In the meantime, life was progressively becoming easier. The new Premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, decided to pardon hundreds of thousands of political prisoners including those who tried to cross the border illegally. We thought that perhaps R. Berke would benefit from this; if the prisoners had been released, maybe his file would be expunged and he would become legal. If so, it was time to use his old papers with his real name.

But it was still hard to shake off the feeling of terror that had prevailed for so many years. R. Berke was afraid to use his real name after so many years of hiding. He consulted with Eli Mishulovin and Moshe Nissilevitch, and R. Moshe came up with a radical idea—to find out in the KGB offices whether or not they were still looking for him.

In those years there were Jews who were called to the KGB offices from time to time where they were grilled for information about the Jewish community. I cannot describe the fear of those years, knowing that the sting could very well come from within, from one of our own. As R. Chaim Zalman Kozliner once put it, the situation that we were living in was such that if someone was suspected of collaborating with the KGB, he was “forgotten” as far as we were concerned. No excuses would help. It should be noted that often it was against their will that these Jews were used by the KGB, and it was very hard to remove oneself from their clutches.

(To illustrate the severity, once, after R. Berke became legal, he summoned us into a room before Rosh Hashanah and looking grim he said, “It has come to my attention that I am suspected of collaborating with the KGB. But, Heaven knows that I am innocent of having anything to do with them, so do I care what others think about me? But since the Torah urges us to be innocent before G‑d and Israel, I am telling you that I have never had anything to do with the KGB and there is not a shred of truth in this.”

It was painful to hear this from R. Berke. We told him that we had not heard anything of that nature, and of course we did not suspect him, G‑d forbid. After much effort we succeeded in reassuring him that we did not suspect him.)

R. Moshe Nissilevitch was friendly with one of the individuals who collaborated with the KGB. The story behind their companionship was as follows:

In 1946, when many Lubavitchers succeeded in sneaking out of the country to Poland via Lemberg, R. Moshe Nissilevitch also tried his luck, but he was too late. Still, he miraculously avoided imprisonment. However, the KGB began to look for him, and he changed his name on his official documents to Sholom Friedman.

When he arrived in Samarkand, he told everyone that his name was Moshe Friedman. Although it said “Sholom” on his papers, they knew him by the name of Moshe and he could not change that. Furthermore, if they caught him and questioned him about it, he could have said that he had two names, Sholom and Moshe, and that one name was used on his documents and one was the name he used in everyday life. Most of the community, including me, did not know that his family name was actually Nissilevitch. Only a few people, who knew him from before the war, knew this.

This man, of whom we were all wary, knew R. Moshe well and was aware of his past, including his failed attempt at crossing the border. He also knew that R. Moshe had changed his name from Moshe Nissilevitch to Sholom Friedman. In fact, he was the one who forged his documents. When the activistswho were involved in the escape were arrested, he was caught and imprisoned as well. After Stalin died, this man was released from jail and came to Samarkand. R. Moshe saw him and was very afraid that the man would inform on him.

However, a few years went by and R. Moshe was never called in by the KGB about this; his impression was that the man was not the informer he was suspected of being. Although this man had fallen into the KGB’s net, he remained G‑d fearing and he hid from the KGB as much as he was able. Once he reached this conclusion, R. Moshe decided to meet and converse with him, all the while keeping his eyes open for any hints of deception.

The two would meet and converse for hours, and the man would tell R. Moshe about his searing guilt regarding his visits to the KGB office. He said that every Wednesday morning, when he had to go to the office, it was a terrible day for him. He said, “You cannot imagine what I go through during the interrogations. The interrogator attacks me like a wolf. He bangs with his fist on the table and frightens me with threats about what they would do to me if I didn’t talk.

“When I say that I have nothing to tell them, he orders me to go to a certain house and to see whether there is a minyan there on Shabbos, and he warns me, ‘You should know that we have other people who work with us and they are honest and devoted. They will surely tell us the truth. If you try to lie to us, you will suffer forever’.”

This is what he would tell R. Moshe, and R. Moshe believed him and empathized with him.

None of us in Samarkand knew of the connection between the two of them, because R. Moshe kept it to himself. He knew that if he told anyone about his trust in this man, they would all be on guard against R. Moshe himself.

Now, when they considered R. Berke’s returning to use his original documents, R. Moshe thought of consulting with this man, of asking him to find out whether the KGB was still interested in R. Berke and his location. Naturally, before doing this, he had to get R. Berke’s approval.

When R. Moshe asked R. Berke about the plan, R. Berke nearly fainted. “Are you serious?” asked R. Berke. “You’ve lost your mind!” But R. Moshe had excellent powers of persuasion and he managed to convince R. Berke that this was the right move.

R. Moshe wasted no time. He left immediately to speak with the man. After the proper introductory motions—of the kind that only R. Moshe knew how to perform—he began to slowly and carefully check to see whether the KGB was interested in R. Berke. The man told R. Moshe that they had never asked him about R. Berke and he added that he was sure that if the KGB was on the lookout for him, they would have asked him to gather information.

After R. Moshe returned with the news, R. Berke was very happy but he was still a little nervous. R. Moshe decided that R. Berke should meet with the man himself so he could hear it from him directly. Arranging a meeting like this was complicated and dangerous, for it would reveal R. Berke’s hiding place. At that time, R. Berke was hiding in the Mishulovin home and they certainly would not agree to have this man come to their house to meet with R. Berke. That would endanger not only R. Berke but the Mishulovin family as well.

R. Moshe decided to keep the meeting a secret from everyone and to call it for the dead of night, after everyone was already asleep. The Mishulovin family lived in a house with a private yard and R. Berke hid in a small room in their yard. They arranged a certain time of night when R. Berke would open the gate for them, and then they would enter his room and speak.

R. Moshe told the man that R. Berke wanted to meet with him in order to hear the information from him directly. He was very excited because he knew R. Berke very well and they had not seen each other since they were arrested in 1946. The man knew the bitter and dire circumstances that clung to R. Berke like a noose. He did not need to be told about his children and his wife, who had not been in contact with for years. He knew everything.

Late at night, R. Moshe brought the man to the gate of the Mishulovin home. R. Berke had unlocked the gate and the two were able to enter into R. Berke’s hiding place. The electrical light was turned off; instead, the room was lit by the weak glow of a small candle. It is impossible to describe the emotional reunion that took place. They fell upon one another and cried. They kissed with true brotherly love and cried some more. Then they kissed again and cried.

They reminisced for a long time, and after R. Berke heard directly from him that his name had never been mentioned in the KGB interrogations, he was convinced of the veracity of his words. The man advised him to use his old documents, and after the meeting, R. Berke decided to use his original papers. He registered as a resident of the city, which made him legal after years of hiding.