Escaping Russia with Rebbetzin Chana

12 August 2011, 14:08 | Kaleidoscope-digest | 0 |   | Code for Blog |  | 

Yocheved ZALMANOV

9 August 2011 Chabad.info

Introduction

This is the story of my personal experience when my family joined a group of Chassidim escaping from Russia after World War II (during the years 1946 – 1949). Their successful escape led to the relocation of the Russian Chabad community and the spreading of Chabad Chassidus to Europe, America, Eretz Yisroel, Africa, Australia, Asia and throughout the world.

It is not easy to reveal and express my most personal and dear recollections. These memories live in my heart and mind, never lost or forgotten, spreading out like beams of light to uplift and have a holy spirited effect on many generations to come.

The great merit that Hashem gave me to have been in the vicinity of the heavenly, holy Tzidkanis, the royal mother of the Rebbe, Rebbetzin Chana of blessed memory, causes me to always thank and praise the Creator.

No doubt, this privilege was granted to me in the merit of my dear holy parents who were shluchim of the Frierdike Rebbe to the Crimean Peninsula. They were honest, pure-hearted tzaddikim who acted with unbelievable mesiras nefesh for the sake of Yiddishkait in the harshest, most terrible times of Stalin. My dear courageous parents’ constant desire and dream was to live in G-d’s beloved Holy Land, the land of the Jewish Spirit. Their every word to us, their children, was “holy of holies”.

Mesiras nefesh is the very base and foundation of Lubavitch. It must express itself in all actions and happenings of Chassidim in all times and in all places!

Chapter I

The news of the possibility of escaping Russia came to us like a magical secret. As it spread amongst the Lubavitchers, it uplifted our hearts and minds with the hope that we would yet fulfill our long-time dream to be free to dedicate ourselves to Torah and Yiddishkait. This was a feeling that came from a great foundation of mesiras nefesh that knows no bounds in time, place or physical strength.

It is G-d’s Torah, Mitzvos, and the holy Rebbe’s word that are the only true guidance in the Chassidic way of life! One word from our Rebbeim is holier, stronger, more powerful and exalted than all the hardships, persecutions, troubles and sufferings of hundreds of years at the hands of our oppressors.

The arrests, persecution, hunger, and even exile to Siberia did not weaken nor delay the acts of mesiras nefesh of the selfless, dedicated Lubavitch foot soldiers, soldiers of G-d and of the Rebbeim! They were spread out in the many cities and villages of the huge, mighty Russian Empire. They were forced to go underground in great fear because religion, especially Judaism, was outlawed and its observance harshly punished as an anti-revolutionary act.

Immediately following the horrible years of World War II, Russia granted Polish refugees the opportunity to return to their homeland. Russia did this to show the world that it was seemingly benevolent and friendly toward its neighbor Poland and its citizens.

Polish Jews, barely alive, surviving hunger and hardships, frost and extreme cold and inhumane harsh labor in the freezing Siberian forests, were now finally able to leave Russia. Many of their brethren had perished under the harsh conditions.

Some of these Polish Jews had settled in cities like Samarkand, Tashkent, and Tshimkent. They joined the Russian Jewish population, living there like friends and brothers. These connections created opportunities for Russian Jews to smuggle across the border together with their Polish friends, using the passports of deceased Polish Jews.

One can well imagine how this secret lit a fire in the hearts of religious Jews, oppressed and exhausted by the Russian “paradise”.

Like lightning, we Lubavitchers left everything – our homes, our employment, our relatives, our schools, and everything we knew. We traveled towards the border city—Lemberg, Ukraine (now Lvov). Children were sent off with relatives who were able to make the journey. We ran full of fear, trembling from every shadow, terrified of police, anti-Semites, and government informers. We succeeded only with superhuman divine strength.

How would we travel on and to where? We did not know. Only a few Lubavitcher leaders knew.
What we surely did know was that we must seize this great moment and opportunity!

It was unbelievable. How could this happen in Russia under the nose of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police? Only G-d Al-mighty, with great wonders and miracles, could blind the eyes of the government and twist their minds so that hundreds of people, young and old, should be able escape the Russian prison. Even a fly could not have escaped their steel Gehinom walls. No one could have imagined or dreamt in his wildest dreams that escape would be possible. Escaping Russia carried the harshest punishments.

How our family made it to Lemberg is a story for itself. I think that if we would collect all the stories of all the travelers, we would lack enough paper and time to read them all.

By the time we arrived in Lemberg, the first train to freedom carrying a number of Lubavitcher families had already left. The rest of the families were scattered in different corners of the city. Often, families found shelter together with Polish families to ensure security. They were trembling in fear, with broken disturbed hearts. Homeless, unprotected, and deserted, with passionate prayers, we waited and hoped for G-d’s great kindness every minute we were there. We prayed to be able to cross the border in peace.

The good news that the first train of passengers had miraculously arrived in peace brought great happiness as it spread secretly throughout the community. It carried the strength, hope and courage to continue waiting. We did not yet know about the ravages and Holocaust in Poland…

The fear of being informed upon was so great that we were careful not to say even one unnecessary word. Many were scared to go out in the streets. Only at night did people venture out, escorted, to use the outhouses. Especially the men with beards and peios sat secluded and locked inside so as not to arouse any suspicions from the neighbors and eyes of any informers. There was danger in every step. The days and nights were full of pain, dread, and hope. These heroic Jews immersed themselves in emotional prayer, filled with hope and belief.

Our family gathered in Lvov and stayed a short while in a house together with other exhausted Polish Jews. These Jews had been sent to Siberian forests and had suffered hunger, pain and cold. They had made their way to Samarkand, Tashkent, Tshimkent and other places. They were broken, fearful of the police, of anti-Semites, and of their experiences in the black-market. They were scared of their own shadows. Now, they waited impatiently together with the self-sacrificing Russian Lubavitchers for the chance to run away as fast as they could from the Russian Gehinom.

The difficult stressful atmosphere awakened within my dear sister Hadassah and me a great desire to use our young courageous abilities to help the dreadful situation in any way possible.

I was attracted to the unfamiliar new sites of Lemberg. It was the first city I had been to outside of Russia. Lvov was part of Poland before World War II and thus very different from any other city I had seen previously. I never dreamed of being here in my wildest dreams, especially under such circumstances. Yet, everyone who wished to could feel and see how G-d had spread His wings in a miraculous way. My sister Hadassah (Perman) and I would explore the streets, almost without fear, acting as if we were students who had come for summer vacation. It was a good cover for ourselves, but it probably would not have worked if we had been caught by the Russian thugs.

Chapter II

We were very ill informed – especially me – regarding the secret logistics of the travel. We didn’t even know who was behind the planning of this extraordinary operation. We only knew of Reb Leib Mochkin, a young yeshiva bachur nicknamed Leibke, who literally risked his life at every turn. With our own eyes, we saw how he would perform superhuman acts that no hand and no pen in any circumstance can express.

On several occasions, when he would see us in the street, he would jump out of a fast moving taxi, describe to us in one minute a mission we had to do, and then disappear at the speed of lightning, acting as if he had never known us.

Generally, riding in a taxi in those years was a big luxury. In Russia, taxis were only for government officials or a rich people. Of course, being rich was not allowed. How could one even consider becoming rich? Everyone was supposed to be proletariat, equal. Being rich was a sin.

It is appropriate to recount a few of the episodes that describe the history of that period, a time of great miracles.

One day, while strolling down the street, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, jumping out of a car with the engine still running, Leibke appeared before us. He told us to quickly run to a certain address and tell the people there that they should hide immediately; the government is searching for them. Like an arrow, we ran to carry out the mission. We ran after each other as if we were playing tag, so as not to arouse suspicion.

To our surprise, the door at the address was unlocked. Normally, in those times of danger, the doors were locked at all times in order to buy time in dangerous moments like these. Happy that we did not have to waste a moment, we took the stairs two at a time. In a flash, we were at the right apartment. This door too was unlocked.

A young husband and wife sat at the table with a little girl, four or five years old. Not waiting to hear the details of our coming, the young man quickly went into the next room and closed the door.

Seemingly, from out of the woodwork, two Russian police officers appeared and asked the wife in rough, angry voices, “Where is your husband?”

“I don’t know,” she answered meekly.

Then the little girl suddenly mixed in. “That’s not true, Mommy. You always teach me that we have to say the truth. Tatty just went into the other room.” She pointed to the door that had just closed.

We were all in a state of shock and unable to speak. The wicked people were not counting on such a revelation. In their great enthusiasm, they burst into the room and we quickly turned to escape. My dear sister and I instinctively flew back down the steps and ran like a windstorm through side streets away from the scene.

For hours, we circled the streets of the city hoping to find Leibke. The scene we had just witnessed and the tragedy of that poor family kept replaying in our minds. We saw how the little girl had received the best, true, righteous Jewish education and what it had inadvertently caused.

It was a miracle and salvation before our eyes when we received the good news the next morning. The man was released by the police. A revealed and incontrovertible miracle!

Another time, my sister and I were out for a stroll in the late afternoon, and a fresh breeze was blowing. The hot sun was setting on the horizon. At the end of a tiring day, my dear sister and I were visiting a wonderful park. Flowers blossomed attractively with colorful crowns. Their charming aromas lifted every eye and heart. It seemed like the wonderful surroundings ruled the world! Quietly and calmly, the over-stressed soul lifted itself above the difficult daily dose of pain, fear and worry.

Suddenly, interrupting our trance-like thoughts, Leibke appeared before us as a proud Shliach with his cheerful heroic spirit. Jumping out of a car, he quickly said, “This evening, you must meet a family at the train arriving from Moscow.” The father of the family had just been released from prison with a guarantee. Leibke gave us the address of the location where to bring the family as well as a prearranged code, and then quickly disappeared.

We knew well what it meant to take a Jew out of prison on a guarantee. We knew the danger of them coming here when the whole city of Lvov was a dangerous prison for every Lubavitcher Jew.

The members of this family were our good friends! That is a story for itself, for another time.

Despite not knowing the city well, we did not ask anyone for directions, since we did not want to arouse suspicion. We headed toward the train station. We hiked through deserted, half-destroyed streets and alleys, barely lit and with broken pavement. My bleeding feet ached. The distance was “as long as the Jewish exile,” the hunger was painful, and the fact that our family did not know where we were weighed heavily upon us.

In order that no one should recognize us, we approached the station after the train had arrived. We ordered a taxi, and acting like other waiting people, we cheerfully awaited our expected friends amongst the big group of passengers loaded with suitcases and baggage. We soon found them and were on our way.

When we arrived at the given address, the guests stayed in the car. My sister jumped out of the car and I ran after her, not wanting to leave her at the whim of her enthusiastic self-sacrificing tendencies. We came to announce that the guests had come!

We knocked on the door and said the prearranged code. However, we saw an angry eye looking at us through the peephole. All of a sudden, we heard from the other side of the door an angry, strained woman’s voice, “Quickly get out of here, in any direction, before it’s too late!” She continued with a flood of scolding, hostile words that came from her pained, broken heart. We remained standing there like stones, not able to reply. Only the encompassing quiet darkness was the true witness of our great frustration, anguish, and embarrassment. I could not hold back my emotions any longer, and from the depth of my wounded heart, I broke down in a fit of choked crying that could have broken through an iron curtain. It then became quiet from the other side of the door. (Years later, I still remember that angry voice. They probably did not know who the messengers or the guests were. On the other hand, maybe, they did know…)

My heroic sister was also shaken, but with a determined strict voice, she told me, “If you are going to sit and cry, go home right now. You must always remember the holy words of our dear righteous parents, ‘A Jew must never feel down. One should always hope for G-d’s help.’ We cannot lose ourselves. We must search for a solution.”

A ray of light penetrated my heart. Acting calm and cheerful, we returned to the taxi. We announced confidently, “It’s the wrong address. We have to continue driving and searching.” By this, we meant that we needed to search for Leibke. We continued driving according to my sister’s directions. We drove straight for a while on the lit streets, and then took a left onto unlit streets, then left, right, left, straight and so on. We could not seem to find the right house. The driver was getting angry and showing signs of his aggravation. We promised him a reward for his troubles.

We continued driving for a long while, right, left, straight… Suddenly, we noticed a sign with big letters on a two-story house on a lit street: “Apartment for Rent”. From the depth of our hearts, we felt it was a miracle from Heaven! For us it was not just a sign; it was the Angel Gavriel himself.

“We arrived, we arrived!” my sister shouted with delight. “Wait here for a few minutes.”

The owner of the house, a fine Jewish woman, was more than happy to welcome our fine small Jewish family to her comfortable house for a while. She spelled out a few conditions, which we did not hear due to our great excitement and insisted on lending us money to pay the driver, for which he was very grateful. Our tired guests thanked and praised G-d for His great mercies in finally bringing them to a place where they could return to themselves after their exhausting journey. The debt was later paid back in full to the owner of the house, probably by Leibke.

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    • Ігор Затятий | 20 August 2019, 16:03

      Писка замурувати тій Натаньяховій за те, що розпалює юдофобію, плюючи на землю подарований хліб

    • storozh | 20 August 2019, 11:17

      Щось менi пiдказує, що владика Епіфаній цього не читатиме... :)

    • barni | 17 August 2019, 20:41

      Владико Епіфанію - це не критика, не претензія, всього лиш моє бачення ситуації - Ви ДУЖЕ ПОВІЛЬНО "БІЖИТЕ"!!! Навіт 90-літній вл. Філарет "біжить" швидше ніж Ви

    • barni | 17 August 2019, 20:22

      Та ні "Нінєль-міхуєль" я був неароджений простою УКРАЇНСЬКОЮ СЕЛЯНКОЮ, в простій українській хаті, з діда-прадіда правовослвній родині(на відміну від тебе). Електика в мене в хаті є. А

    • enzian | 17 August 2019, 16:18

      Мішка, пий зеленку і закусюй бинтом. Добре допомагає від москвославія головного мозку.

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