The Rebbe’s arrest roused a turbulent storm. The news traveled fast, and by Wednesday morning masses of people from all corners of Leningrad, chassidim and unobservant Jews alike, converged on the Rebbe’s home. Their impassioned Tehillim shared one entreaty – that Heaven show the Rebbe mercy. Messages were also sent immediately to Haditch, Niezhin, Lubavitch and Rostov, that prayers should be offered there at the resting places of the Rebbe’s predecessors, with the request that those tzaddikim intercede on his behalf.

At 7:00 AM an urgent meeting was held in the Rebbe’s home, at which local Jewish leaders, prominent lawyers and public figures agonized over the challenge – how to save the Rebbe.

After some deliberation, it was decided that for security reasons it would be wise to adjourn to a different address. There, at 10:00 AM, the meeting was joined by representatives of every Jewish circle in the city – except, of course, for the Communists.

Even after some hours, those present were unable to arrive at any final decision because the political situation was extremely tense. As soon as England cut off its diplomatic relations with Russia, the Soviet press reacted with furious panic, as if this act were a declaration of a massive war: the entire capitalistic world was poised to attack and destroy the homeland of the proletarians! The whole country sprang into high alert. The Communist Party, the youth, the womenfolk, the army and the navy – all were conscripted to take up arms and undergo combat training.

At that very time, a White1 Russian emigrant by the name of Kovarda assassinated Vaikov, the Russian ambassador to Poland. Likewise, like-minded Russians in Paris organized an attack on a Russian diplomat stationed there. The paranoid Soviet authorities perceived every such incident as a mortal threat to the survival of the USSR, and the Red terror went berserk. Terrified by the thought of enemies, both real and imaginary, the Cheka liquidated people right and left, old and young, in the deep dungeons of their prisons.

It was thus clear to all the participants of that meeting that as dangerous as the Rebbe’s predicament was, it would be even more dangerous to take a wrong step in order to save him. They therefore decided not to enlist intervention from overseas. Admittedly, Jewish lobbyists abroad could try to have their respective governments exert influence on the USSR to free him. On the other hand, such a step would be perceived by the Cheka as a counter-revolutionary plot to defame the USSR, and thus would put the Rebbe’s life in jeopardy. The only alternative open to the meeting was to do their utmost to activate the influence of Soviet ministers and other prominent leaders, and this could be done only in Moscow.

The consultation continued uninterrupted until Thursday morning. At noon, the activists of Leningrad’s Jewish community gave their counterparts in Moscow a brief update by telephone, and informed them that an emissary was setting out immediately for Moscow on their behalf. This was the Rebbe’s elder son-in-law, R. Shmaryahu Gourary, who made haste directly from the railway station to the meeting.

Out of fear of official vengeance, that meeting was held neither in a shul nor in a private residence, but in a quiet room in one of the local banks, where the participants would hopefully not be noticed among the thousands of people coming and going.

By the way: Although the names of the activists in Leningrad and Moscow are known, they are not being published here for fear of the Cheka’s vengeful response, even today.2

The Moscow meeting discussed three courses of action: (a) utilizing “private connections” with the GPU of Leningrad; (b) applying to supreme Soviet institutions whose decisions obligated even the GPU; (c) arousing the support of overseas Jewry and worldwide public opinion.

The major advantage of the first alternative over the second was that it would not infuriate the GPU of Leningrad. After all, there had been precedents in which the GPU of a particular city had taken offense that someone had gone over their heads by applying to a higher judicial authority. They had then vented their fury by liquidating their prey, who otherwise might have survived.

The idea of arousing the support of overseas Jewry was rejected, out of reliance on the opinion of the Leningrad meeting.

At any rate, the Moscow meeting came to no conclusions, and its participants went home in deep distress: every lost minute was costly, yet they did not know how to proceed. Their only decision was to elect a committee, which decided to call for further deliberations by all the representatives of Moscow Jewry.

At that broader forum, the option of applying to the national leaders who headed supreme Soviet institutions was unanimously ruled out, for fear of placing the Rebbe’s life in jeopardy. And the option of eliciting the support of Jewry abroad was unanimously ruled out for two reasons. Firstly, the results of their lobbying could arrive too late to save the Rebbe’s life; secondly, this activity would bolster the GPU’s claim that the Rebbe was a counter-revolutionary, because the world’s capitalists were intervening on his behalf.

It was therefore decided that private approaches be made to persuade the GPU of Leningrad to free the Rebbe.

Immediately, however, this too proved to be unsatisfactory, because an observant Jew arrived in Moscow from Leningrad on Shabbos morning, with dire news: the GPU of Leningrad was determined to shoot the Rebbe.

Late that afternoon the Moscow committee convened and decided that since there was now nothing to lose, they would direct their entreaty to the supreme leaders of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, that evening they dispatched telegrams to President Kalinin, to Prime Minister Rikov, and to the chiefs of the GPU in Moscow.

At the same time they asked the major Jewish communities, such as in Kharkov and Minsk, to amass hundreds of thousands of signatures of Russian Jews – individuals, institutions and organizations – in a petition to the Soviet government. The petition attested to the Rebbe’s loyalty to the regime, refuted the charge of counter-revolutionary activity, and pleaded: “Free the Rebbe!”

The committee also made efforts to meet with the nationwide head of the GPU, Menzeshinsky, in order to explain to him that the entire arrest was based on a mistake. They also approached Mrs. Fishkova – first wife of the noted author, Maxim Gorky – who headed the Russian Red Cross in its endeavors on behalf of political prisoners. Interestingly, Mrs. Fishkova enjoyed esteem and influence in Russia’s ruling circles.

As news of the arrest sped throughout Russia, it aroused fear and horror among observant and non-observant Jews alike. Many regarded it as a vindictive strike by the Yevsektsia and the GPU against observant Jewry at large.

The rabbis of all the communities ordained a public fast for the following Monday and Thursday, and the shuls and batei midrash throughout the length and breadth of the country were packed with tearful townsfolk saying Tehillim. For Russian Jewry, that week was like one long Yom Kippur.

The Moscow committee worked day and night with nonstop urgency, fully aware that the Rebbe was now caught up in the net of Messing, the malevolent anti-Semite who masterminded the GPU bureau in Leningrad. There was not a minute to waste.