By 1941, my parents had two more children—my brother Berel, and myself—and in the summer of that year, Germany invaded Russia in the enormous Operation Barbarossa, breaking the non-aggression pact the two countries had signed two years earlier. Stalin trusted the Germans, and the Russian army was caught unprepared. As such, the Germans were able to advance rapidly through the Ukraine and along the entire Russian front.

The Russian army was caught unprepared

As Tishrei of 1941 approached, the Germans were very close to Kharkov. Radio reports broadcasted the atrocities that the Germans had perpetrated against Jewish civilians in conquered territory and encouraged the Jews to leave Kharkov for safer regions.

The Jews, who had grown accustomed to ignoring the generally exaggerated or false Soviet propaganda, were inclined to believe that these reports were, once again, baseless. After all, the Germans had been noteworthy for their dignified treatment of refugees during the First World War. Many Jews, my father included, remembered the German merchants who came to their city to sell their merchandise, and how they treated the Jews with respect and propriety. Likewise, many Jews would travel to Germany for business purposes.

It was only when letters from family members began to arrive describing the German cruelty that nearly all of the Jews decided to flee. Most Lubavitcher Chassidim traveled to Tashkent or Samarkand in Central Asia. They were far away from the battlefields and were in a region with a more moderate climate. For Chassidim there was another incentive to travel to these cities in particular. They knew that they contained large Jewish communities of Bucharian Jews who held warm regard for the Chabad Chassidim. This high regard was thanks to the work of Rs. Shlomo Leib Eliezerov, Chaim Noeh and Simcha Gorodetzky, who had been sent to region years earlier as emissaries of the Rebbe Rashab and Rebbe Rayatz, and about whom more will be related later in the book.

Our family was one of the last to flee Kharkov. The train tracks were in bad shape due to the intense bombing of the German air force, and the freight train that we traveled on moved slowly. It was an open miracle that we traveled the entire way without a bomb striking the train.

The lack of room on the train out of Kharkov forced the passengers to crowd together, and in those tumultuous times, when it had become impossible to keep proper standards of hygiene, most people had not washedMost people had not washed for days for days. There was an increase in the spread of dangerous diseases, and an abundance of unwelcome lice, which in addition to the unbearable itching they caused, further assisted the spread of disease. Understandably, we were wary of coming close to anyone unfamiliar to us.

At one point, Berel noticed a non-Jewish woman nearby whose hair seemed to be moving about on its own! My brother did not understand this phenomenon, but when my mother took notice, she quickly distanced him from the lady: her hair was teeming with lice.

For my mother, maintaining our dignity meant more than just staying disease free. I was a young child then, not yet three years of age, and as the train ride wore on, I later heard from my mother, I began to cry from hunger. A gentile women offered to give me some non-kosher food to eat, but my mother refused.

Miraculous Rescue From the Army Draft

Our long journey to Samarkand brought us to the city Makhachkala on the shore of the Caspian Sea, for a brief stay. At that time, a general draft was announced and everyone was summoned. Officials combed the streets of Makhachkala, and they stopped my father and directed him to appear at the draft office. He was not sure how to respond. On the one hand, most of the soldiers sent to the front were killed. On the other hand, avoiding a draft during wartime came with a guaranteed death sentence.

My father told us that he recalled the story of the arrest of the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe. When the Alter Rebbe heard that he was being sought after by Czarist authorities, he first fled and hid for a short while before deciding to go with the soldiers who had been sent for him. The Alter Rebbe explained that this is what the Patriarch Yaakov did when he fled from his brother Eisav. According to the Midrash, he first hid in the study hall of Shem and only then did he go on his way. My father decided to remain at home and leave for the draft office one hour later than the time written on his order.

When he left the house, we were playing outside in the yard. My father kissed each one of us, sobbing softly, his tears cascading on our small heads. We did not understand what was happening and we asked him where he was going and why he was crying. He whispered tearfully that he would soon return.

Miraculously,"Next time, come at the time we tell you!" this is precisely what happened. When he arrived at the draft office, only the local authorities were there. “Why are you late?" they yelled at him. " All the draftees have already been sent to the front! Next time, come at the time we tell you!”

My father joyfully returned home and was thus saved from almost certain death.

At that time an additional miracle occurred: A directive from Stalin declared that family members en route to safety should not be drafted so as not to break up the family. Instead, they were to be drafted upon reaching their destination.