October 18, 2012
Avremele Rainitz in #852, Memoirs

R’ Zalman joins the committee of askanim who organized the exodus from Russia. Even after he left, he continued to help with mesirus nefesh. * From the life of R’ Yehoshua Shneur Zalman Serebryanski a”h.

At the end of World War II, in 1945, an agreement was signed by Russia and Poland in which all Polish citizens who fled to Russia during the war were permitted to leave Russia and return to their homeland. The Russian government provided freight cars, known as eshalons, to transport the hundreds of thousands of Polish refugees.

Since many of the refugees had not taken their passports or any official identifying documents with them, the Russians allowed anyone who had any sort of paper that testified that he was a Polish citizen to cross the border.

When Chabad askanim found out that there was a way of leaving Russia, R’ Leibel Mochkin was sent to Lvov (Lemberg), the border city between Russia and Poland, to check out the opportunity for escape. Upon his arrival there, he learned that the emigration of Polish citizens had ended. However, he made connections in the right places by giving handsome bribes, and managed to have the border opened again. He then traveled to Samarkand and Tashkent, and urged Anash to take advantage of this one-time opportunity.


Among the hundreds of Lubavitchers to leave Samarkand for Lvov were R’ Zalman and his family. Upon arriving in Lvov, the Chassidim asked him to take a position in the special committee that had been formed to arrange the mass flight. The committee was responsible for obtaining the large amounts of money needed to procure Polish documents, as well as to bribe border officials and NKVD agents. R’ Zalman, who was a reliable and organized person, was appointed as treasurer of the committee.

After they successfully enabled hundreds of Lubavitchers to leave, the money in the fund was used up. In a most unusual move, the committee formed a beis din of 23 rabbis, which has the power to judge issues of life and death, which ruled that whoever crossed the border had to leave all his money with the members of the committee so that they could continue to finance their holy work.

Anash acceded to this p’sak din and left their silver and jewelry (excluding marriage bands) with the committee. However, this wasn’t enough. R’ Zalman’s brother-in-law, R’ Benzion Shemtov, who came to Poland at the end of Kislev 5707, wrote a letter on 2 Teves to his friend, R’ Sholom Mendel Kalmanson (who was in Prague and who frequently sent letters to the Rebbe Rayatz), and asked him to send them money:

I just received a letter from Lvov from the people involved in the move, R’ Menachem Mendel ben Mariasha (Futerfas), Yehoshua Shneur Zalman ben Nechama (Serebryanski), Yehuda Leib ben Henya (Mochkin), Moshe Chaim Dubrawski (I don’t know his mother’s name), whose work conditions have worsened due to the impending danger and they request that the Rebbe remember them for good literally every day.

In brief, the message in their letters is that if the means are not sent to them at the earliest possible opportunity, they are in absolute danger, r”l. They request to first pay off two thousand dollars … In our camp they established a beis din of 23 and everyone gave whatever they had, down to the last penny.

R’ Zalman threw himself into the communal work. When necessary, he included his son Chaim who was a young bachur at the time, to carry out errands for the committee. Chaim would meet up with Polish citizens in bars and would get their Polish documentation in exchange for money that he had been given by the committee.

He would often go to R’ Mendel Garelik, who was an expert at forging documents, and give and take documents to and from him. Lubavitcher rabbanim, who considered these activities hatzolas nefashos and pikuach nefesh, allowed them to work on Shabbos when necessary. It sometimes happened that Chaim had to carry documents on Shabbos. As the rabbanim told him, he would put the papers under his yarmulke so he would be carrying in an unusual way.

R’ Zalman and his family were in the last group that was able to leave Russia for Poland, on 9 Teves 5707. Hundreds of people crowded onto this train into two compartments. Lubavitchers were afraid to remain on this train until its intended destination and they paid the conductor so that he would stop for a few minutes in Krakow. He stopped and within a few minutes, they had all alighted from the train.


Anash went from Krakow to Lodz. From there, they continued their long, indirect journey until they arrived in free countries. At this time, there were a number of incidents of pogroms against Jews returning to Poland and it was dangerous to remain in Poland. It was even more dangerous for Anash who had left Russia, since the Polish government was under Soviet rule and they feared having their forged documentation exposed and being sent back to Russia. They tried leaving Poland as fast as they could.

In Lodz, there were only a few Lubavitchers who were Polish citizens. They had businesses there. The only one who remained of the Lubavitcher refugees was R’ Yitzchok Goldin. He stayed in Poland in order to help the Lubavitchers coming from Lvov, and from there he was also in touch with Anash in Lvov. R’ Goldin remained in Lodz for nearly a year, and he helped many Lubavitchers.

In Kislev-Teves 5707, Mrs. Hadassah Perman joined him and was a big help. Within a short time though, she was arrested. After being miraculously released, she was smuggled out to Prague. R’ Goldin then asked R’ Zalman to stay and help him in his holy work.

R’ Zalman, who was a member of the committee, decided to remain with his wife and daughter (Nechama) in Poland. He sent his mother-in-law and two sons with a group of Lubavitchers, who crossed the border with the help of the Bricha, to Austria and from there to Paris.


While his wife and daughter stayed in Bitom, R’ Zalman would travel to the border town of Premishlan and bribe the train officials there so they would give envelopes to members of the committee who remained in Lvov. Money was placed in these envelopes as well as documents, along with passports of Polish citizens who had already crossed the border that would be reused.

The members of the committee that remained in Lvov also conveyed messages via the train employees. They employed secret codes used by Anash in Russia. R’ Mendel Futerfas, for example, would sign his name with the words Chem’a Chavis which means “butter barrel” and translates into Yiddish as “Futerfas.”

Staying in the border town was very dangerous, especially for someone like R’ Zalman who looked obviously Jewish with his beard. Nevertheless, he was committed to his goal and relied on the brachos of the Rebbe Rayatz for those involved in holy work.

After a short time, the Soviet police discovered the smuggling operation and began a large scale hunt for the Lubavitchers remaining in Lvov.

After hearing of their arrest, R’ Zalman wondered whether he should continue endangering his life by remaining in Poland to help the few Lubavitchers still in Lvov. He asked the Rebbe through R’ Sholom Mendel Kalmanson in Prague who conveyed the question.

The Rebbe’s response was:

Regarding your letter of 27 Nissan about the Tamim Zalman Serebryanski, to whatever degree possible it would be good if he still remains where he is and helps his brethren. As far as his health, efforts should be made that he not lack any of his bodily needs, and may Hashem strengthen him and be of help to him in everything he needs, materially and spiritually.

R’ Zalman remained in Poland for another few months. He moved between Lodz, Krakow, and Bitom. In Bitom there was an orphanage run by the Vaad Hatzalah and R’ Zalman worked to transfer these children to western countries.

On 10 Elul 5707, he asked the Rebbe again, through R’ Kalmanson, whether he could go to Paris and join his family. The Rebbe’s response, dated 25 Elul, said:

If the place is dangerous, it is proper that he move to Paris [it should be] in success. However, it is necessary to try to find a way, even after he travels, to remain in contact with our friends Anash in the homeland, and may Hashem help him materially and spiritually.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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