Regardless of all this restrictive oppression, the Rebbe secretly dispatched chassidim who were faithful to him as shluchim. Their instructions were: to establish chadarim in every city and township at his expense; never to divulge his name to anyone; to pay each melamed a salary for a month or two; and to disseminate copies of the clauses in the constitution that permitted them to teach as many as three children. If they encountered an obstacle initiated by the Yevsektsia, or any other unholy obstacle to religious practice, they were to report it immediately to the Juridical Bureau for Religious Affairs that the Rebbe had established in Moscow.

In addition, these shluchim were instructed to step up to the bimah and to speak publicly in every synagogue and beis midrash in every town, in order to fortify the hearts of their fellow Jews and to bring them near to their Father in Heaven, by teaching Chassidus. They were to see to it that in shul every evening, between Minchah and Maariv, one of the local people should teach his friends Ein Yaakov and ethical works1 – all of the above with the aim of raising the spirits and the morale of those downtrodden souls.

Thanks to the mercies of Heaven, “Israel has not been widowed [of their G‑d],”2 and in every town those shluchim found likeminded Jews who connected with them with warm feeling. Within a short time, chadarim and study circles for Ein Yaakov were established by the hundred. The Rebbe’s joy was boundless – but regretfully, word of the activities of the shluchim reached the Yevsektsia, who ensured their speedy arrest. In the year 5687 (1927) their work was disrupted, and they were exiled to Siberia. May G‑d show them mercy and free them!

In the course of time the Jews of Volhynia and Podolia found out who had initiated this country-wide project, so that even in those distant and hitherto alien provinces, the Rebbe’s holy self-sacrifice for the Torah and for Jewry at large became known and his name was revered. This is what explains the above-mentioned decision of the conference of rabbis in the Volhynian town of Korastin to elect the Rebbe as their honorary president. However, the very same reason – his success – also spawned envy on the part of some rabbinical zealots. They feared that his chassidic piety and his influence would spread to their regions and swallow up their surviving Jewish communities.

The spearhead of these zealots made stealthy efforts to undo the Rebbe’s work. He dug pits in which to ensnare him, but always in a veiled manner, never visibly. In fact his two-faced tactic was to flatter the Rebbe, with words in his mouth that sought not to divulge the feelings in his heart. His smooth talk expressed humble agreement and loving admiration for the Rebbe’s work, whereas at the same time his bosom hid a sharp dagger that was ready to cut down and uproot the Rebbe himself (G‑d forbid!) and his lifework.

This vicious foe was obviously far more dangerous than a known enemy. Indeed, to this very day the envy that still burns within his heart feeds his sly plots to wreak havoc. (May G‑d nullify his counsel and ruin his designs and make him return from his crooked path, and remove his blindness!)

We chassidim who were close to the Rebbe’s household, and were familiar with the factors that distressed him from within and from without, knew of the evildoers and tribulations that surrounded him. We knew that his soul wept in secret; that he never rested day or night; and that he was constantly battling against those who raised swords against him, whether revealed or hidden. So we could have guessed and anticipated that he would share the heavy burden in his overflowing heart and speak freely during the Purim seudah, when “a person is obligated….”3

However, what we heard and saw, and in fact did not anticipate, was the utterly unique nature of that Purim. His ruby-red face revealed intense emotion; his eyes streamed with tears; and his words, uttered in a fiery and powerful voice, expressed alarming and frightening things that had never before been heard. This was a sheer outpouring of the soul. At midnight, in the midst of the seudah, the Rebbe stood up. He undid the buttons of his shirt, bared his chest, and beat it hard with his fist. He called me by name and I immediately approached him. These are the exact words that he addressed to me, after saying my name twice, slowly and with emphasis: “E-l-y-e Ch-a-y-i-m, E-l-y-e Ch-a-y-i-m! A year ago I instructed you to write, but you didn’t obey. So the whole year you’ve been burdened by distress. Now I’m instructing you to write the following words to the people in all the towns and townships: ‘We had a Rebbe who left us a son. What kind of a fruit he is, we don’t know…’ (At this point the Rebbe inserted a phrase that I find difficult to write.) ‘That son directed that it should be written in his name that if anyone has a son, and sends him off to study in a school of the Soviets or of the Yevsektsia, he will (G‑d forbid!) not survive that year.’ Remember what I’m telling you! Are you going to write?”

He repeated this again and again, in exactly the same words, and several times beat his heart hard with his fist. As he spoke, his very soul was welling forth.

He then called me again. With a smiling countenance, and pointing to his own bared chest, he now said the following, word for word: “If you see the bodyburning” (G‑d forbid!),“have no mercy! Safeguard the head!”4

The Rebbe stood as he repeatedly uttered these awesome and terrifying words, loudly and with fiery emotion. Fear and dread seized all those present. It was impossible to move any closer. We felt breathless and lost – until Reb Meir Simchah Chein, a well-loved elder chassid from Nevl, no longer able to contain himself, dared to speak up: “Rebbe! We can’t hear such words and we don’t want to hear such words. We need a Rebbe right down here!”

We were all so thankful to him that we vented our protest by spontaneously calling out, “You’re right, you’re right! Meir Simchah, we all feel the same!”

In response to our outcry, the Rebbe turned to Reb Meir Simchah and said the following, word for word: “I asked my father: ‘Like Nicholas?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, like Nicholas!’”

Observing how puzzled we all were by this cryptic riddle, the Rebbe added briefly: “The episode is well known.”

Once again Reb Meir Simchah spoke up: “We don’t know it, and request that it be told to us.”

In a quiet voice, the Rebbe thereupon related the episode: “One day, when Nicholas I was still the heir apparent, his father, Czar Paul I, sent him off to participate in military maneuvers in order to see whether his son would be fit and able to lead a battle in time of need. This Nicholas was a warlike man from his youth, and in that military exercise he made a name for himself. Gratified by his own shining success, the young heir apparent used his signet ring to grant gifts to the soldiers and officers involved, according to the custom of the kings who reigned at that time. However, this he did without consulting his father or the finance minister.

“When the Czar heard about his son’s successes and also about his gifts, he rejoiced over the successes, but was irked by the extravagance of the gifts. They were out of all proportion to what the royal treasury could afford. Two things angered him: the fact that the son had involved himself in this matter without his father’s permission, and his extreme extravagance. Summoning his son, he said: ‘Let me express my satisfaction and gratitude for the talents you displayed in the maneuvers. However, you acted foolishly by signing for those gifts without my consent and by not consulting anyone. Accordingly, you are hereby sentenced to be exiled from the royal city for two years!’”

The Rebbe concluded: “So I asked my father, ‘Like Nicholas?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, like Nicholas!’”

That awesome story cast dread upon us all: we simply could not bear to listen to such sharp and fiery words. Our fear was twofold. Firstly, what the Rebbe had foretold was so alarming that as we heard each additional word, our souls threatened to flee from our bodies, so in order not to hear any more such prophecies, we felt compelled to defy all the conventions of respect and to interrupt him. Secondly, we knew – and with our own eyes saw – the agents dispatched by the Yevsektsia to hear exactly what he would tell us this Purim. All this time they stood at the far end of the table, directly opposite the Rebbe’s face, and thus heard every syllable uttered by his holy mouth. We all knew what acute danger now hung over him on account of these villains.

The Rebbe knew that throughout all his time in Leningrad, there was no festive date on which those evildoers did not dispatch spies to his home, which was always wide open, to find out what was doing there and what he was telling us, his chassidim. Accordingly, he always spoke with caution, and never mentioned them. On this night, however, he changed his stance. In utter disregard of the men who were standing directly opposite him, he repeatedly and violently cursed them. Whenever he mentioned the word Yevsektsia, he added, “May their name be blotted out!” He said further, “I know that they are here! I’m not afraid of them!”

Some of us knew who our visitors were, and whenever the Rebbe mentioned the word Yevsektsia, we watched how their faces changed from white to red, from sheer shame to bloodthirsty fury. On their faces we could read the “many thoughts in the heart of man,”5 and we were filled with foreboding over the dire outcome that those thoughts held in store for us.

I therefore decided to make every effort to bring the seudah to an end. My plan was to call in the elder rebbitzin6 from her room so that she should exercise her influence on her son, the Rebbe. And that is exactly what I did. I told her what was happening and that I considered that it placed the Rebbe in jeopardy. She understood clearly, trembled in fear, and hastened to the big room. All of Anash there understood why she had come and were happy to make way for her so that she could approach her son.

As she came near, the Rebbe rose in his place, but before she spoke, he pleaded with her in a tone of deep respect: “Mother! Please retire to your room, and with tears that no one should see, read a chapter of Tehillim on my behalf. That helps!”

As he spoke, tears gushed forth from his pure eyes. Seeing his warm tears, she too wept, and thus they stood, face to face in silent anguish. And touched by this awesome sight, we all wept with them.

After a few trembling moments, the Rebbe said to his mother: “I’m doing nothing on my own initiative. I have secured the approval of my father that…”

His mother, weeping, begged him gently and repeatedly to consider his health, to please stop speaking, to rest, to leave that room and go to the bedroom – until he felt faint from weakness and utter exhaustion. He was taken to the bedroom, where his head was moistened with cold water, and about ten minutes later he opened his eyes.

No pen could possibly portray the atmosphere that weighed upon the room, after Anash had seen in what condition the Rebbe was when he was being taken out of the room, and after they had heard all the dread words that he had previously uttered. Every chassid looked at his fellow in consternation and despair. We were dumbstruck. We felt as if our ship was foundering in the high seas, and we were standing there, powerless; we felt as if we were facing a raging conflagration, with no hope of overpowering it.

People asked each other: “Did you hear? Did you understand what he was alluding to, and whom he was referring to? He asked: ‘Like Nicholas?’ Do you remember that question, and did you understand it? And do you remember the answer? ‘Yes, like Nicholas!’ About the maneuvers, do you remember? And do you remember what he told Zalman? Didn’t the secret agents of the Yevsektsia hear every single word and every single curse?”

What he told Zalman was his constant theme all night, repeated in almost the same words – that it was the responsibility of adults to protect the souls of youngsters against the influence of the “enlightened” schools of our hated brethren, the Yevsektsia, and to keep our distance from them, even when at mortal risk.

At one point he turned to a chassid from Nevl by the name of Zalman and said: “Zalman, if they make a fire of dry birch wood and they light it up, and tell you to choose – either to enroll your children in their school, or to leap into the fire, I’m telling you, Zalman: Leap into the fire and let yourself be burned (G‑d forbid!), but don’t hand over your child to their school!”

In that tone he spoke all night long, until he collapsed.

We all waited for him to rejoin us for benschen.7 Two hours later he felt strong enough to be able to resume his place, but did not utter one more word on the above subject.

After Purim, our spirits were downfallen. We felt that he had to await some calamity. Each of us tried to keep his anxiety to himself, so as not to sharpen the pain of his friends. The terror of that time was particularly apparent among those chassidim whose emotions were more readily expressed:8 you could literally see the fear on their faces. Those of us who lived nearby visited the Rebbe’s home twice a day, and those who lived further away called us by telephone throughout the day for updates.

At that very time, in addition to our emotional and spiritual stress, the well-worn issue of the proposed nationwide Rabbinical conference9 was revived by the Leningrad community, and with a vengeance. Its due date was drawing near, and its proponents knew that the Rebbe was determined to actively oppose their endeavors to convene it. They also fully recognized his widespread influence throughout the country and his close links with the rabbinical scholars and community heads everywhere. Knowing him, they realized that he would battle against their proposal to the point of self-sacrifice and would publicly raise a protest against it. So since “whenever Moshe lifted his arm on high [the cause of] Israel prevailed,”10 they feared defeat. They therefore sought out an alternative strategy, a strategy born in sin. At a community meeting in Leningrad before Pesach, the chairman declared publicly and explicitly that if the Rebbe did not surrender to his wishes, he would overpower him by brute force.

This threat intensified our fears, because we knew how adept he was in employing that strategy. Sure enough, soon after Pesach, the following anonymous item appeared in a leading newspaper, The Leningrad Truth: “The religious influence of the well-known tzaddik Schneersohn, from the Belorussian town of Lubavitch, who recently arrived in Leningrad and settled in 22 Machavaye Street, is felt not only among householders and wealthy individuals of the bourgeois class, but also by ordinary laborers of the proletarian class.”

We of Anash were struck hard by this unsigned item. Though of petty size and seemingly petty in its content, it was significant on account of its poisonous subtext. Being fully familiar with the terminology of these people, we detected in it a message of both warning and rebuke – as well as a touch of prophecy. From the outset we suspected who had spawned it in sin, and its ultimate outcome indeed proved that we had not erred.

There was another foul incident in Leningrad that related to the Rebbe’s arrest. In that city there was an institution of the Yevsektsia whose name in Yiddish was Shul un Buch – “School and Book.” In that year, 5687 (1927), it became apparent that without any visible cause, this institution was waning both materially and ideologically. Its goals had been: to disseminate their literature among their comrades; to promote their newspaper, ironically called Emes,11 which means “truth”;12 and to increase their propaganda advocating disbelief. However, they observed that their numbers were lessening, and that out of the thousands of formerly eager subscribers to their newspaper, fewer than a thousand remained faithful to it. With its income reduced by more than a half, it was no longer able to support itself, so they applied to their headquarters, without whose help it would have to close down.

The head of the Yevsektsia in Leningrad, H. L., thereupon visited the newspaper office and called a big meeting whose purpose was to trace the cause for the newspaper’s decline. In response to his very first question, all those present chorused that due to the religious influence of Rabbi Schneersohn, who had recently settled in his city, people were again attending their synagogues and batei midrash. He had established groups that met frequently to recite Tehillim, as well as circles for the regular study of Ein Yaakov, Gemara, and so on, and his powerful influence was difficult to counter.

Hearing these words, H. L. declared simply: “He must be removed.”

His meaning was plainly clear to all those present – and also to us, the Rebbe’s chassidim.

Later, after the Rebbe was imprisoned, we learned that H. L. had stayed back after that meeting in order to make practical plans for the execution of his intent.

After Pesach, the Leningrad community council decided finally to convene the nationwide Rabbinical conference, on 23-24-25 Tishrei, 5688 (October, 1927).13 They drew up a program, and sent out invitations to all the communities and rabbis – together with plainclothes propagandists.

When the Rebbe saw that the conference was materializing, and that all his heartfelt endeavors to explain its dangers to the Leningrad community council were of no avail, he published an open letter. Before making it public, he again dispatched three rabbinic emissaries to call on the Chief Rabbi of Leningrad, R. David Tevel Katzenelenbogen,14 who was then resting at the rustic resort known as The Royal Estate. With them he dispatched his son-in-law, the Rashag15 Shlita. Their mission was to plead with him in every way possible to step back from his misguided path. The Rebbe also told them that if gentle words did not persuade him, they should convey his stern protest and warning, that if an open letter would be disseminated among all the Jews, and he would defy it,…. The Rebbe made it clear that despite the above, they were to open their discussion peacefully, and he would not take further steps without warning.

This time, too, regretfully, the Chief Rabbi’s obstinacy got the better of him and he refused to change his path. Nevertheless, for appearance’ sake, he asked them to visit him again in three days’ time so that he could consult with the community leaders. After their above meeting with him on Sunday of the week of Parshas Shlach, 12 Sivan, with its message of warning, the Rebbe’s emissaries reported back, abashed and annoyed, that the aged Chief Rabbi had not changed his mind. Moreover, they held that further pleas on the part of the Rebbe would be in vain, especially since he had repeatedly approached the Chief Rabbi in a peaceful manner, and had humbled himself before the opposing party even more than appropriate.

[At this point, a page of the manuscript of the letter is missing. It speaks of a libelous charge against the Rebbe that someone had fabricated and relayed to the authorities.]

The Rebbe was still at the supper table when [the officers of the GPU] arrived.16 Unruffled, and with a quiet smile, he remained seated. He asked for a cup of coffee and then mayim acharonim, and after benschen rose and retired to his study, where he calmly took his seat.

One of the Rebbe’s daughters, who was alone in her room at the time, stood near the window that was open to the courtyard and managed to relay a message to young Mendel Schneerson, who was approaching the building: “Schneerson, we have visitors…!”17

He understood what he heard, and ran at once to alert the chassidim who were nearest to the Rebbe. I was the first – in bed, but not yet asleep. From the first knock I was afraid, and ran in alarm to the door. Before opening it I asked, “Who’s there?” And the moment I heard his name, before he told me anything, I already knew that some calamity had struck the Rebbe’s home.

My sons and I got up and dressed quickly and went out. Terrified and overawed, we didn’t know what to do. My son and Mendel went to wake up the Rebbe’s secretary, R. Chaim Lieberman, and to warn him to clear his home of the numerous documents and accounts relating to all the chadarim and yeshivos throughout the country, in readiness for the search that was sure to come soon. I went to update our friend, Reb F. G.,18 and together we then went to the home of our mutual friend, Reb Sh. B.19 He, however, was so weakened by tumultuous emotion that he stayed at home, so Reb F. G. and I proceeded alone to the Rebbe’s home.

Before we had even reached Pantilomanskaya Street via Litinov Street, we saw that walking along the other side of the road was a formidable squad of Angels of Destruction – the GPU. One of them pointed to us, and they all began to come towards us. We were terror-stricken. One of us said, “Do you see them? Let’s make a detour!”

We entered a side street and they lost sight of us. At the corner of Nadiez Dinska Street and Pantilomanskaya Street we stopped for a few minutes to work out what to do next. Should we approach the Rebbe’s house, or should we stay where we were? In the absence of an agreed decision, I took my leave and said, “Whatever the outcome, I’m going to see for myself what’s happening in the Rebbe’s house.”

No sooner had I reached the front entrance when Alas! A sight of unspeakable horror threw my shuddering soul into seething turmoil. There, before my eyes, the holy Rebbe was seated in an open vehicle, between two armed villains who just now had torn him away from his Torah study. They were taking him off to incarceration in the pit that they had dug for him! Catching sight of me, their malevolent eyes pierced me with the look of a desert lion pouncing on its prey. In drastic contrast, his kindly eyes warmed me with luminous compassion, as he nodded to me in loving tranquility.

Later, at Kostrama,20 I heard the following words from his holy mouth: “When I caught sight of you as I sat in that vehicle, a peaceful feeling hovered over me, for I now knew that a brotherly soul would soon visit our home. I recalled in what circumstances we had seen each other a mere twelve hours earlier, and in what circumstances we were now seeing each other.”

Now, standing near the entrance to his home and suddenly seeing his holy eyes, I realized that within a moment we would lose sight of him and he would be in the hands of those evildoers. On the spur of that anguished moment I jumped onto a wagon that stood nearby, intending to rush after him to wherever he was being taken. However, I was suddenly held back by the Rebbe’s eldest daughter,21 who tearfully reasoned with me: “What are you doing? Where are you going? Why? Of what use will it be? Come home with us and we’ll all put our heads together and work out what now needs to be done. We can’t lose a minute!”

I looked upon her sad face, and for a few moments we stood there, in the middle of the street, dumbstruck and powerless. The Rebbe’s two younger daughters,22 who were also outdoors, approached us, and together we stood transfixed, as if doomed by the dark terror of death.

The eldest daughter broke the silence with a restrained cry from the heart: “What?! After they’ve robbed us of our father, can we stand here quietly?! We must do something! This is no time to remain silent. Let’s go inside and plan together how to rescue him from the snare and extricate him from that place of darkness and death. How did we not recognize the serious danger that now hangs over him at every moment?”

At about 3:00 AM we went indoors, and in the room in which the Rebbe’s minyan was held, the first unforgettable sight that confronted me was the elder rebbitzin. I.e., Rebbitzin Shterna Sarah, widow of the Rebbe Rashab and mother of the Rebbe Rayatz. standing on a bench in front of the Aron Kodesh and leaning forward, with her head deep inside it.

I heard her loud and anguished cry: “Master of the Universe!23 Wasn’t it on account of Your Torah and avodah that my precious only son has been arrested? Help me, O G‑d of our salvation,24 and rescue him from the hands of those evildoers! May our G‑d be with him as He was with his forebears. G‑d, You will surely not forsake or abandon me!”25

Anxious on account of her frail health, I tried to calm her and to ask her to relax her entreaties, but her cries did not allow her to hear me. So I left her and moved on to meet the menfolk, and above all, to see how the younger rebbitzin. I.e., Rebbitzin Nechamah Dinah, wife of the Rebbe Rayatz. was faring, because I knew that she was very weak. (May G‑d grant her a complete recovery!)

I found the door of the Rebbe’s study,26 which was always closed, wide open. The fact that it was now accessible to all comers struck me as a profanation, like the destruction of a Divine sanctuary. Before my eyes, the light of the Urim veTumim had been darkened. Outside the door of this sanctuary we had been accustomed to stand for hours on end, in the hope of being granted the privilege of entry, and not everyone was granted that privilege. Yet now this room had been abandoned, allowing unrestricted access to whoever presumed to be in search of Divinity. Anybody could now lay hands on the door of Gan Eden, and there was no one to protest. That first moment in which I entered the Rebbe’s study after the catastrophe of his arrest, I will never forget. I stepped inside, but stood transfixed.

In the Rebbe’s study, I was confronted by a second unforgettable sight. Next to his pure table, weeping bitterly, stood his son-in-law, the Rashag,27 together with the young Nosson Gourary, son of our late friend, R. Shmuel Gourary.28 The drawers of the table all protruded. An enormous confusion of letters, documents and manuscripts was scattered in chaos in the open drawers, on the table and under it, and rolled on the floor. I beheld destruction, demolition, turmoil. My entry only sharpened their pain. When the Rebbe’s son-in-law saw me, his overflowing heart burst into a wordless cry of grief, a loud and bitter groan.

At first I was speechless. For a long time, sensing my pain, they looked at me with pitiful eyes, and then resumed their work of checking through all those papers, lest the police officers discover that they had overlooked a document that they considered to be incriminating, and pay another visit.

As they sorted the papers, separating the acceptable ones from those that were dangerous or doubtful, they encountered a little piece of paper penciled in the Rebbe’s handwriting, about saying Tehillim in all the minyanim throughout the country. I wrote out a copy of its message and will present it below, verbatim. The date on which it was written did not appear. (Later, at Kostrama, I asked the Rebbe when it was written, but my question remained unanswered.)

After some time these two chassidim began to talk, and described how the police had ransacked the house and arrested the Rebbe. In general, their conduct had been respectful and well-mannered, without harsh or demeaning language. The search, too, was conducted without exceptional harshness. For example, when they took hold of some manuscripts of his revered father, of sainted memory, and the Rebbe told them that he did not desire that they should take them and keep them, they immediately returned them to him. Likewise, they did not restrict him from moving about alone from room to room. At such a time, this could be considered a major concession, and even a point in his favor.

When they told him that their orders were to arrest him, he said: “Consider carefully whether you will gain by this – or whether you will lose, on account of all the tumult that my arrest will arouse.”

One of the officers replied: “The GPU is an organization that is able to take full responsibility for whatever may eventuate. All of its activities are carefully thought out in advance, so it has no need to take future disturbances into consideration.”

Hearing this, the Rebbe suggested: “Nevertheless, I would ask you to telephone your commanding officer, to convey to him what I said, and to consult with him as to whether incarceration can be substituted by house arrest.”

This they did, but the answer was negative.

When the Rebbe then asked them about his tallis and tefillin, they promised faithfully that not only would he be allowed to take with him his tallis and tefillin, but also, at his discretion, books and manuscripts, and pencil and paper. Not yet knowing that this was all a lie, the Rebbe thought that this concession on their part indicated a success.

They next proposed that he accompany them by foot to Spalerka, notoriously reputed to be the harshest of all their prisons, which stood nearby. He answered that he felt weak and had difficulty walking, and demanded that they order a vehicle. This was no simple request, because their vehicles were being used for the many hundreds of people who were arrested that night. Nevertheless they called their headquarters, and over an hour later a van arrived.

As they all left the house together, one of the policemen said to the Rebbe, “Let me help you. I’ll take your bag out and put it in the van. I want to do you a service just as my father used to do for your father – because my father was a chassid!”

While he said this he took hold of the bag, but the Rebbe told his attendant to take it from him, and said: “If in fact your father had the merit of being of service to my revered father, that is because he followed my father. Since you, by contrast, want me to follow you, you are not worthy of doing that service, nor will you ever be. Your path I will never follow!”

Their conversation continued in this vein, and in respectful terms.

As they were conducting the Rebbe out of his home, his son-in-law29 asked him: “What should be done? Tumultuous publicity? Or would it be preferable to hold fire, in order not to arouse a sharp reaction?”

The Rebbe answered: “First of all, pidyonos30 should be sent to the ohalim31 at Haditch, Niezhin, Lubavitch and Rostov32 – not by telegraph, nor by courier, but by express mail. As to publicity, my opinion is that there is no need for it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for Elye Chayim to meet with Mr. Gorin, but that’s all.”

Within an hour, news of the Rebbe’s arrest had spread throughout Leningrad and left it seething. By 6:00 AM the house was filled with Anash and others. Within a brief moment, the terror that all the Jews of this great city felt in the face of the GPU was intensified, because they knew that the Rebbe was absolutely uninvolved in this country’s politics. And since he had never had any part whatever in any commercial transaction, such a charge obviously provided no grounds for arrest and punishment.33 Besides, the Rebbe was universally reputed to be a man of noble stature. Hence, every Jew knew in his heart that this was not the arrest of a particular individual for a specific transgression. Rather, the greatest man in the country had been taken as a hostage and hidden from view – but for what reason? And until when? The unspoken motives of his captors left the Jewish citizens of Leningrad electrified with terror.

For the first few hours after the arrest, there was no longer any possibility of consulting with his family and discussing what should be done first. Now that the great light had been hidden from our sight, the whole house was clouded with waves of darkness. We walked about lost and stricken. Neither the family nor we, the closest of the chassidim, had any clear knowledge as to his whereabouts, or what he had experienced, or whether they had taken him (as they had said) to Spalerka, or elsewhere. Had they given him his possessions and his food? We knew nothing, and feared that they would not allow him to wear tallis and tefillin, because according to their rules, these could not be brought into the prison.

We wandered from room to room like lost sheep, with neither shepherd nor leader, with no one to take command or decide. We trembled at the mere sound of every fluttering leaf,34 with no one to console us or restore our spirits. Throughout those early hours, I looked at one family member after another, considering which one of them was able to decide, at a time like this, which was the best path to be followed. After all, every path leading to the GPU was fraught with danger. However, this was no time to remain silent – but who among them would assume leadership and make some decision? The elder rebbitzin305 was aged and did not know which way to turn. (May G‑d grant her many long and pleasant days and years!) Perhaps the Rebbe’s son-in-law and daughters? But they were young, and from an early age they were accustomed not to take even a minor step without first consulting their father. And what of the younger rebbitizin?309But she was very weak. (May G‑d grant her a complete recovery!)

At that very moment, while I was preoccupied with weighing those inconclusive thoughts, I was suddenly summoned to the room of the younger rebbitizin. The whole family was gathered there, but she was the only one to speak and set things in order.

I will never forget the brief words that she now addressed to me: “I fully appreciate your genuine friendship and devotion to our household. I also know what your heart feels for us at all times, and now in particular. Nevertheless, even though I am aware of your ability to help others, whoever they may be, and in particular my husband (May he be well and strong!), I am also aware of your faults. Out of the haste of your surging spirit, you are likely to sometimes do things that are inappropriate and irreversible. You will therefore forgive me for having chosen and appointed two of our friends, Reb M. E.35 and Reb F. G.,36 without whose consent I request that you make no move. At times of distress let your spirits not react in haste. On all matters, great and small, discuss and consult with each other. May G‑d guide you all along the best path and bless your activities with success! I am dispatching my son-in-law to Moscow today, and you and your colleagues will be on guard here. Decisions will be made by the three of you. Blessed be He Who gives strength to the weary!”

I heeded her words. I took no step and spoke not the slightest word to any man without receiving permission from the two friends who stood over me. For me, truth to tell, this was no easy task: it ran in direct opposition to my nature and to my accustomed mode of action. Moreover, their approach in these matters was the exact opposite to mine. Thus, my first suggestion and my first desire was that I go, either alone or together with two of Anash, to the head of the GPU, and demand to be told the reason for the arrest. The approach of those two friends, however, was different – not to conduct such encounters, but to act secretly and without publicity. Likewise, I wanted to write immediately to all of Anash overseas in order to arouse a storm throughout the world – whereas they held that nothing should be publicized, and that only undercover activity was advisable.

Throughout that whole period I did not defy their directives even once. Whatever I did was done with their consent and following their decision, against my own opinion and against my will. And standing over us, after every consultation of ours, was the younger rebbitzin. Without her assent no man moved hand or foot in any activity: being strong-willed, she decided every matter great and small. All decisions were hers.

On the first day of the arrest it was decided that the Rebbe’s son-in-law, the Rashag, should travel to Moscow to see what could be done via the heads of the community there, while we sought acquaintances who could speak to the head of the GPU in Leningrad.

In those early days, all of our efforts were directed to receiving clear answers to our questions: Is Yosef still alive?37 Where exactly is he? Has he been given his tefillin?

Regretfully, it was not until erev Shabbos – three days after his arrest, after the prison authorities had received the food package which the law allows relatives to send only every Friday – that we saw his signature on the document confirming that he had received it, and rejoiced.

We were informed by telephone from Moscow that throughout the country, the major Jewish communities, such as Moscow, Minsk and Kharkov, had sent telegrams, on behalf of Jewry at large, to Kolinin,38 requesting that the Rebbe be freed. Their telegrams stated that they could vouch for the Rebbe – that he was not guilty of any offense against the government, and that he was utterly apolitical. They also advised us to see to it that the Leningrad community should also dispatch a similar telegram or letter.

We immediately visited the head of the Leningrad community council,39 who received us with manifest delight… He uttered phrases expressing sympathy with our anguish, but added that we should have anticipated this arrest. He had known from the outset that since the Rebbe’s activities for the public good were all conducted without governmental permission, the episode would come (G‑d forbid) to a bitter end. This was why he was now endeavoring to ensure that each community had a permit for all of its public activities. And this in turn, he said, explained why he found it necessary to convene a nationwide religious conference.

Among his further comments on this subject he added, “And now you can see with your own eyes how imperative that is!”

He also tried to reassure us that there was no real danger involved, because the sentence would be a three-year exile in Siberia. However, each of us had had more than one opportunity to see through his two-faced talk. It was clear to all of us that as much as he now exerted himself to create an appropriate impression, he had exerted himself far more to secure the arrest. About the sentence, however, I fully believed him, because somehow he knew about it in advance…. Observing his smile, I could see that his sympathetic facade covered a vengeful exultation that he was now rid of his opponent; from now on, he could do as he pleased.

As to the letter that we had requested, he replied that he would have to call a little meeting within a few days, but he assured us that there would be no obstacle on his part nor on the part of the other participants. And so it was: we received the letter, and I myself sent it on Shabbos40 to the GPU in Leningrad, with a copy to their headquarters in Moscow.

A suggestion later arose that a delegation of members of the Leningrad community council, together with R. Katzenelenbogen,41 meet with the head of the GPU and request that he release the Rebbe on bail, for which they would sign. This proposal was discussed at a meeting held in the apartment of R. Katzenelenbogen at a certain health resort. Our side was represented by: the Rebbe’s son-in-law, the Rashag; the young Rabbi M. M. Schneerson; and myself. Their side was represented by: the Chief Rabbi; Gurevitch, the chairman of the community council; Mr. Lessman; and Mr. Ginsburg. The courtesy with which we were received, the refreshments that were offered, and the seating arrangements at the meeting – everything was so respectable and respectful….

The main points discussed were: (a) Should there be such a delegation? (b) If so, who should participate? (c) Was there someone somewhere who could persuade the head of the GPU to receive the delegation? – because normally they allowed no one at all to cross their doorstep.

The pros and cons were discussed by all those present.

Mr. Lessman held that no delegation should set out until the real reason for the Rebbe’s arrest was clarified beyond all doubt. After all, perhaps there had been some unknown transgression, and if so, it would not befit the honorable community council of Leningrad to justify his actions and to sign as surety on his behalf….

The wily chairman of the community council said that he had connections with people through whom he could find out within a day or two exactly what the transgression was. Moreover, through those connections he could also arrange that the head of the GPU would agree to receive the deputation. The chairman added that haste would be inadvisable, and on this all of their side agreed.

We begged them repeatedly not to defer any move, but to arrange the meeting for no later than Tuesday. We also asked that the Chief Rabbi spend the previous night in Leningrad so that he would be ready for the meeting. As to the participants, it was decided on three delegates from their side – the Chief Rabbi, Mr. Lessman and the chairman – and from our side, only the Rebbe’s son-in-law. At that point we took our leave. Ultimately, the chairman’s cunning stood revealed. He found out nothing via his connections, and the whole notion was dropped; they didn’t go because they didn’t want to go.

Meanwhile, as news of the arrest spread throughout the country, all the shuls and batei midrash instituted fastdays and recited Tehillim after davenen every morning. The news spread overseas, too, and especially throughout the United States. On the third day after the arrest, telegrams arrived from Chicago and from other communities. We gave no answer, and they understood our silence better than any words. Protests by the hundred were sent from America via Berlin, requesting the German foreign minister, Dr. Schtrezmahn, to influence Moscow to release the Rebbe. We in Leningrad knew nothing of this tumult of protests from all countries. As we discovered later, a major role in the release was played by this minister (May his name be a blessing!), who made it clear to Moscow that the news of the arrest was arousing an international uproar. He told them that the arrest had triggered furious condemnations from every corner of the world, and advised them to restore peace and quiet by releasing the Rebbe immediately.

All of our efforts on the spot, and likewise all the tireless and unceasing efforts of the community in Moscow, were fruitless. The latter were helped in their endeavors by R. Mendelov of Vitebsk and R. Gluskman of Minsk, both of whom remained in Moscow until the first stage of the Rebbe’s liberation.

Throughout his incarceration, we in Leningrad knew nothing of his health, nor even whether he was still among the living, so all our efforts by day and by night simply aimed to find out what state he was in.

Finally, ten days after the arrest, as the result of constant toil, we heard via a doctor that the Rebbe was alive.

On the same day, Shabbos, 25 Sivan, there was great excitement when we received the first postcard from him. As it was passed around through hundreds of hands, people saw it as an indication of soaring and supernatural success, and a source of optimism.

On Wednesday, erev Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, at 10:00 AM, I answered the telephone and heard the pained and frightened voice of a young girl who knew my name. It also became clear from her plaint that she had known me for a long time.

“Why,” she asked, “are you all sitting at home and not going to see Rabbi Schneersohn? Quickly prepare him some food for his journey, and come and see him!”

The whole family immediately set out for Spalerka, because the Rebbe was about to be exiled to Slovokai, where he was due to serve a ten-year sentence of hard labor, and before he left, the family was granted permission to see him and hand him some provisions.

The awesome news of this sentence left me aghast, and I shuddered in terror.

[Only this much of the letter has been preserved.]