Unlike the great purges that took place in the years prior to WWII that were directed at the general population, a wave of arrests between the years 1948 and 1953 targeted Jews specifically.

In Samarkand, many Jews were arrested with the sole crime of being associated with Chabad Chassidim. That was enough to earn the title of counter-revolutionary.

R’ Simcha Gorodetzky, who had been sent to Samarkand by the Previous Rebbe, sent young men from Samarkand to learn in Tomchei Tmimim. After they returned, they had a great affect on their community, spreading Torah and yiddishkeit in Samarkand and its environs. Many of these Chassidim were arrested during this time.

One of those arrested was Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Ladaiov who, during the war, built a mikvah in the cellar of his home. The mikvah was used by many Lubavitch refugees who sought safety in the city and was known as “Avrohom Chaim’s Mikvah.” After the war, when the persecutions were targeting the Jews, R’ Avrohom Chaim was afraid and he removed the water from the mikvah. He covered the pit, stuffing it with blankets and rags.

Apparently, someone indeed informed the KGB about R’ Avrohom Chaim’s mikvah and their agents were dispatched to his house to arrest him. They found him sitting serenely at the table in his home. Since the arrests were accompanied by massive propaganda in the newspapers, the KGB searched for a way to present him as a dangerous criminal who was fleeing the law. They dragged him down to the cellar—where they had been told that the mikvah was located—emptied the pit from its contents, threw him inside, covered him with the blankets and photographed him. In his file appeared the picture of a traitorous Jew who tried to hide from the law.

I will never forget the horrifying incident that occurred when the KGB agents marched through the streets of Samarkand to arrest R’ Zevulun Leviev, whose grandson is the renowned philanthropist Lev Leviev. A member of the household noticed the police approaching the house and R’ Zevulun quickly slipped into a hiding place that he had prepared long before. He knew that as someone that was associated with Chabad Chassidim, he was a potential prisoner, and the only question was when he would be arrested. As such, he prepared long in advance for this probability: most of the houses in Samarkand were built with double walls, and a person was able to hide in the space between the two dividers.

It seems that whoever had informed the KGB had supplied them with the information about the hiding place as well, for when the policemen did not find him, they began to poke the walls with their bayonets. Eventually, they approached his hiding place and stabbed him in the head. It was nothing short of a miracle that he was not killed instantly by the bayonet. He shouted out in pain and his hiding place was discovered.

I recall how he was dragged out of his home and taken to prison. At the time, we all lived in the Jewish quarter in the old city and it was like an enclosed ghetto; everyone knew each other. Whenever the KGB came to arrest someone, they would arrive with an entourage of men who searched the individual’s home for incriminating evidence. The procedure took about two hours. During this time, the news spread like wildfire throughout the Jewish quarter and hundreds of Jews, men, women, and children, would pour into the streets. When the secret police discovered the person in his home, and jostled him forcefully into the black KGB truck, everyone would shed bitter tears, for they knew what his end would be.

Even with the standards that we had grown accustomed to in those days, with arrests being a common daily event, R’ Zevulun’s arrest was a shocking sight. The scene still stands vividly before my eyes: I saw spurts of crimson blood gush from his temples as two KGB beasts dragged him and dumped him into the black truck. Policemen armed with rifles and grim expressions stood guard on either side of him. We watched the scene, torn and brokenhearted, but our hands were tied and we were unable to rescue him from his helpless plight.

During those bleak days they also arrested Rabbi Mulla Chizkiyahu, the only Chassidic rav of the Bucharian Jews, the shochet Mulla Yosef, and others.

At that time, they also arrested a very simple Jewish man whose name was Rebbi (a common name among Bucharian Jews). When he was interrogated, he protested that he was a simple man who could barely read, with no relations to the Chassidim. Why were they accusing him of initiating activities against the government?

“We don’t care,” snarled the interrogators. “We know that you say the Tehillim after praying, one of the enactments of Rabbi Schneerson, and that’s enough to incriminate you for associating with a counter-revolutionary organization.”

My uncle, a shochet named R’ Boruch Duchman, was a man loved and respected by all. When it was discovered that the KGB had its eye on him, a number of local Jews warned him to flee in order to avoid imminent arrest. He fled immediately and hid with relatives in another neighborhood of the city. He remained hidden there until Stalin died about two years later.

The relatives of the arrestees did not dream that they would ever see their loved ones again. No one knew what happened to them, but it was assumed by all that they were either shot to death or that they would soon die from the forced labor in Siberia. No hope could be seen on the horizon.

A year before the beginning of the wave of arrests, R’ Moshe Yachovov, a Bucharian Chabad Chassid and a friend of R’ Mendel Futerfas, passed away. When the arrests began and we mentioned his demise, my mother said: “R’ Moshe is a lucky man. He died in his bed, was given a Jewish burial, his children accompanied him to his resting place and they can visit his gravesite. As for the dozens of Jews who were arrested, who knows if they will merit a Jewish burial and if their relatives will ever be able to visit their graves?!”

Ultimately, as will be related, the situation improved somewhat after Stalin’s death, and most of the arrestees returned to their homes. My mother then repeated the well-known saying: “A person can return from anywhere except from ‘there’ . . .”