 and to my secretary, Mr. Chaim Lieberman.

On Friday morning R. Elchanan Dov told me that visitors had arrived, in addition to those who had arrived on Thursday and whom I had already received personally on the same evening and night. Since he knew that I was scheduled to leave for Moscow on Motzaei Shabbos, he suggested that I should receive them for yechidus at noon on Friday, and I agreed.

Among the new arrivals there were about ten4 who studied Chassidus in depth and who engaged earnestly in “the service of the heart.”5 Two or three of the younger chassidim were active in chazarah, the reconstruction and review of maamarim from memory; nevertheless, I generally had to repeat each [new] maamar once or twice until they mastered it. [When there was a single repetition, this was] usually after Minchah on Shabbos, then on Sunday the chozrim6 would come to me and repeat the maamar and I would correct their mistakes. This time I planned to deliver the maamar before Kabbalas Shabbos, then to repeat it with the chozrim on Shabbos morning, and to deliver the maamar for the third time at the usual time.. I.e., after Minchah on Shabbos. By then they would surely have mastered it. At my request, R. Elchanan Dov relayed my plan to the visitors and the chozrim.

I was surprised to see that “the brilliant prodigy”7 (that was how he described himself), Avraham of Slutzk,8 was present at all three occasions on which I delivered the maamar. I thought that he had already left on Thursday morning.

“That Shabbos,” as R. Elchanan Dov remarked, “was a genuine Lubavitcher Shabbos.”9 After the [first] delivery of the maamar, all thirty-odd visitors went to the home of R. Elye Chaim Althaus, reviewed the maamar from memory, recited Kiddush, and had their Friday evening meal. The visitors went off to rest, while the chozrim together reconstructed the maamar from memory until daybreak. After going to the mikveh10 they arrived in time for the second delivery of the maamar, repeated it themselves, meditated at length over their morning prayers, spent little time over their midday meal, and hurried to arrive in time for the usual hour for the public delivery of the maamar.74

R. Elchanan Dov commented that many people benefited from the fact that I had chosen to deliver the maamar a third time, so that the visitors, too, would master it. He added that it would be advisable if every Shabbos throughout the year I would deliver the maamar for the first time before Kabbalas Shabbos, then clarify it for the chozrim on Shabbos morning, and then deliver it for the third time at the accustomed time for the public delivery of Chassidus.

[Entry #2:] 11 Adar I, 5687 (תרפ"ז; 1927),
Moscow, 10:30 AM

Just now I arrived at the Staravorvorskaya Hotel, where the clerks received me well. I had not been there for four months, because on my previous visit I was forced (for the reason explained in my memoir) to stay at the Great Siberian Hotel. Here I was on the second floor, Room 16.

My friend Mr. G.N., the treasurer of the major fund, was waiting for me, but since I was extremely tired I arranged to meet him at 7:00 at a place known to us both.

I also asked him to pass on the [coded] message to my wife11 that “old Yosef Chaim is well….”

[Entry #3:] As above, 2:00 PM

I woke up just now and am continuing from where I left off writing yesterday.

It’s a pity that before I set out [from my home in Leningrad] last night, there was no time to speak with an aged chassid called R. Tzemach David of Lutzin, who arrived at midday on Friday. He retained a childhood recollection of having seen my great-grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, when he left Petersburg. His father, R. Tuviah Aharon, a chassid of the Alter Rebbe, had taken him to the township through which the Tzemach Tzedek passed, and where he rested for a day, on his way home from Petersburg12 in Elul, 5603 (תר"ג; 1843). A large crowd had gathered there to see him. R. Tzemach David’s father had hoisted him onto his shoulders and he was privileged to see my great-grandfather’s holy face. From 5613 (תרי"ג; 1853), when he became the son-in-law of the celebrated mashpia, R. Yaakov Ze’ev, he visited Lubavitch every second year.

In the notes I wrote in 5685 (תרפ"ה; 1925), I recorded what this old chassid had told me of his first yechidus with the Tzemach Tzedek in 5613 (תרי"ג; 1853). One of the things he heard was: ח"י ח"י יודוך, ב' פעמים ח"י עולה ל"ו.13 What the Tzemach Tzedek had meant by those holy words he did not know, no matter how hard he toiled in an effort to understand them. So he told himself that since G‑d knew the truth, that he sincerely wanted to know what the Tzemach Tzedek had told him, He would no doubt organize circumstances that would give him his answer when the time was ripe.

Yesterday he told me: “Seventy years after I heard the holy words of the Tzemach Tzedek at my first yechidus, I came to Lubavitch in the summer of 5683 (תרפ"ג; 1923), for the privilege of praying at the resting places of the Rebbe, [the Tzemach Tzedek,] and of his son, the Rebbe [Maharash]. As I stood at the holy resting place of the Tzemach Tzedek and poured out my heart to the One Above, I suddenly recalled my first yechidus and that statement. It seemed to me that I saw the Tzemach Tzedek alive as I had seen him then, seventy years earlier, standing now before me, dressed in holy white vestments resembling those worn on Yom Kippur14 by the High Priest (here the old chassid added the word lehavdil15 ). The Tzemach Tzedek said to me: ‘Tzemach David! This is your 36th time in Lubavitch; 18 plus 18 times will praise You – and that adds up to 36.’

“I immediately fell to the ground and wept bitter tears from the depth of my soul: ‘My Rebbeim! Be gracious and intercede for me, so that in my last days I will correct whatever needs to be corrected with regard to my soul’s descent to this world here below!’ I stayed in Lubavitch for a whole week. I spent every day, from morning till dusk, at the holy resting place and at the shul at the Ohel.”16

In these words R. Tzemach David repeated to me yesterday what he had told me two years ago. He added that he was growing weak, and was planning to travel to Rostov-on-the-River-Don to receive the blessing of the Rebbe Rashab17 for the road that lay before him. From there he would proceed to Lubavitch to receive a similar blessing from the Rebbeim who lay there. He would then return to his home and prepare himself for the road that is ultimately taken by all men, for he had already reached the age of 93.

In response to my request he agreed to wait in Leningrad until I returned home from my present travels so that I could spend a few days in his company, because when he was in Leningrad – or “Lubavitch,” as Leningrad was fondly nicknamed by Anash and the temimim18 – I heard numerous accounts of incidents at which he personally was present. These are recorded in my memoir of 5685 (1925). R. Tzemach David’s wonderful memory was well organized, and there is a great deal to learn from him.

* * *

This time, too, I took a fast wagon that took six minutes, or eight at the most, from my home to the Nikolayev railway station, and then there was a three- or four-minute walk to the sleeping-car. That left only two or three minutes until the train pulled out, because it was not pleasant to spend time at the station or on the platform, under the scrutiny of the seven-eyed agents who strolled back and forth next to the train, examining every passerby with a piercing gaze.

Whenever I travel, one of my daughters accompanies me to the railway station. This time it was my [youngest] daughter Sheine. There were still four minutes spare, and it seemed that most of the passengers had already taken their seats, except for those few here and there who like to be the last to board. Near my carriage stood a man, tall and overweight, with a coarse face and terrifying big black eyes.

My daughter entered the compartment with me and we spoke for about three minutes. She said that this man made an undesirable impression; she thought that as we passed by him he examined me too closely. She asked that on my arrival in Moscow I would ask someone to notify by telephone that “old So-and-So is feeling better….” That would be enough.

Since that summer of 5686 (1926) I heard from Mr. Garin that the Yevsektsia demanded that I and my family be expelled from Leningrad. People from the GPU had also approached him several times to ask about me and my family, and he had answered that I was a good neighbor. Mrs. Mardochovitch, the mother of Mr. Sharov who lives opposite me, said that her son had told her that the Yevsektsia had demanded of him that he have me expelled from Leningrad. Sharov was the deputy of Messing with the specific task of tracking individuals who were suspected of being ideological dissidents. They were counting my steps and lying in wait, in the hope of finding a pretext to incriminate me. I always made a point of not spending even a few superfluous minutes outside, and certainly not at the railway station. I was afraid not of a serious threat, but of some surprise incident, because the sole desire of the Yevsektsia was at least to terrorize me.

Thus it was on this occasion, as always, as soon as the train moved my heart relaxed.

* * *

This sleeping-car must have belonged to one of the new trains. My cabin was quite big, and equipped with a good table, a chair and a reading lamp. Best of all, the train did not shake. If that continued when we gathered speed, I would be able to write out the text of the maamar beginning VeAtah Tetzaveh that I had delivered on the previous Shabbos, and would complete it in my spare hours in Moscow. That would make it possible for the maamar to be copied when I got home [in Leningrad] and mailed out to the visitors who had heard it. And indeed, I was able to write for over two hours.

I was interrupted by a knock on the door but didn’t respond, because the train stewards often asked passengers if they would like to drink something hot or the like. Half an hour later there was another knock. When I said “Come in” and the steward opened the door to enter, I caught sight of the man who had been standing next to the train. He was now walking down the corridor, and when he passed by the door of my compartment he took a quick but focused look at me and at my belongings.

“Sorry to disturb your rest,” said the steward, “but ever since we set out, the man in the next compartment has insisted that I show him your ticket.” (The name of the passenger always appeared on the sleeping-car tickets.) “I didn’t want to show it to him,” he continued, “but when the official in charge of this trip came to check the tickets, your neighbor showed him his ticket, and the official showed him the tickets of all the passengers. One of them was yours. The official checked all the tickets, made a note in his log book, and went off to his compartment. Half an hour or so later, he called me and ordered me to go and tell you that a certain passenger wanted to pay you a visit. I told him that you were no doubt sleeping, but when we came to the station and he saw through the curtain of the window that you were sitting and writing, he insisted that I knock on your door. I knocked and knocked, but you didn’t answer. A little later he called me again and told me to knock hard, and to tell you that he wanted to visit you and talk.”

I told him that he should tell the official that it was not my habit to make new acquaintances while traveling. Besides, at such a late hour I couldn’t receive any visitors; I was about to retire for the night. And I asked the steward to wake me at six.

My mind was flooded with sad thoughts – memories of religious persecution; closing of houses of worship; destruction and locking of mikvaos; incarceration of rabbis, shochtim, and melamdim; and libels against ordinary observant Jews. Throughout the approximately six years of my labors, experience showed that in the towns headed by non-Jews, they paid no attention to houses of worship nor19 to mikvaos. Only in the towns headed by Jews were there deceptions and tricks that even contravened the law of the land. How much longer would this continue?

On this occasion, too, as on every occasion on which I encountered a depressing incident, I recalled the holy words of awe uttered by my revered father about three weeks before his passing,20 concerning the new regime and its three leaders:

“Russia is being covered by heavy clouds, for twenty-two years at least. The [Alter] Rebbe once said that ‘a regime that ruthlessly harasses the faith of Israel and prevents the study of the Torah will assuredly be destroyed.’ That is what happened in the last years of Czar Nicholas, who did this for years, so a war was sent down upon him, and he and his advisers were crushed. Ultimately, the Al-mighty will also crush the young Jews who ruthlessly harass the faith, but until then there will be a lot of suffering as a result of their wickedness and their conspiracies. As to the three leaders,21 L. will die like a madman; T. will be banished and done away with; S. will follow the spirit of the times, and when the need arises he will wear epaulets.”22

I shuddered when I heard those words at the time. Do we have to suffer the black clouds for twenty-two years?! Good heavens! We know what Yiddishkeit and the Torah and observant Jews have undergone over the last seven years. My whole body quaked at the thought of what the next fifteen can bring, G‑d forbid, and I wept bitter tears.

In my mind’s eye I now beheld the scene of that Friday morning, the eighth of Adar, 5680 (תר"פ; 1920), when my revered father said those awesome words, and then added: “Yosef Yitzchak! In the cause of disseminating Torah study in a G‑d-fearing spirit, and maintaining the observance of Yiddishkeit, you must sacrifice your life literally, not only virtually.”

Then, falling asleep, I visualized my revered father sitting in his study at the table that stood between the two western windows, dressed in his Yom-Tov clothes. In the middle of the room there was a lamp bedecked with lighted candles, and on the table stood two candlesticks and a copy of Pri Etz Chaim. As I entered he placed his red silk handkerchief on the book, which was open at Shaar HaPurim, Chapter 6, Sod Mordechai VeEsther – a [Kabbalistic] discourse by R. Chaim Vital.

With a very serious face, he asked me: “Why are you weeping? After all, ‘From the beginning of Adar, one should be happier than usual!’23 And if you find your work extremely difficult, recall the charge I gave you: to sacrifice your life for the dissemination of Torah study in a G‑d-fearing spirit, and for maintaining the observance of Yiddishkeit – literally, not only virtually.’ ”

When I woke up I saw that it was three o’clock, and fell asleep in a sweet and restful slumber.

The steward duly woke me at six. I washed, dressed, and prepared myself for prayer, and after the morning prayers and a hot drink I sat down to continue writing the maamar beginning VeAtah Tetzaveh, because there was still an hour till we reached Moscow. The steward informed me that we would be half an hour late. We had been held up at one of the stations for about an hour because of a major search in five of the carriages, during which twelve passengers were arrested. Thus, instead of arriving at Moscow at 9:00 AM, we would arrive no earlier than 9:30.

After I had been writing for about an hour and a quarter, the steward appeared. He had been dispatched by my neighbor who wanted to call on me in order to make my acquaintance. Unwilling as I was, I could not possibly decline, so I said that after packing and arranging my belongings I would notify him that he could come.

The official arrived – wearing a hat, surprisingly – and said: “My name is Mark Semianovitch Bashkov, Chairman of the Governing Council of Tshelabinsk and a member of the Central GPU.”

“And my name is Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn,” I said.

He asked: “And your title?”

“A Yid.”

“But all Jews are Yidn! What kind of title is that?”

“True, all Jews are Yidn – and that name itself is their real title, which never goes away and never changes. If people who hold any other titles transgress, they lose their titles, but with the title Yid, even a transgressor doesn’t lose it. For so we learn: ‘A Jew, even if he transgresses, remains a Jew’24 – because his innermost Jewish nucleus25 is everlasting, though in various degrees. One person only loves his people; another respects the wisdom of Israel; another respects the Torah of Israel; another treasures G‑d’s commands; another is fond of Jewish customs; while yet another is likely and prepared to actually give up his life for the fulfillment of a Jewish custom or, even more so, in order to observe one of the positive commandments or to refrain from transgressing one of the prohibitive commandments. All of these attitudes are brought about by that innermost Jewish nucleus – except that in general it surfaces either in response to one’s education or in response to the incidents one encounters in the course of one’s life.”

At this point the steward announced that in a few minutes we would arrive in Moscow.

The official then said: “I was born in Orsha,26 in the Mohilev Province, and I would very much like to get to know you more closely.” He explained that he would be very busy for the next two or three days but would then be free from his work. If I was then still in Moscow he would like to visit me, and if I had already gone home to Leningrad he would go there especially to meet me, because he revered the memories of his parents and grandfather. They and all their entire families had been Lubavitcher chassidim and they never stopped talking about the Rebbe of Lubavitch. The forebears of both his paternal and maternal grandfather used to visit Lubavitch a hundred years back.

“Tell me,” he concluded, “in which hotel will you be staying in Moscow?”

“In the Staravorvorskaya,” I said.

“Thank-you,” he said. “Be well and enjoy success.”

* * *

Our arrival was delayed by 35 minutes. I was still affected by my encounter with the Chairman of the Governing Council of Tshelabinsk and especially by the fact that he was also a member of the Central GPU, which terrorized every inhabitant of this country, whether an ordinary citizen or an official, with no chance of escape. After all, its top chief was Medjinsky, who was reputed to be very serious and a seeker of truth. He [too] was born in Orsha to a family of chassidim who never stopped talking about the Rebbe of Lubavitch, and he [too] prided himself on the fact that his forebears used to visit Lubavitch a hundred years ago.

My encounter with Bashkov was not coincidental. After all, if a lone wisp of straw rolls about in the marketplace, our mentor the Baal Shem Tov teaches that this, too, happens by Divine Providence: G‑d gave forth a wind that would turn this wisp of straw over, or blow it from one place to another – all as a link in the chain of events that He desired. How much more so regarding an encounter such as this!

My understanding is inadequate to grasp the directive that is to be learned from this act of Divine Providence. In general terms, however, this encounter confirmed the view I expressed above that the harassing of religious activity and the ruination of religious institutions all stemmed from the young members of the Yevsektsia, the source of all the evil that has befallen us.

I was walking slowly, deep in thought, a porter carrying my luggage, and by the time I left the railway station all of the fast wagons that I usually took had gone their separate ways.

But then one wagondriver said, “Hotel?”

I climbed up, paid the porter, and told the wagondriver to head for the Staravorvorskaya Hotel.

He answered in Yiddish, “Gut!”

At first I thought that I had only imagined that he had answered in Yiddish, but a few minutes later, when we were driving through a narrow lane, he turned around and greeted me in Yiddish and said that he hadn’t seen me for many years. He added that he was born in Veliki Luki, and that his father used to visit Lubavitch, because he used to learn Torah, together with the other householders between Minchah and Maariv, with R. Velvel Gittel’s. (This R. Velvel was one of the old melamdim that I knew. Now that he was old and weak he lived with his son, R. Shraga melamed, in Horodok, in the Vitebsk Province. His name appeared on my list of recipients of financial aid for the elderly and his son’s name appeared on my list of recipients of financial aid for melamdim.)

“After Maariv,” he said, “those householders used to learn with the local rav – but I had no desire to study, and until my conscription I went into business. I began to take it easy with regard to putting on tefillin, and when I was traveling I would snatch a bite of food that wasn’t kosher.”

He was discharged from conscription in a big lottery, but then, too, he did not observe Shabbos and so on. With the outbreak of war he was among the first of the young men to be mobilized. His father suggested that he travel to Lubavitch, which he did, to receive a blessing from my revered father. When he was admitted to yechidus in Elul, 5674 (תרע"ד; 1914), my father told him: “Be careful not to eat treifah food, put on tefillin every weekday, and undertake to observe Shabbos. You see, when one desecrates Shabbos during wartime that does not make him a desecrater of Shabbos;27 a desecrater of Shabbos is someone who on that day does forbidden labors willingly. If you observe these three things, G‑d will protect you so that no bullet will strike you, and He will bring you home safe and sound.”

Yaakov Lifshitz (that was his name) went on to say that he was on the battlefield for a whole year. Deathly bullets flew from all directions, but he was never wounded. He was given two months’ respite from active service, and before he returned to the battlefield he made his way to Lubavitch. When he reached the Rudnia railway station,28 on the Oral-Riga line, he saw that my revered father was about to travel to Smolensk on the train that had just come from Vitebsk, so he took the same train – and my revered father gave him his blessing again. After the War, in the time of the new [Communist] regime, he chose a livelihood that would enable him to observe Shabbos. He prayed three times a day, he and his wife observed Shabbos and kashrus, and they brought up their children in the ways of Yiddishkeit.

“I live in a fine, three-room apartment,” he said. “Thanks to my business I have a certain status.” He added that he could put a large room at my disposal, and his wife could cook for me. So why should I stay in a hotel, where nowadays every individual was scrutinized with seven eyes?

I thanked him for his offer, told him that I was gratified to hear his story, and assured him that if he continued to observe what my revered father had told him, all of his blessings would no doubt be fulfilled. I then asked him to drive faster, because half an hour had already passed since we left the station at a leisurely pace, and time was precious.

We arrived at the hotel, but he refused to accept any payment, and no words of mine were of any avail. When I climbed down and wanted to speak to him again, he simply wished me well and drove off.

* * *

Soon after, I examined the accounts of the coordinators29 and read their detailed reports. They all asked for increased budgets, with a view to expanding their activities. It appeared that the budget for the forthcoming half-year, from Adar II through Tishrei, would come to about 40,000, and the deficit from the past half-year, from Rosh HaShanah through Adar I, was about 5,000.

The budget for the handicraft workshops had to be doubled, at least. I saw from the complaints of Rabbi M. and of Mr. A.H. that they were extremely envious of the success results of the publicity30 that had been carried out in that area. They will certainly make every effort to demand that responsibility for that publicity, together with the funds allocated [by the Joint] for the workshops, be funneled to the regional coordinators individually – in order to divert the funds from the central office that I directed.

G‑d will no doubt grant His help and show me the true and upright path.

[Entry #4:]12 Adar I, 5687 (תרפ"ז; 1927), 8:30 AM
The Great Moscow Hotel, Room 16

“A man’s gift eases his way [and grants him access to the great].”31 So it is written – and in this spirit, since I began to travel about on public affairs, from the summer of 5655 (תרנ"ה; 1895) and constantly from three years later, I made it a rule to travel in a private compartment, to stay in a large commercial hotel, and to tip its attendants and clerks. I do this especially in Moscow and Petersburg, where the rights of residence for Jews were limited.32

Nowadays, when these restrictions of the old [czarist] regime have been lifted, a Jew may live wherever he chooses throughout the country, undisturbed. Nevertheless, even now I gain by following the advice to “cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days”33 – as I will soon relate.

It is true that the regimes have changed: instead of the old regime there is now a new one. But as far as we Jews are concerned, nothing is new, except that the old regime struck us with the right hand, that is, the Rightist members of the Black Hundreds,34 whereas the new regime strikes us with the left hand, that is, the Leftist members of the Yevsektsia. And sometimes the Leftists are so strong that a lefthanded blow can be more painful than a righthanded one….

* * *

Last night at nine when I came back [to my room in the Staravorvorskaya Hotel] from the farbrengen, I wrote out the maamar that begins with the words VeAtah Tetzaveh until 1:00 AM, when I stopped writing and prepared to retire for the night. After I had said Kerias Shema and showered and lain down, I heard a knock on my door. I ignored it, assuming that someone had no doubt mistaken my door for the door of my neighbor (on my return I had heard that people were meeting there). I turned off the lamp and prepared to go to sleep.

A few minutes later the telephone rang. It was the voice of the clerk, Kuznetzov, who excused himself and asked that I open my door because he needed me for something important. I opened the door.

He told me that a quarter of an hour earlier someone had come to the office – this was his night on duty – and asked if R. Schneersohn had already arrived for the night. The clerk explained to me that that man was one of the anti-religious sect known as the Yevsektsia, who had been informed by their friends from Leningrad that R. Schneersohn had set out yesterday for Moscow – no doubt for the strengthening of religious activity that he and his rabbinical colleagues engaged in. So they tried to track him.

The clerk went on to quote the man from the Yevsektsia: “We searched for him all day but couldn’t find him, so at our headquarters we decided to intimidate him – to arrive together with a few policemen and take him off to spend the night in one of the rooms of our organization’s office building. That way, in the course of the night, we would find out from him what brought him here and what he was doing here.”

“I answered him,” the clerk told me, “that the guest Schneersohn had not yet checked in for the night. I explained that the clerk whom I was replacing that night had informed me that before leaving the hotel, Citizen Schneersohn had told him that if anyone inquired about him, he should answer that he would not be back before 2:00 AM. When the young man heard this from me he gave me a note with a telephone number and said that when R. Schneersohn arrived I should notify him.

“And now,” the clerk concluded, “you should leave this hotel. I’ll travel with you to the Great Moscow Hotel. One of the clerks there is a friend of mine (he’s now on duty on the night shift). I’ve already spoken to him, and you’ll spend the night there.”

A quarter of an hour later I left the hotel via the entrance of the kitchen staff, as instructed by the clerk. He was afraid that I was being watched. Within a quarter of an hour we had reached the Great Moscow Hotel, but since all the rooms were taken, I was given the room that is used only by the people on duty, until a regular room would become available.

At 2:30 AM I lay down to rest, and at 7:00 I rose, davened, and had a hot drink. The clerk at this hotel promised to give me Room 33, which would be free at noon, at a daily rate of six banknotes. I paid for two days, tipped the clerk from my former hotel generously, and thanked him for the kindness that he had shown me.

The clerk who was on duty here at the Great Moscow Hotel had heard from his friend, the first clerk, that I was hiding from the agents of the Yevsektsia who were tracking me. He therefore showed me how I could leave the hotel without passing through the lobby. He asked me when I expected to return for the night. If it was after 11:00 PM he would be on duty because he was on the night shift, and he would be able to show me a way to get in without being seen.

* * *

It seems that what I was told by Mr. G., the treasurer,35 was true – that Medzhinsky, the head of the GPU, opposed the Yevsektsia and had rejected the proposals of Litvakov, its Chairman, about religious suppression and also about the special Committee for the Obstruction of Religion.36 The latter was a group of young people whose task was to search out observant Jews, to act as informers, to harass them, and (G‑d forbid) to do away with them. I was told that Medzhinsky had not authorized them to act in the name of the GPU. People said that on two occasions Litvakov had complained about Medzhinsky at the Central Bureau of the GPU, but had been left disappointed.

It was true that a month earlier, at a meeting attended by Messing, the GPU head in Leningrad, and his deputy Rapoport, Litvakov had succeeded in persuading Messing to back his proposal – to strengthen the Yevsektsia in general, and in particular the above Committee for the Obstruction of Religion, by giving them official authorization by the GPU. Messing’s first deputy, Rapoport, objected to the move; his second deputy, Rubin, supported it; but Medzhinsky fiercely opposed it. In the end, the meeting decided to empower each regional GPU director to act as he saw fit, without seeking the permission of the National Central Bureau.

Accordingly, Medzhinsky ordered the GPU office in Moscow to dismiss every member of the Yevsektsia who held any official position in any GPU department. Messing, by contrast, empowered the Yevsektsia by establishing, within the GPU office in Leningrad, a Yevsektsia Committee that was to work together with the GPU.