Since the Rebbe could be reincarcerated at any moment, it was clear to all concerned that he should leave Russia promptly.

In this matter, too, Mrs. Fishkova promised to exert her influence. At the same time, Dr. Oscar Kohn. See p. 225 above. set out from Berlin to present the Rebbe with a written request from the respected congregation of Frankfort that he consent to become their spiritual head. Dr. Kohn also conveyed supporting affidavits from senior members of the German government, as well from the Soviet ambassador to Germany, Mr. Krastinsky.357 Likewise, the Agudah representative in the Latvian Sejm,1 R. Mordechai Dubin, set out from Riga with a similar request from his own community, together with a letter of recommendation signed by the Soviet ambassador in Latvia, who was a Jew from Lodz.

R. Dubin set out, but was fearful for his life. During the time of the Red terror in Latvia, the Bolsheviks had arrested him – and in fact he had been under threat of execution – as a communal activist who exerted himself to supply matzos for the Jews of Latvia. Though he personally had been saved at the time, he now still shared his countrymen’s fear of the ruthless regime in the nearby Soviet jungle.

Nevertheless, this was a specifically auspicious time for a member of the Latvian Sejm to ask a favor of Russia. Since England had recently severed its diplomatic links with Russia, Russian leaders were now making every effort to negotiate friendly commercial relations with Latvia. And this particular Latvian parliamentarian was uniquely suited for that purpose, thanks to his influence in the Agriculturists’ Party.

Thus, considering this broader picture, R. Dubin overlooked his personal fear and set out for Russia. On his arrival there, his fear proved to be unfounded, for in fact he was received cordially and respectfully. Nevertheless, his relatives in Moscow were so terrified by the Cheka’s thousand eyes that they refrained from visiting him at his hotel. True, the GPU would not arrest them on account of such a visit, but they could be relied upon to find some pretext to do so.

R. Dubin and Dr. Kohn each acted in his own way.

R. Dubin began by approaching the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, where he negotiated with Mr. Dobronitzky, a Polish Jew who headed the department that dealt with Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The answer was No, and he was told that anyway the chances were slim.

Dr. Kohn raised the question directly with the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Tchitchirin, whom he knew personally, and also with Rotstein, a Jewish senior official in the Russian Foreign Ministry. They both gave the same answer.

The obstacles were so daunting that at one point the hardworking Dr. Kohn told R. Dubin, “There’s nothing more I can do!”

They worked separately, and it even appeared that they were in competition. After all, each of them dearly wanted the Rebbe to head the congregation that he represented.

At that point R. Dubin again approached Dobronitzky, head of the Baltic Department, and repeated his request that the Rebbe be granted a permit to leave Russia for Latvia. This time, however, when Dobronitzky began to repeat his former refusal, R. Dubin spoke up clearly: “You would like us and our friends to help you secure the signatures that are needed for the commercial agreement with our country – yet when we present you with a request for a favor, you say No. We, the members of the Jewish community of our capital city, Riga, want the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be our rabbinical head – but you aren’t allowing him to leave Russia. Meanwhile, the Rebbe has received a similar invitation from the Jewish community of Germany, and you will possibly allow him to go there. I would like you to know that if that happens, you will antagonize the Jews of Latvia. They will thereby lose their heartfelt wish to see the Rebbe inducted as head of the Riga congregation – and that would jeopardize your negotiations on the proposed agreement.”

Even this argument left Dobronitzky unruffled, and he repeated his refusal.

In the meantime, however, the Soviet ambassador in Latvia, the Jew from Lodz, arrived in Moscow, in order to further the talks on that same agreement between Russia and Latvia. At the same time, and for the very same reason, he also began his efforts to secure a permit for the Rebbe to leave Russia for Latvia.

His counterpart, the Latvian ambassador in Moscow, also helped R. Dubin, by arranging for him to meet senior officials in the Soviet Foreign Ministry at a festive dinner that he organized for that purpose at the Latvian Embassy.

That banquet fell on a fast day, so R. Dubin himself ate nothing. One of those present, a senior Russian official who was Jewish, commented: “If you’re afraid of eating something treif, can’t you eat fruit?”

“I’m fasting,” replied R. Dubin. “Today is a fast.”

Hailing from Lodz, a traditionally observant city in Poland, that official knew what that meant, and remained silent.