[Entry #5:] 11:30 PM

On my arrival here I was met by the hotel clerk who handed me the key to Room 33 on the second floor.

When I went back to the Staravorvorskaya Hotel in the morning, and walked into the office in order to receive the key to my room, one of the clerks fixed his eyes on me and asked: “Where were you this night, and at what time did you leave the hotel?”

This was a new clerk. I didn’t know him, and he spoke in the tone favored by young people nowadays. I suspected that he might be a Jew. He suppressed his anger, but his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were all fury. The two clerks whom I had known for many years leaned over their papers, busy writing. I could tell that they were angry with the young man who had addressed me.

Despite my fear I faced him with a slight smile, but before I managed to say a word, the young man spoke again: “When I came here this morning I was informed that the police had been here twice to inquire about this guest of ours in Room 67 on the second floor. The key was in the office, so I took it and checked the room. The bed linen looked as if someone had got up in the middle of the night, and there was no one there. When I checked with the room service staff they said that they had seen the person from Room 16 leaving at 8:00 PM. So – where were you all night?”

“For the last twenty-five years or so,” I said, “I have been traveling from time to time to various towns and staying in various hotels. This is the first time that anyone in a hotel office has ever asked, and demanded an answer, as to where I was by day or by night. So I see no reason to answer.” And I turned to leave.

“Don’t leave!” he said in Yiddish. “Your sharp Gemara-head isn’t going to help you. We, the Jewish comrades, know who you are. You won’t slip out of our hands. We’ll catch you!”

“Who I am,” I said, “all Russia knows. Who my forebears are, all Russia and all the world knows. Who you are, no one knows.”

This time he answered in a rage: “If I phone the police to send men to arrest you, they’ll do it on the spot!”

My answer was calm: “I’ve never heard that the police would arrest someone for no reason.”

“We young Jews,” he said, “the Yevsektsia, will demand it of the police. The Secret Service will get involved, too!”

Going to my room, I put my belongings in order, took my tallis and tefillin in a little bag, left my room, and went out via the entrance of the kitchen staff. The key I took with me.

[Entry #6:]As above

The meeting [of the rabbinical council], which ran from 12:15 PM until 4:30 PM, examined the accounts, discussed the various reports, and debated the manner in which the handicraft project should be organized. The view of Rabbis G., K. and M. prevailed over the view of Rabbi M. and Mr. A.H., and it was decided that the administration of the council, and of the financial support for this project, should remain in the hands of the central office alone. This was followed by a lengthy discussion as to (a) whether all the members of the council should go to meet the doctor1 or whether I should meet with him alone, and (b) how much support we should request. It was duly decided that (a) I would meet with him alone, and (b) the extent of our request would be left to my discretion according to the circumstances.

After a minyan for Minchah, we arranged to reconvene the next day at 4:00 PM at the home of R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin,2 at the festive meal celebrating someone’s engagement.3

* * *

Accompanied by the treasurer, Mr. G., I reached the doctor’s address at the appointed time, 6:00 PM. He came out to greet us and I could see that he was in a jovial mood. I assumed that the reason was no doubt the success of some public project, because he liked to hear of such successes, no matter in what field.

Bringing us into his study, he said with a broad smile: “Yesterday at the bank, and today in my office, I heard about you and about your tremendous work in various regions of this country, in both religious and economic areas. At the Jewish bank, Mr. A.L. Fox and Mr. Orenson described the positive results of your endeavors in publicizing the project for handicrafts. They told me that in addition to helping dozens of families buy various kinds of weaving looms, sewing machines, and apparatus for producing bronze buttons and shoelaces and the like, your publicity encouraged hundreds of families to become involved in handicrafts.”

Dr. Rosen continued: “Yesterday and today I was visited by various people from around Kiev, Poltava, Zhitomir, Minsk and Vitebsk. They all told me that they had been visited by young men – who, they added confidentially, had been dispatched by R. Schneersohn – in order to promote such activity. The local people were particularly struck by the fact that those young emissaries had also undertaken to help some of them buy the necessary machines.

“This project has captured my heart. I want to help you with it to the best of my ability, because here I see a great source of livelihood for thousands of people.”

* * *

At that time I saw that the Al-mighty had blessed me with a sensible approach, and that the suggestion that I had made to the treasurer, Mr. G., had been vindicated, as follows:

After he and I left the above-described meeting of the rabbinical council, we went to the home of my friend, a chassid called R. Baruch Shalom Cohen, in Bzaradia Street, for lunch.

Mr. G. told me about the discussion that had taken place among the members of the council after I left them to decide in my absence about the two points4 that I had requested. He said: “They spoke unanimously about your energetic work. They particularly noted the evenhanded absence of any discrimination between the needs of chassidim and the needs of others.5 In the course of five years no favoritism had ever been shown to the chassidim, even though all of those who risked their lives in propagating this project were students or alumni of the [Lubavitcher] Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah. Rabbi Y.K. had stressed that if not for the publicity that you had made in this country and overseas, the council would not have received even ten percent of the present amount. They therefore decided that you should meet Dr. Rosen alone and that the proposals you make should depend on your discretion.”

“My mind is made up,” I responded to Mr. G. “I will ask the doctor to double his support for the budget of the handicrafts project, but I don’t yet know how to raise the subject. In this, however, G‑d will no doubt grant His help. It is written,6 ‘The stance of the heart depends on man; the gift of speech comes from G‑d.’ If a man sees to it that his heart is attuned to G‑d, he may rest assured that the gift of speech will come from G‑d.”

We continued to speak along these lines as we then went to meet the doctor. And indeed, hearing how he enthused as soon as we arrived, I saw that Divine Providence had engineered an opportunity for me to voice my request, which I did as follows: “It is true that after I began to publicize the handicrafts project three years ago, the harvest yielded by the efforts of the first two years was modest – except in Rostov, with cigarette production and the weaving industry, and in the Chernigov and Mohilev regions. This year, however, in response to the publicity, many more people have become interested in manual crafts, so I have come here to suggest that you should import machines and the requisite equipment. Some should be distributed free of charge and some should be paid for by gradual installments.”

Dr. Rosen replied: “Importing is most problematic. I would be prepared instead to help you buy locally, and would be happy to receive a plan of action.”

I said: “The plan of action proposed by the Society for the Propagation of Handicrafts in the Jewish Community is that machines to the value of at least 60,000 be given out in the course of several months. They can be bought locally.”

“How soon do you need that sum?” he asked.

“Fifty percent would suffice for now,” I said. “We would need another twenty percent within four or five weeks, and the balance over the following eight or ten weeks.”

Dr. Rosen made a note of this and thought it over deeply, while in my heart I prayed that Heaven’s mercies be aroused in the merit of my saintly forebears, inspiring him to approve the budget.

“Very well,” he said. “I’ll give it at those times – fifty percent now, twenty percent in a month, and thirty percent in two months.”

He then asked Mr. G. to meet him the next day at noon to receive the first amount, and said that he would speak to his deputy and to his agent about the other two payments, because he planned to leave the country in two weeks’ time.

I added: “I would now like to tell you about what is being done in the buttressing of religious institutions, including the support of yeshivos, chadarim, rabbanim and shochtim.”

“Indeed,” he said. “I have heard about the work that is being done in the Crimean farming colonies, where you have installed rabbanim, shochtim and melamdim. Last week I was visited by Prof. Haffkine7 – you know him from last year – after his tour of the colonies. Wherever he went, he also interested himself in the religious institutions and was most impressed by the way in which they were organized, with their rabbanim, shochtim, melamdim and houses of communal prayer. Having heard there that all of this had been instituted by R. Schneersohn, he expressed a desire to meet with you. Now, however, he is visiting the towns of the Caucasus in connection with his forty-year-long research on malaria. He will be there about two months. When he returns to Moscow, it would be a good idea for you to meet him, for the public good.”

* * *

Dr. Rosen had something more to tell me: “Yesterday I was visited by a young relative, my sister’s son. As a member of the Organization of Young Jewish Opponents of Religious Activity, he attended a meeting of the Committee for the Obstruction of Religion. Litvakov, Chairman of the Yevsektsia, delivered a propagandist speech against the rabbis who openly rejected the [Communist] ideology. He waxed especially eloquent about R. Schneersohn, who had established a vigorous organization throughout the country: he maintained schools, houses of Torah study, rabbis and shochtim; he printed siddurim; he maintained existing mikvaos and even built new ones; and dispatched his disciples as emissaries to revive the religious spirit of the old folk. He was also influential among the middle-aged, and worked energetically and discreetly.

“Litvakov then said: ‘Listen to what I just learned!’ And he went on to read out a long report [to the meeting of the Committee for the Obstruction of Religion. It had been written by Dmitri, one of his colleagues of the Yevsektsia, and described the surprise that he had encountered] when he arrived in a remote town called Kulash, in the region of Tibilisi:8 ‘After I addressed a session of the Sovnarkom, the local municipal council, its chairman stood up and thanked me, and praised the work of the central committee in Moscow that had sent me to raise their morale. He went on to say that he also felt obligated, on behalf of all the local Jewish citizens, to thank the central committee in Moscow for having dispatched an emissary ten months earlier to build a mikveh for the use of the local women. He concluded by saying: It is now my privilege to invite tonight’s speaker, the honored representative of the central committee in Moscow, to accompany all of us now on a visit to the new mikveh, so that he will be able to see it with his own eyes and convey our heartfelt gratitude to all the members of the central committee!’

“ ‘Having heard a variety of stories from several townships in the course of that trip, I gathered that behind all of this stood Schneersohn. I had no option but to swallow my anger and smile nicely, but my blood was boiling. The chairman innocently related that Comrade Shveliov had recently visited them and after a week of hard work had finally succeeded in having the local shul closed down and converted to a club. Shveliov also had the mikveh closed down, despite the protests of the township’s Jewish women. Two weeks later, however, an articulate Russian-speaking young emissary had arrived on the scene, together with a friend who spoke Georgian. They announced that they had been dispatched by the central committee in order to rebuild the mikveh! They offered the community two hundred tchervantzes to cover the expenses. The community declined to accept their offer, and within a few days the mikveh was renovated. They called in R. [Avraham Levi] Slavin, a student at R. Schneersohn’s yeshivah, to confirm its ritual validity, and the young people were overjoyed. All of the above I heard from the chairman of the local municipal council.’

“[Dmitri continued to tell his tale:] ‘So I went along with them to see the mikveh. But when I saw how happy they were with its restoration I was afraid to tell them the truth. Besides, it wouldn’t have helped….

‘At the closing session of my visit with them, this chairman of the local municipal council handed me a petition signed by 129 members and sealed with the insignia of the council, requesting that the club be removed and that the synagogue be restored as a house of prayer. They had written this petition because the two young emissaries who had visited them had informed them that if fifty signatories requested that the shul be reinstated, the law of the land required that this be done – and here they had 129 signatures. This is their petition.’

“And with those words, Litvakov, Chairman of the Yevsektsia, read out the petition of the townsmen of Kulash, to those attending the meeting of the Committee for the Obstruction of Religion at which my nephew was present.”

[Dr. Rosen here concludes his narration to the Rebbe Rayatz of what his nephew had heard at a meeting of the Committee for the Obstruction of Religion. At that meeting, theChairman of the Yevsektsia, Litvakov, read out a long report written by a colleague of his called Dmitri, describing his visit to Gerusia:]

“ ‘When I arrived in Ani, I encountered the same story. Comrade Shveliov had left the town after having closed the shul and blocked up the mikveh. Soon after, a few young men arrived in town and spoke to the local people in the name of some central committee. They gave the locals three hundred tchervantzes, reconstructed and reopened the mikveh, and brought out R. [Mordechai] Perlow, a student at R. Schneersohn’s yeshivah, to confirm its ritual validity. The townsfolk themselves moved the club out of the shul, and now, after renovating it, they pray there.

“ ‘It is a shame and a disgrace that the leadership of the Organization of Young Jewish Opponents of Religious Activity cannot muster the strength to close the mouth and bind the hands of one man who shatters all our work!’

“Having finished reading out Dmitri’s report, Litvakov now turned to address those assembled: ‘The fact is that Comrade Dmitri is right. Haven’t we got the strength to close Schneersohn’s mouth and bind his hands? Let us all work together to have Schneersohn thrown into prison forever, and then in no time his entire organization will collapse! Our comrades in Leningrad have informed us that last night Schneersohn came here to Moscow. I propose that we nominate a committee of three young members of the Committee for the Obstruction of Religion, who will be responsible for getting Schneersohn out of the way and destroying his organization.’

“The proposal was approved unanimously.”

* * *

[At this point, the diary entry of the Rebbe Rayatz resumes its description of his meeting with Dr. Rosen of the Joint.]

I now turned to Dr. Rosen: “Now that the leaders and members of the Yevsektsia have resolved to destroy the organization and get me out of the way, the organization surely needs to be fortified even more powerfully than before. And that requires major financing.”

“Just two weeks ago,” Dr. Rosen pointed out, “I gave you 20,000.”

- “True. That 20,000 covered the budgetary expenses of the past half-year, from Rosh HaShanah till Adar. We now have to cover the budget for the other half-year, from the Second Adar till Elul. I’ll take responsibility for part of it, and whatever is missing you will cover.”

- “How much will that be?”

- “No more than 40,000.”

- “And not less than…”

- “…than 40,000.”

- “Very well, in two payments. And I think that you should be cautious, because the members of the Yevsektsia are brazen. They could do anything.”

Dr. Rosen now went to his office with Mr. G. to arrange the payments and I remained alone. When they returned, Dr. Rosen wished me well and escorted me as I departed. It was only 8:00 PM when we went outside, so, knowing that I could not go to my room in the Great Moscow Hotel until 11:00 PM, we went to visit Mr. Ostrovsky and Mr. Shneurov.

* * *

While I was at Mr. Shneurov’s home I thought of visiting Mr. Orenson in order to inform him of the current situation and to hear from him how to conduct myself. After calling, I set out to see him. Though Mr. G. wanted to accompany me, I told him that that would not be advisable and asked him not to contact me by telephone. We arranged to meet at noon on the following day at the home of R. Baruch Shalom Cohen.

Mr. Orenson received me warmly, listened attentively, and assured me that here, in Moscow, the Yevsektsia had no official sanction even from the regular police authorities, and certainly not from the GPU, which disapproved of all their activities. People everywhere were quoting the comment of Lieshchinsky, that “the Yevsektsia blindfolds the government.”9 Mr. Orenson went on to say that the Yevsektsia could only intimidate, but nothing more. If one of them would accost me, even he was accompanied by a police official, I should not be at all afraid. On the contrary, I should be firm. I should first demand his identification papers and inquire at police headquarters (Mr. Orenson gave me the unlisted telephone number of the Special Section) whether they in fact employed such an official, and then demand that he show me his written authorization to bother me with his questions.

Mr. Orenson then told me about the secret meeting of communal leaders that had been held at the Jewish bank. One of the participants was Mr. R., and they had talked about the energetic work that was being done throughout the country. Mr. Fox and Mr. Mandel had told the others about my success in the handicrafts project, and had proposed that the Jewish bank should also support it.

At tonight’s visit with Mr. Orenson, he showed me more closeness than in the past. As I was about to leave, he said that one of the leading figures in the innermost circles of the secret police, an acquaintance of many years, visited him at home today. In fact, he was sitting with him when I telephoned from Mr. Shneurov’s home, and talked about his family roots and about his work. Most surprisingly, he told him that he was descended from the Lubinsky family from Sosnitze, in the Chernigov province,. In the heartland of Lubavitch. “who had family connections with Schneersohn.” Since this acquaintance wanted to get to know me personally, Mr. Orenson promised to arrange a meeting at his home when I next visited Moscow.

* * *

Passing by Vorvorskaya Gate on my way from the home of Mr. Orenson, I met R. Mendel Elkind, who had just left the Staravorvorskaya Hotel. He had visited there in order to invite me to rest for a day or two in his estate out of town. I thanked him for his kind offer, but explained that I would not be able to accept it this time because these were extremely busy days.

As soon as I entered my room at the Hotel, I was visited by the clerk from the office, Kuznetzov, who reported: “Some young men came here and inquired about you – four times today. On one of those visits they were accompanied by a police official. One of my fellow clerks told me that he was not from this zone. And Kratov” (that was the argumentative clerk who had intimidated me this morning) “ordered sternly that as soon as the Schneersohn guest of Room 67 arrived, he was to be immediately contacted at the telephone number that he wrote down. I thought that I really must tell you whatever I heard on this matter, and that you should also know that all day long he was fuming, swearing to take revenge of ‘Schneersohn, that tough bourgeois.’

“Kratov went on to explain that while he was still in his parents’ home in Amtchislav, in the Mohilev province, he had heard about the Schneersohn family of Lubavitch. In the dark days of 1905,10 when he was 15 years old, he had to leave his hometown and live in the home of his father’s brother, who was a teacher in one of the chadarim of R. Schneersohn of Lubavitch. ‘Throughout the four months that I stayed at my uncle’s,’ Kratov said, ‘I was given no rest by the principal. (That’s what they called the Rebbe Schneersohn’s son, who was in complete charge of the yeshivah and the chadarim.) He gave orders that I should be watched with seven eyes – and now I’m going to take my revenge of him!’ ”

Kuznetzov added: “I should also tell you that in the course of these last three months, ever since Kratov was put in charge of the hotel, his despotic and cruel nature have terrorized all the office staff and other workers at the hotel. And in addition to his nasty nature, he is also a fearful conspirator.”

I told Kuznetzov that in a quarter of an hour I would decide whether to spend the night here or to leave, and if I decided to stay here for the night, they should obey Kratov’s orders.

* * *

Kuznetzov went his way and I sat down to think things over. One could argue either way: I wasn’t at all afraid, but either way there would be a storm. They might trump up some charge, take me off to police headquarters for crossexamination, and find some pretext to detain me for a day or two, and that would not be good for all the things that had to be done. I therefore decided to leave the hotel, took my bag and my cane, and left.

On my way out I saw Kuznetzov coming towards me, his eyes bleared and his face white. In a trembling voice he said: “Just now they asked whether Comrade Schneersohn was in his room. The young lad who helps the telephonist answered that he was in Room 67. Since you can’t go out now via the main entrance, what should be done?”

“Relax,” I said. “I’m not afraid, and I’ll leave via the main entrance.”

As we walked on in that direction, the young lad ran towards us and told the clerk who was with me that he was being called to the telephone. The lad returned to the office, the clerk hurried after him, while I walked on slowly, heavy with my thoughts. As I passed by the office, the clerk whispered to me that the clerk at the Great Moscow Hotel had asked him to tell me that he was waiting for me near the kitchen entrance. I asked him to relay my thanks, but to add that he should not wait for me because I would go in via the usual entrance.

I went downstairs to the lobby and found R. Baruch Shalom standing there. When I asked him what brought him here at this late hour, he said that he wanted to tell me that two temimim, Ben-Tziyon and Avraham Yosef, had arrived, so I asked him to tell them that we would meet at his home in the morning at ten.

R. Baruch Shalom left, and I took a ride to the Great Moscow Hotel, where the clerk on duty received me warmly – at the main entrance.

Entry #7: 13 Adar I, [5687 (תרפ"ז; 1927)], 2:00 AM
[The Great Moscow Hotel, Room 16]

My sleep was particularly sweet, on account of what I beheld in my dream. I realized at once that it was a dream, and immediately exerted myself to recall it – the holy sichos that I had heard, the verses and aggados and Talmudic teachings, and the three narratives. Thank G‑d, I succeeded in recalling it all in an orderly fashion. After rising at six and saying the Morning Blessings I wrote down the main points, and when I come home, G‑d willing, I will record it all in writing, just as I heard it. I was in high spirits.

After a shower and the morning prayers I called the office clerk at 8:30 in order to pay for my room, which he said I could use until 7:00. I paid him, thanked him for his concern, told him that I would make use of that right, and set out for the Staravorvorskaya Hotel, where I had something hot to drink.

* * *

At ten I met my well-loved temimim, Ben-Tziyon and Avraham Yosef. They work with self-sacrifice in their holy tasks, and now reported on them in detail for some three hours.

The treasurer, Mr. G., visited every member of the rabbinical committee individually, in order to give each one his budgeted share of the funds for the second half of the year, from the Second Adar until Tishrei. At the same time he let them know that the committee would meet not at 5:00 but at 3:00. During those two hours they would hear a report from the head of the publicity committee and from the head of the board of control. I would join them at 5:00.

After the midday meal I returned to my room at the Staravorvorskaya Hotel and resumed writing the maamar that begins VeAtah Tetzaveh, only half of which I have managed to write until now.

* * *

At 4:30 I left off writing, davened Minchah, and left my room for the meeting. In the corridor the telephonist’s young assistant ran towards me and said that I was being called to the telephone in the office, but he did not know who was calling me.

As I entered the office, Kratov said: “Use the wall phone and I will listen at the phone on my table, because I want to hear who is talking to you and what you are talking about.”

Turning to the telephonist, I said: “Ask the person calling for his name and number and I’ll call him in a quarter of an hour, because I’m not going to use the phone of the hotel.”

Kratov was shocked into silence. The telephonist did as requested and announced loudly: “UGPU,11 Room 47.”

“I command you to speak,” Kratov declared. “If you don’t, you’ll regret it – but that won’t help!”

I took the note from the telephonist with the telephone number and room number and turned to leave the office.

Kratov shouted after me: “Comrade Schneersohn! Just remember: I’ve warned you in the presence of witnesses!”

* * *

At that moment I recalled that I was to meet Bashkov,12 who would no doubt want to talk about a time to meet. So when I left the hotel, I asked to use the phone at the first store that I encountered. I gave my name, and was asked to wait a moment because Comrade Bashkov wanted to speak with me.

After a few minutes he asked: “Can we meet at 6:00 this evening?”

I explained that had I known in advance, I could have scheduled my day otherwise, but I would try to be back in Room 67 at the Staravorvorskaya Hotel at 7:00.

“Very well,” he said, “I’ll come at 7:30.”

* * *

Despite my haste I arrived twenty-five minutes late at the meeting and offered my apologies. Rabbi Z. briefed me on the discussions that had taken place and added that all those present were happy with the reports that had been presented by the young members in charge of publicizing and monitoring the various activities.

Rabbi M. commented: “I did not expect Mr. G. to visit me today with his fine gift” – in reference to the funds that he had been brought that day.

After a number of discussions it was 6:30, when I told my colleagues that I had to be back at my hotel by 7:00. We arranged to meet again at 11:00 PM at the home of A.R.

Mr. G. wanted to accompany me, but I told him that we would meet at 11:00, as arranged.

* * *

I left surreptitiously, bought some fruit at Novy Radi, near Kremlin Square, and proceeded to the hotel. There I ordered a samovar of tea and honey, and awaited the arrival of this scion of a chassidic family – Mark Semianovitch Bashkov, Chairman of the Governing Council of Tshelabinsk and a member of the Central UGPU, to converse with him about his early recollections.

A few minutes after 7:30 he arrived, hat in hand, and I invited him to take a seat. After inquiring how I was feeling, he asked if I had enough time for his visit, because he was free until 9:30, when he had to leave for a meeting that was called for 10:00, and the next evening he was due to leave for Tshelabinsk.

The ensuing conversation ran as follows:

I: “My schedule has been adjusted to accommodate this meeting, because I would dearly like to hear your recollections of bygone days. Those days are linked to my own recollections about the lives of my forebears, and about the customs of yesteryear that are gradually being uprooted for no good reason.”

He: “My father was a melamed. He was called Shimon Bashkes,13 because his mother used to organize weddings for the wealthier townsmen of Orsha.114 Her name was well known in the town and beyond it, so my father was identified by her name. Her brother, Menachem Shmuel Ragolin, who produced raisin wine, was considered one of the prosperous householders of Orsha. Both of his grandfathers were prominent chassidim of the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch. I don’t remember his name. I only remember being told that he was summoned to Petersburg by Czar Nicholas I, who asked him to reorganize the schools of the Jewish children. The Rebbe refused, and Nicholas imprisoned him.”

I: “That was the Tzemach Tzedek, my father’s grandfather.”

He: “I heard a lot of stories about that Rebbe, and also about his son, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He used to visit Czar Alexander III in an effort to quieten the pogroms that raged through the Kiev province.”

I: “That was my father’s father, the Rebbe Reb Shmuel.”

He: “I was a good student, and studied conscientiously until I was fourteen. Then I thought of going off to one of the yeshivos in Minsk. In the course of my three years there I became a non-believer and came home. But I couldn’t stand the lifestyle at home, so I ran away and became a member of the Socialist movement in Warsaw. From there I went to England, where I learned various crafts. When I came back to my homeland, I worked in various factories for three or four years and spread the word of Socialism.”

Then, for over an hour, he gave a lengthy description of how he was imprisoned, and how he escaped from the country, and how he returned during the Revolution, and how efficient he was in his work – a whole lot of things that don’t really interest me.

* * *

He then spoke fondly about his parents. After not having seen them for about twenty years, when he was already a member of the Moscow branch of the Cheka14 he decided to take the train to Orsha to visit them. He discovered there that his mother had passed away two years earlier, and out of reverence for her memory he decided to formally change his family name to Bashkov. He barely recognized his father, who was now aged, bent, thin and gaunt. When he entered his room, in the house of Zalman Yaakov Lipkin, a leading chassid and an elder of the Orsha community, he found him lying in bed and groaning. His father, mistaking him for someone else, complained tearfully, “Have you come to arrest me again? Give me some time to recover from my ailments!”

Bashkov continued his story: “It took me a long time until I managed to calm him. I explained to him that I was his son Meir, but he looked at me coldly without saying a word. When I suggested that he move to Moscow, where he would lack nothing, he replied (and here he quoted his father in Yiddish): ‘Once upon a time a man may have had to work as a melamed. Nowadays, for that they imprison you and beat you. So today a man must be a melamed; he must risk his life in order to teach children secretly.”

Bashkov recounted how he had wanted to give his father the sum of forty tchervantzes, but he refused to accept them, arguing that he had whatever he needed. And I thought to myself: If Bashkov knew that his father, R. Shimon, and his uncle, R. Aryeh Shlomo, who were underground melamdim in Orsha, and his uncle, R. Menachem Shmuel, an underground melamed in Yekaterinoslav, were all receiving their salaries from our offices, what would he have said about that? Instead, he kept on telling me about how he traveled to various cities as a member of the GPU, until two years ago he was appointed Chairman of the Governing Council of Tshelabinsk, and how he later rose to become a member of the Central UGPU – explaining to me meanwhile how its status was superior to that of the regional GPU….

* * *

Suddenly the door burst open and Kratov and three other young men came in. One of them wore police uniform, and all three carried revolvers.

Kratov was fuming: “Comrade Schneersohn, you are under arrest! Don’t move. If you do, you will be shot. It’s your decision. Where are your briefcases? We need to check them. Grishke,” he turned to one of his henchmen, “close the door.”

Bashkov sat and watched, redfaced and wordless.

As for me, since I was long accustomed to the style and intimidating language of such investigators, I remained calmly seated, and replied: “The smaller briefcase is right here, and the bigger one is next to my bed, just behind the curtain that separates this room from the bedroom.”

Kratov, having ordered his companions to search, took a seat, and began to recount how he had beaten the rabbis and schoolteachers of the Jews, knocking out their teeth and striking their eyes. He told how in Amtchislav, his hometown in the province of Mohilev, there had been two rabbis, one of them an old man of seventy-five or eighty, and the other, around fifty. He had harnessed them to the wagon loaded with manure that was cleared from the stable of Kozma the shoemaker. The old rabbi couldn’t drag it; he tripped, broke an arm and a leg, and died the same day. The younger man dragged it alone until he fell. Kratov boasted: “So I gave him such a kick in the stomach that he shrieked in pain, and in a couple of days, he was dead, too.”

Meanwhile his companions scattered my clothes, searched through their pockets, leafed through my books, and put my manuscripts on the table. Kratov ordered me to stand, emptied all my pockets onto the table, and declared: “We young freethinkers and our comrades of the Komsomol15 will annihilate the Jewish fanatics. We will uproot their rabbis and their schoolteachers without leaving a trace. And you, Comrade Schneersohn, will share their fate. For you there are only two options: either you will be stood at a wall and shot, or exiled to the Slovokai Desert, there to rot.”

* * *

Having finished checking my pockets, Kratov now turned to Bashkov: “Now, comrade, stand up and we’ll check you, too. Possibly, or certainly, you’re one of Comrade Schneersohn’s agents who are dispatched to build mikvaos, to establish chadarim, and to support the counter-revolutionaries – the rabbanim, the shochtim, the melamdim, and all the other benighted survivors of the past century!”

Bashkov’s response was deliberate and dispassionate: “It would appear that Comrade Schneersohn is not familiar with the law of the land. You, by contrast, most certainly know the requirement of the law” – and here he cited it by chapter and verse – “that anyone who visits a home in order to carry out a search, whether he is an agent of the police or of the GPU or of the UGPU, is obligated to show two documents: (a) his identity certificate that includes a photograph, and (b) a search warrant authorizing each specific mission. If in the course of the search it transpires that he must make an arrest, he is then legally permitted to do so. Moreover, the search warrant must be signed and sealed by the body that sent the agent to carry out the particular search in question. Accordingly,” Bashkov concluded, “show me your certificate and I’ll know who you are!”

Enraged, Kratov shouted: “I’m a member of the Yevsektsia. I was appointed by [some bureau that I don’t recall] to monitor all the comings and goings at this hotel. That includes its clerks, its manual workers, and its guests, and also all those who visit those guests.”

He now insulted Bashkov to his face: “And here, along comes some overfed guy, straight from the marketplace. Just look at the table here, with all the fruit that this bourgeois glutton has been eating! And this hound has the audacity to demand to check my documents! Stand on your feet and let me check your pockets. If not, I’ll land you a punch that will flatten your filthy face, swine that you are!”

Kratov now turned to his three companions: “Comrades, let’s get to work. It seems that we’ve landed a really big fish.”

With that he put his hand on Bashkov’s shoulder and said: “There’s a place waiting for you, too, in one of the dungeons of the convalescent home in Lubyanka Street….”16

* * *

Bashkov insisted: “I demand compliance with the law!”

Kratov and his companions, grinning with glee, approached him. One of them took hold of Bashkov’s plate as if to check it. At this, Bashkov suddenly stood up. He took off his hat, uttered one word at the top of his voice (I don’t know what it means), and pulled out his own identification certificate. At the sight of it, Kratov’s face went white, and he and his companions, horror-stricken, shrank back.

Bashkov commanded: “Step forward and show me your identification!”

Kratov’s voice was trembling: “It’s on the table in the hotel office.”

“So go and bring it,” Bashkov said.

Meanwhile, he ordered the other three men to approach him one at a time and to present their papers. After noting their particulars in writing, he demanded their search warrants. They answered that they had none, but no doubt there was a search warrant in the hands of Comrade Kratov. Bashkov told them they were now free to go, but the next morning they were to report to Comrade Yermalov, the interrogator at GPU headquarters.

Kratov now returned and presented his identification certificate.

Bashkov was not satisfied: “Where is your search warrant?”

“I haven’t got one,” said Kratov. “I acted on my own initiative. Since I’m responsible for checking the guests, and I suspected that Comrade Schneersohn is a counter-revolutionary, I assumed that I was authorized to make a search.”

“Very well,” said Bashkov. “Tomorrow morning you will report to Comrade Yermalov, the interrogator at GPU headquarters, who will explain to you the laws governing home visits and searches. He’ll also teach you how to speak to people.”

Kratov opened his mouth to plead for clemency, but Bashkov was firm: “I have to complete my conversation with Citizen Schneersohn. Don’t delay me: I have to leave in a few minutes.”

* * *

Seeking to comfort me after that incident, Bashkov explained that all such situations were caused by lightminded young people, and promised that they would never again dare to do such a thing.

“That won’t improve the situation,” I countered. “We all know that the hounding is all incited by the Yevsektsia, most of whom are mindless young people.”

In response, Bashkov asked that if such a situation should ever again arise, I should notify him at his home, or at an address that he then gave me.

After he went his way, I closed the door of my room and davened Maariv, pondering over the remarkable manifestation of Divine Providence. In the original, hashgachah peratis. that I had witnessed – a true revelation of Divinity.17 And I was reminded of my dream during the night of Motzaei Shabbos while I was traveling to Moscow.18

There was knocking at my door and twice I ignored it: it was no doubt Kratov or one of his friends, asking that I should intercede on their behalf. I had no desire to see them. The telephone also rang repeatedly. The fourth time I answered and asked who was calling.

It was Kratov: “I knocked on your door and you didn’t answer. I’d like to speak with you for a few minutes.”

“I’m very busy right now,” I said. “I have to leave in a few minutes and won’t be back until late.”

“Just a few minutes?” he asked.

“Sorry,” I said, and hung up.

I got ready to go to the [adjourned] meeting of the rabbinical council that had been called for 11:00 PM, but in the corridor I encountered Kratov. He begged that I intercede on his behalf. From now on, he assured me, he would exert himself in my favor. He would let me know of whatever was spoken about in the Yevsektsia office so that I could take the necessary precautions. In fact, he claimed, he had a whole group of friends who obeyed his wishes, and from now on, he and they would seek my welfare – because I should realize that the Yevsektsia was casting its net around me, so at such a time I really stood in need of contacts like himself and his friends. In brief, he promised that if I spoke up in his favor, he and his friends would save me from dire calamities.

“I cannot intervene in this matter,” I replied.

He said: “But then you will be trapped in the misfortunes that the Yevsektsia will bring upon you!”

“One can’t escape from misfortunes,” I said. “If G‑d so desires, He will provide various paths of escape. At any rate, not for that reason will I do something that contradicts truth, justice, and my commonsense.”

Kratov protested: “You’re rejoicing in my distress!”

“I’m not rejoicing,” I replied, “but neither am I sad or worried.”

* * *

Still overwhelmed by the encounter that G‑d had engineered by His specific Providence,122 I walked all the way to the Kremlin Square, but when I saw that I had only ten minutes until the meeting of the rabbinical council, I took a cab.

The members of the council were all there when I arrived. Rabbi Z., efficient as always, had already composed a detailed report, which was agreed upon after a half-hour discussion. They are going to leave Moscow tomorrow, Wednesday, except for Rabbi Z., who will remain here until Sunday. I will leave, G‑d willing, on Wednesday night. After we all exchanged good wishes, Rabbis M., K., G., M. and Z. went out separately, one at a time; I and N.G. left last, wished each other well, and went our different ways.

It was late at night, but since I was deeply bestirred, and also had a headache, some fresh air and moonlight would no doubt be restful. So I took a passing cab and strolled in the Sakolniki Forest, and at 1:30 AM returned to my room at the Staravorvorskaya Hotel.