True, the rescue committee that met in Moscow had decided not to appeal to any government or public authority abroad for fear of retaliation. Nevertheless, through private sources, news of the Rebbe’s arrest soon reached the big world outside. In response, numerous anxious telegrams and letters were received in Russia by those who were closest to the Rebbe – from England, Germany, France, America, Eretz Yisrael and Scandinavia. No replies were sent to any of those inquirers, for that could be perceived by the local regime1 as the propagation of anti-Soviet propaganda overseas.

Nevertheless, Jewry worldwide spontaneously sprouted initiatives to save the Rebbe.

Most prominent among these were the steps taken by German Jews. For a start, Rabbi Dr. Meir Hildesheimer, the Orthodox rav of Berlin, and Dr. Leo Baeck, the Reform leader, contacted Dr. Oscar Kohn. This Jewish representative of the Socialist Party in the Bundestag, the German parliament, also belonged to Poalei Tziyon.2 Dr. Kohn immediately met with Dr. Strazmann, the German Foreign Minister, and together with Rabbi Dr. Hildesheimer and Dr. Leo Baeck met with Mr. Weismann, the Deputy Chancellor of the German Reich. Weismann, who was on friendly terms with the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, Krastinsky, updated him about the facts and appealed to him to take action.

Krastinsky replied: “I am convinced that the Soviet government had no interest in arresting the Rebbe. I perceive this whole incident as purely an act of vengeance by the Yevsektsia against the Rebbe, because he promotes religious activity. Since the Soviet government has no interest in this arrest, I believe that it will be possible to explain all of this to them, and I for my part will utilize every means at my disposal to do so, in order to secure the Rebbe’s release.”

He kept his promise and immediately contacted his superiors in Moscow.

At the same time, telegrams from every city and township in Russia, demanding and pleading for the Rebbe’s release, were addressed to Mikhail Kalinin3 and Prime Minister Rikov. Their answer was uniform: “The Rebbe was arrested as a heavyweight criminal. That status has not changed.”

Delegations from the major Jewish communities sought to be granted an audience with Menzeshinsky, the nationwide head of the GPU, but that privilege was denied them. A prime mover in the campaign was the head of the Russian Red Cross, Mrs. Fishkova.4 She, too, appealed vigorously to Rikov and Menzeshinsky. The participants in these activities also included a number of prominent Communists, both Jewish and non-Jewish. And the Moscow rescue committee invited leading communal activists in Kharkov, Kiev, Minsk, Vitebsk and other towns to take part in its deliberations.

Ultimately, this energetic campaign succeeded. For a start, the death sentence was commuted to a ten-year exile in the Slovokai Islands. A telephone call brought this exciting news to the members of the Moscow committee just as they were closing one of their meetings. Nevertheless, side by side with their thankfulness, they realized that such an exile, too, could endanger the Rebbe’s life, and they decided to continue their endeavors with the same desperate urgency with which they had begun.

They dispatched a delegation to ask Mrs. Fishkova to appeal again to Menzeshinsky with a request that he annul the decree of exile, or at least to defer its execution. If even that proved impossible, she was to request that the ailing Rebbe be transported there independently, at his own expense, and not in a prison vehicle. She promised to make every possible effort.