From the time that R. Berke fled from his home, amid his subsequent wanderings throughout the Soviet Union, and even when he found refuge in Samarkand, his wife Feigel remained in Lvov as a “living widow;” mothering their newborn daughter Freida. Feigel had no indication of what had happened to her husband, or where he might have gone.

Had he been caught? If he had not been seized by the KGB, where was he hiding?

R. Berke presumed that the secret police examined all of the mail his wife received, therefore, he did not dare send her any information about his wellbeing, or his whereabouts, lest they both fall into the clutches of the KGB.

Once R. Berke felt comfortable in our home, my mother began mentioning to him the necessity of updating his wife about his status. “At least,” urged my mother, “let her know that you are alive, and not in jail, and instead with Jewish families.” R. Berke did not agree, explaining that all letters were most likely examined by the KGB, and through sending her any information, they were likely to discover that he was in Samarkand.

My mother pleaded with him to have mercy on his wife, who had been living for years already without any information about her husband. But, R. Berke insisted that his wife truly did not want to know where he was; because it was very possible that every so often she would be interrogated by the KGB who would try to extract some sort of information from her about his whereabouts. “She would certainly prefer not to know, so she won’t have anything to tell anyone,” he stated firmly.

However, my mother did not back down, and as time passed, she came up with an innovative idea. Her brother, R. Dovid Pevzner, lived in Lvov, and R. Berke’s wife would visit his home often. My mother thought of writing a letter to her brother inquiring after the welfare of R. Berke’s daughter Freida (who had been born three months before he had fled Lvov). She assumed that her brother would understand why she was asking; because why would she ask about a child she had never seen for her own sake? This way, his wife would realize that he was in Samarkand among friends.

However, R. Berke did not agree to this either. He was afraid that the KGB would figure it out and all would be lost. That was how tremendous the fear of the government was in those days.

R. Berke’s distress about his wife during that time can be illustrated by the following story, which I heard from R. Moshe Nissilevitch many years later:

One night, R. Berke went to see R. Moshe, who was heavily involved in all of R. Berke’s affairs. In a very serious tone he stated, “I want to consult with you about a crucial matter that must remain private.” R. Moshe promised to keep the discussion a secret, and R. Berke began to share his deep anguish about his wife.

“I cannot describe the extent of the pain I feel in regards to the suffering of my wife, Feigel, and all that she has endured these past few years. She doesn’t even know what happened to me. I don’t see an end to my sorrows, when I will be able to reunite with my family. Perhaps I am forbidden according to the Torah from leaving her in such a situation and should divorce her…”

There was a dreadful silence. R. Berke and R. Moshe stood there with tears mirrored in their eyes. R. Moshe’s head was bent over in deep sorrow. He could not bear to hear things like this and he not manage to utter a word in response. R. Moshe told me that he felt his insides twisting and churning within him, and that if the earth would have suddenly opened its mouth, he no doubt would have wished to disappear into it.

R. Berke continued to speak, as though to himself. “I hope she will find a good man and get married. With time I hope she will forget about me and lead a normal life.” He then turned again to R. Moshe and asked, “Is it right for me to cause her so much suffering, day in and day out?”

R. Moshe was choked by tears and could not respond. He finally managed to croak out, “I cannot advise you … What can I say? We will think about it together and we will decide what to do.”

The next day, R. Berke went to R. Moshe again and said, “I didn’t sleep all night and I tried to think about what I should do. I finally decided that according to Torah I am forbidden from divorcing her, for where is my trust in G‑d? He can change the situation for the better!” R. Moshe was very happy to hear this from R. Berke and he greatly encouraged him.