Saturday, June 22, 2013

Days of LightLRabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch

Learning & Values » Jewish History » Chassidic Personalities » The Rebbe’s Prison Diary

Days of Light

From the writings of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch

Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society

The following is from a letter by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak written in 1934:

... My imprisonment in 5687 [1927] was my seventh -- I was imprisoned five times in the days of the old [Czarist] regime and twice in the days of the new [Communist] regime.

The first imprisonment took place in the Lubavitch of my childhood in 5651 [1891] when I was eleven years old. That year, I had begun -- by the advice and instruction of my teacher, Rabbi Nissan -- to submit my memoirs to writing. I recorded this incident in my journal of 5653 [1892-93].

The second imprisonment took place in Lubavitch, in Iyar of 5662 [May-June 1902], when I was informed on to the authorities by the teachers of the school run by the 'Enlightenment' movement in Lubavitch.

The third imprisonment took place in Lubavitch, in Tevet of 5666 [Jan. 1906], as a result of the participation of members of the 'Workers of Zion' party in a riot against the Lubavitch police.

The fourth imprisonment took place in Petersburg, in Tevet of 5670 [Dec. 1909-Jan. 1910]; the informer being the Jewish scholar K.

The fifth imprisonment took place in Petersburg, in Shevat of 5676 [Jan.-Feb. 1916], because of my efforts to obtain legal material concerning the exemption of religious functionaries from military service.

The sixth imprisonment was in Tammuz of 5680 [June-July 1920] in Rostov-on-Don; the informer was D., the Yevsektzia ("Jewish Section" of the Communist Party) head of Rostov.

All these were imprisonments of but hours; the seventh, however, is the most distinguished of them all.


As is the nature of things, the analogy is more trivial than the analog and the analog more formidable than the analogy. If confinement in a prison of wood and stone is an affliction, how much greater is the suffering of the G-dly Soul in the imprisonment of the body and the Animal Soul. Men bedarf zich in dem batifen ("One should think deeply into this").

I will not deny that, at times, this seventh imprisonment causes me great pleasure, as is evident by the fact that now, some seven years after the event, I occasionally take the time to seclude myself and visualize the encounters and discussions, the visions and the dreams, which I heard, saw, and dreamt in those days.

In addition to the set life-periods of man -- childhood, youth, his single and married days, maturity and old age; in addition to the talents granted him, be they average and ordinary or brilliant and phenomenal, or his temperament, whether shy and melancholy or joyous and exuberant; in addition to all this, Divine Providence grants a person special moments in his life which may transform his nature, develop his faculties, and set him upon a higher plateau, so that he may behold the purpose of the life of man upon earth.

The period which most profoundly affects the course of a person's soul and the development of his faculties is that period which is rich with suffering and persecution for his diligent and passionate work for an ideal; in particular, when one is struggling with and battling his persecutors and oppressors to uphold and strengthen his faith.

Such an experience, though fraught with pain of the body and agony of the soul, is rich with powerful impressions. These are the days of light in the life of man.

Each and every event of such a period is extremely significant and distinguished, particularly in the case of arrest and imprisonment. Because of their great spiritual value, not only the days and nights, but also the hours and minutes are worthy of note. For every hour and moment of pain, affliction and suffering brings tremendous rewards and infinite fortitude of mind -- also the most feeble of men is transformed to the mightiest of the mighty.

This last imprisonment began at 2:45 a.m. early Wednesday morning, Tuesday night, Sivan 15 5687 [June 15, 1927], and lasted until 1:30 p.m. Sunday Tammuz 3rd [July 3], in the city of Leningrad-Petersburg.

Eighteen days, eleven hours, and fifteen minutes.

That day at 8:30 o'clock in the evening, after approximately six hours at home, I left with the train that goes to the city of Kastrama. I arrived on the next day, Monday the 4th of Tammuz, and I remained in exile until 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 13th of Tammuz.

Nine days and Seventeen hours...

Published in Likkutei Dibburim, Vol. IV, pp. 1219-1221; English translation by Yanki Tauber ("Once Upon a Chassid", Kehot 1994

Inspiration & Entertainment » Tales from the Past » Chassidic Stories

A Boy and a Calf

From the diary of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch
At the age of eleven, the young Yosef Yitzchak began to keep a diary in which he wrote faithfully for his entire lifetime, often for several hours a day. He recorded his personal experiences, as well as the wealth of chassidic wisdom and lore which he absorbed while growing up in the White Russian town of Lubavitch, in the home of his father, the rebbe, and surrounded by the great chassidim of the time. The following excerpt was written when he was twelve years old, and recounts an event which took place one year earlier.

Following the guidance and instructions of my father, I devoted my entire fortune—which at the time amounted to some thirty rubles, received in reward for reviewing mishnayot (Talmudic passages) by heart—to establish a free-loan fund. I provide interest-free loans in small sums of three to five rubles to market people and to peddlers who make their rounds in the villages with bundles of flax, pelts, chickens, eggs, onions and the like.

On the advice of my teacher, Rabbi Nissan, I keep accounts. The days before and after the market day are my business days, in which I distribute and collect the loans.

Among the “regulars” who frequently make use of my fund is Reb Dovid the butcher, nicknamed “Buckteeth Dovid.” Reb Dovid is a man of fifty, heading a family of eight souls, a frightful pauper who earns a living from the toil of his hands. No work in the world is too difficult for him—be it in the scorching heat of summer, in a winter snowstorm, or in the rainy season—as long as he earns a few kopeks for his toil. Never does he complain about his miserable state and poverty.

A simple man is he, this Reb Dovid: if he studied at cheder during his childhood, he has already forgotten his learning. Aside from the prayers—including those of the festivals and the High Holy Days—and the Psalms, the Passover Haggadah and the Ethics of the Fathers, he doesn’t know much. But he is a wholesome and honest man, and every day—save those that he works in the next village—he is among the first ten men to make up the Psalm-reciting society and the vatikin quorum to recite the morning prayers at the crack of dawn.

I love to catch those moments on an afternoon preceding Shabbat or a festival when Reb Dovid would head home from the bathhouse, his face aflame and the edge of his white shirt peeking out, his four sons surrounding and running after him. Another hour would find him humming a tune as he walked with his four sons to the large synagogue, where he prays.

My parents were away for a time. I was staying at the home of my grandmother, Rebbetzin Rivkah. My cheder studies were held in the home of Reb Yeshayahu Kastier on Shileveh Street.

At the time, the Lubavitch police force consisted of a pristov, an uradnik, and three diesatniks, with another five diesatniks added on market days to help keep the peace.

And this is what happened:

It was two o’clock in the afternoon of a day in Av 5651 (August or September 1891), a market day. I was walking home from cheder for lunch together with my friend Shimon, the son of Reb Shmuel the copyist. The market square is jammed; also Shileveh Street, on which we walk, is filled with carts, horses and peasants.

We met Reb Dovid the butcher carrying a calf on his shoulders and a small lamb in his arms, and a basket of chickens hanging in front of him. Noticing me, his face—black as an African’s—lit up, and with white teeth peeking out he said: “I hope to G‑d that I’ll earn well today . . .”

Before he finished speaking, the police uradnik suddenly sprang up beside him and struck him a blow across the face. Blood ran down his nose. Seeing this, I yelled at the uradnik, “Drunk! Despicable one!” and I shoved him hard.

The uradnik cast upon me the libel that I had ripped off the brass badge sewn on his chest and interfered with the carrying out of his duty, and instructed one of the diesatniks to take me to the police station. Before I had a chance to utter a sound, a half-drunk peasant grabbed me with a coarse and powerful hand by my clothing and neck.

The commotion in the market was at its peak, and with great difficulty we proceeded, pressed together, through the crowd of people, carts, horses and other livestock. Because of the heaven-splitting sounds of the market, no one paid attention to me and my escort.

We passed the market square, passed Chachlukeh Street, and arrived at the station courtyard. The guard opened the gate, and my escort handed me over to the officer on duty with the notification that I had been arrested for the aforementioned crimes.

The officer on duty received me with a wrathful face, glared at me with contempt, awarded me a slap across the face, grabbed me by the lobe of my ear and led me to one of the cells. He opened the doors of a dark room, pushed me in and locked it behind me.

And I, a terrible fear descended upon me. I also felt very hungry. But after a moment, the thought flashed through my mind: why, I too—just like my holy ancestors—am sitting in prison! So I must occupy myself with words of Torah. As I was already fluent in two volumes of mishnayot, Zeraim and Moed, I began to review them by heart.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of a drawn-out grunt. My imagination ran wild, and I trembled in terror. I strained to focus my thoughts on the words which I was reciting by rote, and moved away from the corner from which the grunting and sounds of flailing came. I concentrated on reviewing the mishnayot.

To this day, I remember the thoughts which ran through my mind at the time concerning the afternoon prayer of minchah.

Since I was sitting in the dark and did not know the hour, I hurried to pray minchah. I said the Ketoret and Ashrei passages; upon reaching the amidah, I hesitated as to which version of the prayer I should recite. Should I include the Aneinu passage, since I was in a state of distress, and say the confession of Al Cheit (most of which I knew by heart) in repentance, or not? But before I could finish the thought I decided that no, I should not say Aneinu, nor Al Chet. In fact, I should not even say tachanun (the confession of sins recited in the daily prayers but omitted on festive occasions); on the contrary, the day on which the Almighty granted me the privilege to be imprisoned for defending the honor of a Jew should be a festival for me. With a feeling of joy I prayed the amidah with proper concentration, to the best of my knowledge and understanding.

After the minchah prayer, as I was reviewing the mishnayot of the order of Zeraim, I heard the sound of grunting and flailing limbs, accompanied by a lengthy struggle. My knees were knocking together in fright, but then I remembered that my friend Shimon had been showing me the box of matches he had bought for his brother Leib, and that in the great confusion of what happened it had remained with me. I lit a match and saw a bound calf with a muzzle on his mouth lying in a corner, and my fear was calmed.

I finished reviewing the order of Zeraim, and proceeded with the order of Moed. Before I could finish Moed, I heard the sound of steps approaching the room of my imprisonment. Soon the door opened and I saw the officer on duty.

“Please forgive me,” said the officer. “I did not know that you are the nephew of Raza.” (All the townspeople, also the non-Jews, called my uncle “Raza,” short for Rabbi Zalman Aharon.) “Now, his honor the pristov has arrived and has commanded to release you . . . Please, have mercy on me and do not tell them that I hit you and pulled you by the ear. I didn’t do it in malice—only out of habit—why, no blood ran from your nose, and none of your teeth fell out, so what’s so terrible . . .?”

When we entered the pristov’s room, Reb Dovid the butcher—bruised and beaten—already stood there together with the policeman who had hit him, and the witnesses Reb Yoel the tin man and Shaul the wagon-driver.

The police officer argued that the calf which Reb Dovid had been carrying was the calf which Reb Meir the butcher had purchased from his, the officer’s, brother, and was stolen from Reb Meir by Reb Dovid. This was why his hands had struck the face of the thief. “And this youth,” he said, indicating me, “insulted me and ripped off my badge.”

The witnesses testified that Reb Dovid the butcher had purchased the calf he was carrying.

While they were still speaking, Mr. Mordechai Zilberbord—the servant of my uncle Raza—entered and handed a note to the pristov. Upon reading it, the police chief said to Zilberbord: “You can take him. He is free of any punishment.”

All my friends were waiting for me outside the station house. We walked together—I didn’t want to ride in the coach which had been sent from our home—and I told them all that happened to me.

When Mr. Zilberbord heard my story about the calf in the prison cell, he rushed to find Meir the butcher. Meir rushed to the station, where he found the pristov still presiding over the case of the police officer versus Reb Dovid, and said to the pristov, “I was told that a bound and muzzled calf is lying in the jail of the police station.”

The pristov, who was in a bad temper—he had been forced to leave his company and his card game—stood up in a rage and went to investigate, followed by the station manager and the court clerk. Also Meir, Dovid and the witnesses trailed after them, to see if it was true about the calf in the jail cell. How amazed they all were to discover that it was indeed as Meir says, and that here indeed lies the calf which Meir had bought from the brother of the policeman who had beat Dovid.

Upon investigation, it was discovered that the policeman and his brother had conspired to first sell the calf to Meir and then to steal it from him.

For a week the policeman sat in jail, after which he was brought to trial. Another wrongdoing of his was discovered, and he was dismissed from his post.

My friends later told me that five hours had gone by until the pristov was found in the company of Mr. Azmidov and Dr. Yermakov, engaged in their card game at the doctor’s home.

When my father returned from his trip, my uncle Raza recounted to him the entire incident of “Buckteeth Dovid,” and praised my strength of mind. Thanks to me, he said to father, Dovid’s innocence and the policeman’s guilt had been established, and the calf had been returned to Meir.

My father said to me: “You did well to protect the dignity of an honest Jew. And if for that you suffered for a few hours, so what?

“Now it has also been demonstrated to you,” father continued, “how good it is that you are fluent in mishnayot by heart. Were it not for this knowledge, in what way were you any better than—lehavdil—the calf of Meir the butcher, which also sat in prison? But because you knew the mishnayot and you reviewed them there, the hours of imprisonment passed with words of Torah and prayer, in which lies the advantage of man over beast.”

Father’s words remain engraved on my mind and heart: Love and esteem every honest Jew, be he rich or poor in Torah. Protect the dignity of every Jew, even if danger is involved. And always prepare “provisions for the way”—by learning by heart—in case of any mishap, so that no time will be wasted without study of Torah.

My father gave me ten rubles to add to my fund, that I might increase my loan-granting activities.

Learning & Values » Jewish History » Chassidic Personalities » The Rebbe’s Prison Diary

Chapter I: The Arrest

From the writings of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch

Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society

Tuesday night, the 14th of Sivan, 5687 (June 14, 1927). It was already twelve o'clock at night, shortly after I had concluded receiving people for private audiences. It was my custom to receive people for these audiences three times a week -- Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. The meetings were scheduled for the hours of seven until ten at night, but usually extended for an hour or two more, particularly during the summer months, due to the many visitors. This particular night these sessions extended until half past eleven.

The prayers were scheduled for three fixed times during the course of the day. After the morning prayers we would recite a segment of the Psalms as divided according to the days of the month. I had established this recitation on the basis of a personal unrevealed reason and had requested all members of the Chabad movement throughout the world to adopt this practice in their respective synagogues. Thus, by following this recitation every day, they would finish the book of Psalms once monthly. After the daily recitation they were to recite Mourner's Kaddish. Praise G-d that this practice was widely adopted, and fortunate is their lot both materially and spiritually. For those following this practice my request persists to the present day; in the morning there should be a regular study session in Mishnayot, between Minchah-the afternoon prayer-and Maariv-the evening prayer, a study session of Aggadah and at night, a class in Talmud. On this occasion many people had come. I began the audiences with the chassidim at the regular time and concluded at 11:30.

I then prayed the evening prayer with a quorum group that assembled in my home thrice daily for public prayer. I was weary and exhausted from my tasks and also deeply distressed because of my recent communication with Rabbi Dovid Tevel Katzenelenbogen [the Chief Rabbi of Leningrad], in which I opposed the General Assembly planned by Leningrad's communal leaders.

Various anti-religious Jews, scheming to undermine traditional Judaism, had scheduled this meeting and deceived the Chief Rabbi of Leningrad into siding with them by creating false issues of personal conflict.

Thus weary, I washed my hands in the traditional manner for the evening meal with the members of my household a few moments after twelve oclock. About twenty minutes had passed when the doorbell rang forcefully. The door was opened, and two men burst into the dining room shouting: "We are representatives of the G.P.U. Who is Schneersohn? And where is he?" As they spoke, a contingent of armed men entered after them and stood in a line awaiting their commands.

I answered calmly and clearly: "I do not know which Schneersohn you seek. If you enter into someone's home, surely you know in advance who dwells there, and this drama is pointless. Deliver your message and clearly state your wishes. The building superintendent, who knows the identity of all the people in this house, is here with you. What need is there for this clamor and disruption?"

"I am not shouting," said the spokesman, "This is my normal manner of speech. It seems that you are not familiar with the methods of G.P.U. representatives. Show us through your apartment so that we can place an appropriate legal guard, and as master of the household, come with us to observe the search."

"True," I replied. "I am not fully aware of your methods, and I have no desire to know them.

"Either you are completely in error, or someone has fabricated a libel against us. In any event, it makes no difference to me. As for the emissaries from your organization, I have not feared, I do not fear, and I will not fear them. The building attendant can direct you about my quarters, and you may search as you wish in ostensible accordance with the law that you invoke." I then calmly added: "I am certain that you will not disturb me from my evening meal."

My words, spoken evenly and without any betrayal of emotion, had a strong effect on the callous officials, and for a brief instant their wings drooped. They gazed at me with surprise, as silence prevailed in the house.

Among the intruders was a young Jewish G.P.U. official by the name of Nachmanson. He had received a Jewish education in his childhood in his hometown village of Nevel, and his father had actually journeyed to Lubavitch as a chassid. His commanding voice broke the silence as he instructed the armed men to take guard positions at the various doors of the house. Anyone desiring to enter the house was to be admitted, but they were to prohibit any movement from room to room or any oral communication. He stressed that his instructions were to be followed strictly.

He then turned to his companion, a short dark-haired Jewish man named Lulav, from the family of that name in Riga, and stated that they should begin their work. He concluded by addressing me and saying that, if I could eat, I was at liberty to do so. They would not disturb me, but he had instructed a guard to remain in the room with us

They first went to search the room of my daughters Chaya Moussia and Shaina and asked them: "Which party do you belong to?"

They answered that they were "members of our father's party, apolitical Jewish women who hold dear Jewish traditions and despise the new trends."

"Why?" inquired Nachmanson, astonished.

"Why?" replied Shaina, "this we are not obligated to answer you. You asked regarding our beliefs and I replied. As to the question why, this we are not obligated to explain, for you are not here investigating my letters and documents for discussion's sake. What we were, we still are; and we declare this openly, regardless of whether you find it acceptable or offensive."

Nachmanson answered: "You must consider the authority and power of the G.P.U., which we represent. The G.P.U. can force even the silent tongue to speak and tell what is hidden within the heart. Our interrogators are remarkable craftsmen. To them all is revealed, willingly or otherwise. There can be nothing hidden. There everything melts; even stone speaks and divulges its secrets."

"The entire tragedy," answered my daughter, "is that you wish to accomplish everything by power and coercion. This is unethical and repugnant, attempting to intimidate intelligent and informed people with the power of the fist and the threats of the gun."

I will not deny that it was gratifying for me to hear these words spoken with logic and composure-albeit feigned-and in a firm voice. Nevertheless, I was very much concerned for her fate, lest Nachmanson, who prided himself on his power, would also think of arresting her.

The men remained in the house for an hour and a half, proceeding from room to room and searching thoroughly, but it was clear that this was not their actual intent. They then prepared an official form and handed it to me for my signature. I scrutinized the document, which stated that the search had conformed with all the pertinent regulations and that I had been informed of my prisoner status.

Upon reading the document, I replied that I was unable to sign a form in which it is stated that everything was executed legally. "To me the entire visit and search is suspect," I said, "Everyone knows who Rabbi Schneersohn is and what his activities are. Surely, one of two possibilities must have occurred: error or libel-on account of either I could not sign.

As to arresting me, I continued, it appears that the pleas of my family are of no avail; however, I would also like to respond on my own behalf as to why you want to imprison me.

"It is clear to me that the entire matter is either an error or a fabrication, either of which will be clarified within a day or two. Everyone is thoroughly aware of my identity and actions: I have not used secrecy. I live in one of the largest cities in this country, and my home is in its center. I have a synagogue and deliver chassidic discourses there on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. This means that I have not acted covertly.

"I believe that the arrest will result in highly negative publicity, and you should proceed with caution until the truth is clarified -- if you are actually seeking the truth. However, if you mean to conceal this error or libel with lies and falsehood, I am certain that you will regret it. Do as you will, but Schneersohn will not be arrested with a web of deceit."

Nachmanson roughly interrupted me: "The G.P.U. is responsible for its actions and is wholly unafraid of criticism. If the order has been given to arrest you, then I am confident that there is full authority to follow it. I am amazed at your words. Be fully aware that you are now a prisoner."

"I do not understand," I replied, "why you interrupted me and didnt allow me to finish my request."

Infuriated, Nachmanson exclaimed, "What! You wish to request something? That right is yours, just as it would not be denied any other prisoner. But why this insolence? Do you not understand your situation? We have not come here for conversation, nor to hear the requests of your family." He turned to my daughters and declared:" Leave this room. If you speak one more word, then you, too, will be arrested." He raised his revolver and said: "I will speak with this and silence your elegant words, your krasivorechivosti."

"We," answered my daughter, Chana, "speak in the language used by people who retain their humanity under all circumstances, not in the tongue of those who have just emerged from the slime, unable to speak forthrightly and capable only of waving a revolver and threatening imprisonment.

"Permit our father to stay with us-do not take the apple of our eye! I and my sisters will gladly go in our father's stead. Our father is weak; the doctor has instructed that he should not go out. Bring a doctor-let him be examined-let him remain under guard until the physician will determine that he can go out. After all, you too are a human being-you must also have feelings and emotions. You must surely have what the world calls ethics and decency." She burst into tears.

"Ach!" I exclaimed, "Only wishful thinking could imagine that pleas and tears could help."

"My daughter," I turned to my daughter Chana and to my wife and to my two other daughters, who stood white as snow, their eyes streaming with tears, and stated: "A barbarian and pleas for decency are two contradictory things."

"Why," I continued, directing my words toward Nachmanson, "do you not permit me to conclude? We can discuss all your methods of terror, and your lecture on ethics and how to speak, in prison. But here in my own home you must listen to my words. I am still within the walls of my own home, and I desire to speak in the presence of my family, in the presence of trustworthy witnesses whose testimony you cannot contradict."

Nachmanson replied: "Your words are infused with venom. You do not approve of the laws of the present regime-nu, we will yet discuss this. Now speak as you wish in the presence of irrefutable witnesses," and with a smile he winked to his accomplice Lulav and the other armed G.P.U. men in the room.

"I demand permission to put on tefillin and pray and also that kosher food be made available to me from my own home," I stated.

"You may take your tefillin, religious books, paper and pen, and I give you my sincere assurance that no one will disturb you from your prayers, from reading and from writing. This very day you will return home. You will just be asked a few questions by the director of the prison and then be permitted to return home," Nachmanson replied.

The lengthy exchange had ended, and as they awaited the vehicle to take me to the notorious Spalerno prison, my mother the Rebbetzin [Shterna Sarah], who had been in her own room and oblivious to all that had occurred, abruptly entered. Nachmanson, the leader of the search party, had himself given the order that she should not be awakened. She had awakened nevertheless; I don't know why.

Upon seeing the uninvited visitors, she cried out in a frightened voice: "What is this? Why have they come? Shall they extend their hands against innocent people, against my son who strives to help others? No!" she called out powerfully, "I will not let them take my darling. I will go in your place. Take me," she entreated of the leader, "take me. Do not disturb my son, my only son, who responds to others in their hour of distress. Will you even subject a person of such integrity to so severe an ordeal? Woe! Imprisonment! Woe unto us, my dear departed husband&! They are taking our son Yosef Yitzchak-your only son who sacrifices himself for others-your one and only son-he who heeds your instruction with actual self-sacrifice-bandits have come-slayers of innocent people. And for what purpose? Holy ancestors, they desire to extinguish your soul-flame. Come what may, I shall not permit them to take you."

Nachmanson turned to me and said: "Please quiet her. Take her to her room, and put her mind to rest. I am not responsible for her emotional outburst. We were quiet and did not desire to cause her any unrest. Please calm her."

At that moment, it glimmered within my mind that there is a spark of good even in the depth of evil. These words did not seem to emerge from a cruel, blood-stained person. Was it possible that this stone-like man also possessed a heart and was capable of morality? Did he too have a conscience awakening within him a feeling of mercy? Or perhaps he realized that the woman standing and weeping before him was none other than the famed Rebbetzin of Lubavitch. Perhaps he had for that moment repented and regretted that it had been his fate to be a G.P.U. agent.

I went with my mother to her room and there discussed some matters which I could not speak of in the presence of my "guests", though they did not disturb me at all. For they had gone outside for a walk, leaving in my home a group of armed guards, awaiting the arrival of the vehicle.


I found it difficult to determine the cause of this event or those responsible for it. I could speculate, but it seemed most likely that they were taking me hostage. I could not pinpoint the specific reason, but this was my impression.

I shared my speculation with the members of my household. "But for what?" asked my son-in-law Rabbi Shmaryahu Gourary.

I responded,"I do not know for what, but this is clearly the case."

My mother exclaimed, "An informant with false accusations," and my wife and daughter repeated the words, "A false accusation."

"No," I answered, "I do not believe that they will accuse me falsely, and I have done nothing that they could use as the basis for such an accusation. I am certain that are taking me as a hostage."

"What should we do?" my son-in-law inquired.

"What should be done?" I responded, "First let emissaries be sent to the graves of my father and my ancestors, the earlier leaders of Chabad, in Rostov, Lubavitch, Nyezin, and Haditz, [= resting places of the Rebbe's ancestors] to inform them of my plight. Also ask all of the chassidim to recite the Psalms during the first days."

My family repeated my words "the first days in astonishment," asking me what I anticipated. I answered that this we would eventually see with G-d's help. I told them not to raise a clamor, as word would be known very quickly all over.

I instructed that the chassidim here and abroad should not be hindered from whatever avenue of effort they would pursue. The members of my family, however, were to seek out confidential contacts to intercede for me-but first and foremost, I stressed that the entire network of educational activities should be maintained. Henceforth, the task of fundraising would certainly be formidable because all of those involved in these activities, willingly or compelled by circumstances, would be deeply shocked and frightened by my arrest.

"Therefore, you should know my firm instructions, that despite my present debt, you should try to obtain more money through loans and to immediately forward the required aid to every educational group. And you all must assume the responsibility for properly administering this effort 'till G-d shall return me to all of you.


According to what I had heard from one of my daughters, I was certain that my secretary, Mr. Chaim Lieberman, was already aware of the happenings in my apartment. I was certain that he had already destroyed all documents that might have incriminated him as my secretary. It would also be good if he would move out of his apartment until things quieted down. Why should he suffer as well? Moreover, he was the sole individual with the knowledge to continue the work, for he was totally knowledgeable as to what was to be done. I was certain that they would find nothing incriminating in his possession. For this I was grateful to G-d.

Their faces white as plaster and their eyes filled with tears, my mother, wife, daughters and son-in-law stood shocked. At that moment, no words were to be found. They gazed at me with wonderment, hope and longing, mercy and supplication, not uttering a word.

Amazing, I thought: in just a few precious moments I would be taken to the Spalerno prison!


"Spalerno" is known to all. Everyone knows that it is dreadful, and its very name evokes fear and terror in everyone, no matter what religion, nationality or party. This prison on Spalerno street, or as it is referred to, "Spalerka," is well-known even to children, and it is common knowledge that being taken there is no laughing matter, and that ones stay there is never for merely a day or two. When one is sentenced to be taken to Spalerno, it is for one of two reasons: either judgment has already been rendered, or for questioning-and particularly for investigation.

The reader may wonder, what is the difference between "questioning" and "investigating?" It is difficult for me, however, to dwell on this. Briefly, questioning is oral: questions, answers. Investigation is quite another matter. It is the coercion to speak. As Nachmanson stated: "There, one talks; there, the mouth opens-you speak and speak!" Mere questioning is done in any facility, but Spalerno is different. So I awaited the military vehicle that would take me, in a few precious moments, to this Spalerno.


At such a critical moment, there is much to say, much to request, much to mandate and settle. Yet the mouth does not speak and the mind does not control the heart. The emotions overflow, restricting the capacities of thought and speech. Thank G-d, I didn't lose control. I spoke out, briefly, yet laden with instructions on the successful continuation of our work. I said to my family:

"Surely they have spun an intricate web of accusations in which to ensnare me. They will try to force me to confess to actions of which I am wholly innocent and which are wholly irrelevant to my efforts for the strengthening of Torah and Judaism.

"But I will only tell them: 'I am involved in the promulgation of Torah and its mitzvot.' I will assume the entire responsibility and incriminate no one else; and G-d forbid, if any one else will be arrested and informed that it was done by my word, then I forewarn you now that it is an absolute falsehood. No power in the world will make me yield.

"It is also clear to me that this arrest has been elaborately planned, for they would never have taken so major a step without adequate preparation. Nachmanson's face reveals his intent. They most certainly anticipate causing great harm to the whole Jewish people by imprisoning me. But I have profound faith that the G-d of our sacred ancestors will liberate me from their hands, and I will return and continue my work. Please obey my words carefully and do not despair, and G-d will aid us."

I then warned them to take all of the correspondence in the house and to distribute the documents in various secure places.


I had barely concluded when Lulav entered stating that the vehicle was waiting for me and that it was necessary to hurry.

I responded: "The conditions in this country at present make it a matter of certain that no one will be late. Even those who today concern themselves with the imprisonment of others may be certain that their turn, too, will come. There is no reason to hurry, nothing will be lost."

I put on my overcoat and received a departing blessing from my mother and my daughters Chana, Chaya Moussia, and Shaina. I also went to give my departing blessing to my grandson, who was sleeping in his crib. .

I then blessed my domestic helpers, who upon hearing and seeing that I was to be taken to the awesome Spalerka, bowed their heads, gazing downward, unable to look at my face-for they were frightened and distressed at the entire spectacle. In the beginning they had no knowledge of what was taking place, because the guards separated us and they were confined to the kitchen. They were emotionally powerless to express any response to my departing blessing.

I kissed the mezuzah on the door and sat on one of the benches. The official Lulav and his subordinates, armed soldiers, surrounded me in the manner of prison guards and in accordance with prison regulations.

My belongings, tefillin-Rashi, Rabbeinu Tam, Shimusha Rabbah; a talit, a gartel (prayer sash); my religious books-Siddur (prayer book), Psalms, Tanya, and my other personal effects: change of clothing, a handkerchief, food, valerian, a small pillow, were all placed in one package-in a travel bag. The cover of the bag was inscribed in Roman letters "S.S."; my father, of righteous memory, had purchased it and used it during the course of his journeys from the year 5673 (1913)-a plaid blanket was also given to me.

I did not want to carry my belongings myself, so I gave them to one of the armed guards. Lulav leapt forward and took the bag from the soldier and said in Yiddish: "Give the bag to me, I will carry it. Chassidim remain chassidim; my grandfather carried the bags of your grandfather and I, too, will carry your belongings."

I removed the bag from Lulav's hand and replied: "Your grandfather was a chassid of my grandfather, so he was privileged to carry those bags to the place of my grandfather's choice, whereas you desire to carry my bag, G-d forbid, to a destination of your choosing. No, this cannot be. In your way I will not go. Chassidim certainly do remain chassidim."

I reclaimed my possessions and restored them to the guard who held them originally. I kissed the mezuzah and departed with armed guards in front of me, to my right, to my left, and behind me.

As we descended the stairs, I could hear the voices of my family pleading to accompany me to the vehicle. I turned about and saw an armed guard physically barring their way. I called out to Lulav inquiring as to why they were obstructed and if he had authority for such action.

My confident tone and clear words had the desired effect on Lulav. He commanded the guard to move away, and he permitted my family to accompany me as a group. I was thus able to speak a few words with my son-in-law.

In the courtyard all was quiet, no one was there, aside from the members of my family, the contingent of guards and their officers, Nachmanson and Lulav.

Nachmanson stated with a smile: "You can kiss and take leave of each other here in accordance with all of the etiquette of the aristocracy because I will not let you go out into the street."

I turned to Nachmanson and said: "It is not befitting for a highly placed official -- so concerned with propriety, who asks for a signed document corroborating that his visit and search accords with the law -- to prevent members of a family from accompanying one dear to them."

"Go!" Nachmanson answered, enraged, "it appears that you are still unable to adapt to the present situation. You are a prisoner and obligated to obey the command of an authorized official."

"Who is the official, I inquired, and what is the command? You can clearly see that despite all of your efforts, you will not frighten me." I continued: "Please grant my family's request!"

Nachmanson turned aside, and all the members of my family and I went out to the street. The vehicle stood surrounded by armed soldiers. Within sat a prisoner, obviously a foreigner of prestige, approximately forty years old. He was dressed in travelers clothes, his face snow white; his eyes conveyed deep bewilderment, his face an expression of deep anxiety and fear. Facing him, on guard, sat an armed soldier.

As I emerged onto the street, my glance fell upon the large clock hanging in the window of the clock store across from my house. The face of the clock was as white as the faces of my household members, may they live, and the hands-indicating that it was twenty minutes after two-as black as ravens.

During this period of two hours and ten minutes, how much pain, suffering, fear, and anxiety had the members of my household endured! And for what reason? Because of false libels, because of malicious informants-because of my effort to strengthen Judaism, because of strengthening the Torah.

We stood together for a few moments, and then, with the help of one of the soldiers, I climbed onto the vehicle and sat in the place indicated for me. Facing me, as a guard, Lulav sat holding only a revolver, for Nachmanson sat with the driver, most certainly in conformity with prison regulations.

"Be well and strong," I called out to my family, "and may G-d help us to be reunited soon in good health."

At that moment the vehicle moved and commenced its journey to the notorious Spalerno prison.


I looked out and saw on the corner our good friend Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Althaus, his face contorted with fear. I nodded silently to him as an indication of blessing and leave-taking, but I perceived that he stood uncomprehending. He appeared as though he would, in a moment, burst into intense weeping or anxiety. A moment passed, we turned left to Litaina Street and Pinchas, Rabbi Althaus' son, suddenly appeared. I was jolted by the sight of his white face, his black bulging eyes, and his figure, buckling over. He peered intently, trying to see who was in the vehicle, but he did not seem able to perceive clearly.

We then quickly turned to the street on the right, Spalerno Street. On number 24 stood the massive edifice, the notorious prison: Spalerka.

The prison doors were sealed. Nachmanson and Lulav instructed the guards to maintain strict security with the "distinguished guests" in the vehicle, myself and the other prisoner. They themselves hastened to the gate keeper, but to their astonishment they did not receive entry clearance. The outer guard did not reply to these newly arrived officials; the guard within opened the small inquiry-gate. I could not hear his question, but I did see that Lulav and Nachmanson were talking to each other in distress.

Lulav approached our guard while Nachmanson exerted every effort to gain access to the prison, but the guard closed the opening. Nachmanson, humiliated and agitated, stood, one hand on the door bolt and the other wiping away the sweat on his inflamed face with a handkerchief.

There are many kinds of human sweat: the cleansing sweat which removes human sin, the sweat caused by the performance of a mitzvah, the sweat of intense effort in the study of Torah, the sweat generated by work sincere and honest, the sweat of intense physical toil. In stark contrast to these is the sweat of anger and murder, the sweat of the hangman, the sweat of the bandit and the murderer.

Lulav called out to his comrade Nachmanson: "We are late. May gloom take A! He tells us thus, while he idly sleeps. Official B should be informed of this. He will take the situation into his hands: then A will either no longer sleep or he will slumber eternally."

Suddenly the sound of the opening door bolt was heard, but Lulav told us to wait and not go forward without orders.

The prisoner next to me was disintegrating mentally. The soldier assigned to him stared at him fixedly, a bayonet in his left hand and a rifle in his right. His eyes were riveted on the prisoner and not distracted even momentarily. The prisoner's face was snow white with fear and his body was quivering. His clothing was European tailored; he seemed to be a person of means and was even wearing silk gloves. He looked, however, terrified, as though he would succumb to sudden death.










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