I was in Israel the summer of 1959 when I received a call from the Rebbe. The Rebbe said that Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal, the Rebbe of Skulen, requested assistance in liberating Jews from Romanian prisons and arranging passage for them and their families from the Communist country.

Rabbi Portugal told the Rebbe that he had requested $100,000 from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (a.k.a. the Joint), explaining that he had connections that would enable him to arrange the escape from Romania, at the cost of $2,000 per family.

The Joint refused his request.

The Romanian Sighet prison was used by the Communist regime to hold political prisoners
The Romanian Sighet prison was used by the Communist regime to hold political prisoners

Rabbi Portugal heard about the good rapport between Chabad and the Joint, and therefore turned to the Rebbe in hope that Chabad would advocate on his behalf.

The Rebbe requested that I fly to the Joint's headquarters in Switzerland to plead on behalf of Rabbi Portugal's cause.

At that time, Moshe Levitt, one of the United States' Joint executives, was in Israel. We met and discussed the Romanian Jews and Rabbi Portugal's request.

Levitt responded that he had already met the rabbi, but, unfortunately, there was no available budget. He also expressed concern that the rabbi would not be able to head such a complicated mission.

After I explained to him the importance of this mission, he responded that he would be willing to approve a budget of $50,000 dollars—if I would personally take charge of the operation.

I called the Rebbe's office and relayed the outcome of my meeting with Levitt. The Rebbe requested that I come to New York for a few days.

Upon arrival in New York, I continued my negotiations with Mr. Jordon, the Joint's man in Europe. I explained to him that a fifty thousand dollar budget would be insufficient for a project of this magnitude.

It was finally agreed that I would travel to London and meet a Mr. Henry Jacober, a proposed candidate to oversee the mission. If I determined that he was a trustworthy partner, the Joint would approve the larger budget, and together we'd take on the mission.

In London, Mr. Jacober told me that we should first deposit $200,000 in his bank account in Lucerne, Switzerland; only then would he begin rescuing Jews from Romania. I explained to him that I would not hand over a single cent until I receive information that a family was saved from Romania.

After much consideration, he responded that he had heard of me and based on my reputation he was willing to trust me, and start with his work even before he got the advance he requested. He then asked me for a list of people who needed our help. I immediately handed over the lists that Rabbi Portugal prepared.

Many months passed before we saw results. But after the gates opened, 400 families, all whose fathers had been imprisoned in Romanian jails, were rescued.

Once we rescued all the Jews (regarding whom we had information) incarcerated in Romanian prisons, the Israeli government got involved. We established contact between the Israeli government and Mr. Jacober, and together they worked to save the rest of the Romanian Jews.

Together with the Joint, we rescued more than 2,000 people.