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Tuesday
Oct282014

A CHASSIDIC SUBURB CALLED MALACHOVKA

Not many Jews living there now know that Malachovka is a place that was once infused with Chassidic spirit, mixed with the blood and tears of Chassidim. Malachovka, a suburb of Moscow, is where the Rebbe Rayatz went after his incarceration. * The Chabad history of Malachovka along with gripping stories of mesirus nefesh.

 The Rebbe Rayatz leaving the train station  

SIX WEEKS IN GALUS MALACHOVKA

After the Rebbe Rayatz’s release from exile on 12 Tammuz 5687/1927, he returned to his home in Leningrad. A short while later, the Yevsektzia began to rethink his release. In the Yevsektzia newspaper Emes (which was anything but), there was a critical article against the Rebbe demanding that he be arrested again. This was written at the instigation of the head of the GPU in Leningrad who was opposed to the Rebbe’s release.

The Rebbe moved temporarily to Malachovka, a suburb of Moscow, which was used as a vacation spot in the summer. This suburb is about an hour’s drive from Moscow. All year round it was populated by locals who rented out rooms to vacationers in the summer.

The Rebbe stayed in Malachovka for six weeks. These were tense days as the Rebbe knew he was being followed. This is why the Chassidim were forbidden to visit the Rebbe who was there with only the Rebbetzin and their youngest daughter, as well as the Chassid R’ Yaakov Moskolik-Zuravitzer, may Hashem avenge his blood, who served as his secretary.

Knowing that the secret police were following him, the Rebbe sent no letters. Urgent letters were sent under a pseudonym and they were written in code, like the letter that the secretary sent to R’ Yisroel Jacobson in America, asking him to do all he could so that the Rebbe could quickly leave the Soviet Union.

“Because he is really, G-d forbid, in the same situation that he was in before his confinement and cannot work at all. And his health is quite weak, and he had to go to R’ Refael HaKohen [i.e. Malachovka where R’ Refael (Fole) Kahn lived] because he cannot be in his place [Leningrad] and surely, if you knew how dangerous it is you would work very diligently …”

The fear was so great that the Rebbe even refused to accept mail directly and Chassidim received letters for him and gave them to him.

Aside from the Rebbetzin and the Rebbe’s daughter and the secretary, there were also Chassidim who lived in Malachovka, like R’ Shneur Pinsky who was at the Rebbe’s service during those weeks. One of his jobs was to watch the milking and bring the Rebbe chalav Yisroel.

The Rebbe counted Malachovka as part of his galus: “I spent eighteen and a half days in prison, ten days in galus Kostroma, and six weeks in galus Malachovka, the only place where I could reside,” he wrote after he left the Soviet Union.

A few days before Rosh HaShana the Rebbe left Malachovka and went to Rostov to his father the Rebbe Rashab’s grave. From there he returned home to Leningrad where he stayed until after Simchas Torah. Then he left the Soviet Union.

GREAT CHASSIDIM SETTLED IN MALACHOVKA

A number of years later, a group of Chassidim settled in Malachovka who wanted to be away from the big cities where it was more dangerous. They hoped that in this quiet, out of sight place, life would be easier.

In 5692/1932, a Chabad shul opened in Malachovka with the mesirus nefesh of a Jew named Esterman. Esterman endangered himself by going to the authorities and demanding a shul in Malachovka. The authorities refused and he decided to do it anyway. The shul was founded in a shed on his property. For this crime, he was taken to be executed. Despite this, the shul was not closed and continues to exist till this day.

Many of the great Chassidim found refuge in Malachovka. Among the distinguished Chassidim who lived there were R’ Shmuel Levitin, R’ Moshe Leib Ginsberg (the Rebbe Maharash’s son-in-law), R’ Shmuel Leib Paritcher (Levin) who was a chozer by the Rebbe Rashab, R’ Avrohom Maiyor (Drizin), one of the menahalim of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim, the mashpia R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, R’ Nissan Nemenov, R’ Yehoshua Nimotin, R’ Chaim Zalman Kozliner, and others.

Not surprisingly, when these “lions of the group” ended up in one place, they breathed Chassidic life into it – t’fillos in a Chassidishe minyan, shiurim in Chassidus, farbrengens on special days, chadarim for the boys, and more. Word about the place spread and Chassidim would visit from all over the Soviet Union, including R’ Chonye Morosow, may Hashem avenge his blood. They went to Moscow in order to try and obtain emigration papers, and until they received them (or were refused) they would wait in Malachovka so as not to be caught on the streets of Moscow without permission to be there.

Chabad Chassidim in Malachovka flourished there in the 1930’s.

THE BRANCH OF TOMCHEI T’MIMIM IN MALACHOVKA

A branch of Tomchei T’mimim was started in Malachovka that operated for two years. The various branches in the Soviet Union were closed down and the talmidim were expelled and the maggidei shiur were arrested and exiled.

After the yeshiva in Georgia was shut down in 1933, a group of bachurim went to learn in Malachovka. Talmidim from the branch in Kiev also went to Malachovka when the yeshiva in Kiev was closed. 

The talmidim were not allowed to live in Moscow and within a hundred kilometers distance of Moscow without a permit. This they could obtain only after proving they had a job in Moscow. Some of the talmidim also had to show an exemption from the army which was impossible.

The Chassidim and bachurim had different ways around these restrictions. Some of them registered in a village or town more than a hundred kilometers away from Moscow while continuing to live in Malachovka. This was dangerous, lest they get caught.

The learning took place in shul where the bachurim assiduously learned Nigleh and Chassidus while ignoring the surveillance, the persecution, and the difficult financial situation. The wives of Chassidim cooked for them or the menahalim of the yeshiva took care of it. Some of the talmidim slept on benches in the shul.

Despite these hardships, the bachurim were happy with their lot since the spiritual state of the yeshiva was incomparably better there than in the branches of the yeshiva in other cities. This was because of the Chassidic atmosphere in Malachovka.

The late Chassid and shliach, R’ Shlomo Matusof, spoke nostalgically about the spiritual plenty in the yeshiva:

“Two mashpiim, R’ Nissan Nemenov and R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, regularly learned Chassidus with us (the Hemshechim of the Rebbe Rashab). All the great Chassidim and Anash attended the Chassidishe farbrengens. Mi yitneinu k’yarchei kedem … (a verse expressing the wish to return to the days of yesteryear).

“Occasionally, we would review maamarim, long ones too, by heart on Shabbos with the participation of the great Chassidim. There was a bit of a connection with the Rebbe Rayatz who was in Warsaw, and now and then we would get maamarei Chassidus somehow and personal letters as circumstances allowed. I merited this too, thank G-d.

“For us, to a certain extent this was a time of growth and becoming firmly established on a Chassidic foundation.”

Among the talmidim who learned in Malachovka were: R’ Meir Itkin, R’ Alexander Ziskind Bunin, R’ Yisroel Israelite (Yisraeli), R’ Yechiel Michel Piekarski, and R’ Avrohom Kievman. In a letter that R’ Kievman wrote to the Rebbe, he said he wanted to stay in this yeshiva, because in Malachovka “there are a lot of farbrengens and there are Chassidim who are Torah scholars who can be asked questions in learning.” At the end of his letter he tells of a disadvantage, that he has no place to live, but this disadvantage did not prevent him from continuing to learn and participate in farbrengens.

More about the glory days of the yeshiva is told in the memoirs of R’ Yisroel Yehuda Levin:

“We learned there for a while … I moved to Iliyanka (another suburb near Malachovka) where there was a house where R’ Meir Avtzon and R’ Meir Zarchi were, and we learned there. At night, we would go to Malachovka to the mashpia, R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman of Polotzk, and he learned Hemshech Eter (5670) with us.

“I ended up going to the shul in Malachovka and sleeping there. R’ Refael Kahn of Nevel learned with us. The talmidim were: myself, R’ Meir Zarchi, R’ Shlomo Matusof, R’ Michel Koznitzov, R’ Chaim Lipa Levin, R’ Avrohom Yehoshua Kuratin, for a little while R’ Michoel Teitelbaum, R’ Yosef Vilenkin, R’ Dovber Gorewitz, Herschel Cohen (the son of R’ Folya), R’ Binyamin Levitin, R’ Avrohom Kievman, R’ Mendel Morosow, and others.

“There were regulars and some who came temporarily. R’ Chonye Morosow once learned a maamer with us and R’ Pinchas Schreiber (Rakshiker) learned Hemshech Samech-Vav (5666) with us. This went on until the winter of 5695, Boruch Hashem, with success in learning Nigleh and Chassidus and farbrengens.”

It was a holiday for Anash and the T’mimim in Malachovka when, for 12 Tammuz 5693, a letter came from the Rebbe Rayatz along with a maamer, “Nosata L’Yirecha.” In the letter, the inyan the Rebbe explains in the maamer is expounded upon. In the farbrengen which took place afterward and was attended by all of Anash and the bachurim, they all sat together and learned the maamer, read the letter, and the bachurim said many l’chaims. It was an apt expression of the great joy felt over receiving a maamer and a letter from the Rebbe Rayatz.

HELP FROM THE JOINT

One of the sources of funding for the yeshiva came from the Joint. The directors of the yeshiva presented the talmidim as modern and highly educated. R’ Shlomo Matusof elaborates:

“A representative of the Joint would visit Moscow occasionally. When Dr. Rosen showed up they had to present to him the products of the secret yeshiva and what a yeshiva bachur is. They chose me as an example. R’ Mendel Garelik dressed me in new and modern clothes, from head to toe. A stylish suit, a shirt and tie, tan shoes, etc. (Perhaps it suited me like a golden ring in the ear etc. but what can you do). He taught me what to say and how to speak politely with a person like this. He gave me the address of the hotel.

“I arrived at the grand hotel, one of the few in Moscow. I introduced myself. They already knew about me and brought me into a room full of tall flowers like fragrant trees. Dr. Rosen welcomed me respectfully and spoke to me about this and that. It seemed I had found favor in his eyes and I left.

“They told me afterward that the visit was successful. I returned to my ‘sackcloth and fasting’ and took off my beautiful clothes and went back to my usual attire, a yeshiva bachur like before.”

THE BEGINNING
OF THE END

Jewish life was quiet at first, but after a while, the police began to cause problems. Every so often the police would come and arrest the bachurim. A short while later they would release them after they had them sign that they would immediately leave the place.

One of those talmidim was R’ Yisroel Yehuda Levin. At the beginning of the summer of 5694/1934, he wrote a coded letter to the Rebbe Rayatz in which he told of the difficulty in obtaining a “pass,” a residency permit for Moscow:

“I worked in Kiev and now I work here. In a city that is a hundred parsaos (Talmudic era measurement of distance, code for kilometers – Ed.) from Moscow I received a pass for three months, and after three months they extended it for another three months. After that it needs to be changed to one for three years, and some work needs to be done and I have no job to show them. May Hashem have pity and help me so they give me a pass for three years.”

He went on to relate:

“One night, the police came to the house where we stayed and arrested me and R’ Avrohom Kievman because we were not registered to live within a hundred kilometers of Moscow. After a few days they took us to some room and had us sign that if they found us again, we would be sent away for two years. They released us but we could no longer stay in that house.”

After Pesach, R’ Levin went back to sleeping in the shul along with Shimshon Charitonov. This went on until he was arrested again one night in the summer of 1935. Then he had to leave the place permanently.

During the summer of 1935 the surveillance increased. It was apparent that the evil ones had decided to call a halt to Chassidic life in Malachovka. The police decided not to ignore them anymore. Chassidim, who had moved to Malachovka in order to avoid the secret police, began to feel them breathing down their necks.

Many Chassidim were arrested and sent to exile. The yeshiva was closed and the Chassidim were very fearful, since up until then there were hardly any arrests and now there was a wave of arrests. At a certain time of the night, the police would go to the homes of many Chassidim and arrest all of them simultaneously so the others wouldn’t have a chance to escape.

The accusations were generally about being “Schneersohns,” along with other things, such as helping a synagogue, learning Torah with children, etc. A lot of incriminating evidence had been gathered against the Chassidim, and when no evidence was available the interrogators would make up a file and force the arrestee to sign a confession to various crimes. The sentences at that time were very harsh – extended jail sentences, exile, and even execution.

The troubles began with the arrival of Dovid Itche the moser (informer) to Malachovka at the beginning of the summer. Dovid Itche was a talmid of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim in Lubavitch. When the yeshiva was closed, the connection between him and his fellow students was severed. After some years, he appeared in Malachovka with a beard and speaking as Chassidim do. He seemed pleased to see that there were still bachurim learning Nigleh and Chassidus. He became friendly with the bachurim and when he saw that some talmidim learned out of one bichel (booklet) he joyously told them that he had some copies of Hemshech 5666 and promised to send them the copies soon. They all trusted him. It was only after a few years that they realized that he was a despicable moser who had entrapped Chassidim in various towns in the Soviet Union including Malachovka.

This informer told the secret police that in Malachovka there was flourishing Chassidic life. Thanks to him, they began surveilling many of the people.

Two young boys were arrested from Chassidic families. The interrogators laid a trap for them and without their realizing the ramifications they said the names of the Chassidim who lived in Malachovka.

One night, the angels of destruction knocked at the house of R’ Zalman Alpert who was known as Zalman Kurenitzer. He opened the door and immediately was asked, “Are you Zalman Kurenitzer?” 

He replied, “I am Zalman Alpert.”

The policemen were not convinced and took him with them to the council building of Malachovka. As he sat there waiting to be interrogated, he heard one of the interrogators reading a list of Chassidim and asking the policemen to arrest them. Among the Chassidim were R’ Shmuel Leib Paritcher, R’ Shlomo Chaim Plotzker (Kesselman), R’ Avrohom Maiyor, and others.

R’ Zalman was shaken to the core. He realized that the jig was up for the Chabad Chassidim of Malachovka. He jumped up and began shouting, “What do you want from me? I am not Zalman Kurenitzer, I am Zalman Alpert! Leave me alone!” 

The interrogators, seeing his confidence and also wondering whether they had a mistake by arresting him, let him go. R’ Zalman lost no time. He rushed to tell his family that he was released and immediately ran to the homes of the Chassidim whose names he had heard and told them that they had to escape. Thanks to his courage and ingenuity many Chassidim were saved from arrest.

Although some of the Chassidim were saved, the rest of the Chassidim had to hide until the fury had passed.

ARRESTED AND
SENT TO EXILE

This wave of arrests ended miraculously. But in Elul of that same year, the secret police managed to lay their hands on some Chassidim in Malachovka. Others were miraculously able to sneak out from under the noses of the police. Among those who escaped were R’ Avrohom Drizin who ran the network of Tomchei T’mimim yeshivos and was the number-one-wanted man. The police did not give up on him so easily and began aggressively pursuing him. Time after time he was saved miraculously from those angels of destruction.

Seven Chassidim were arrested in Elul: R’ Yaakov Moskolik, R’ Meir Avtzon, R’ Abba Levin, R’ Yitzchok Goldin, Shlomo Matusof, R’ Chaim Elozor Garelik and his son Mendel. 

The remaining Chassidim in Malachovka were thrown into confusion by these arrests. The yeshiva was immediately closed and many Chassidim went underground, while others fled to other cities where they hoped to find places to hide. Many families were left without a husband/father and this led to serious financial problems. All this was in addition to the great fear and concern for the relatives who had been arrested or who had hidden.

The seven who were arrested were taken to police headquarters in Moscow, Lubyanka, where they were interrogated and tortured for weeks. Then they were transferred to Butyrka prison where they awaited their sentence. A few months later they were all found guilty for belonging to “Drizin’s organization.” After the reading of the guilty verdict they were put into one cell. After months of suffering and apprehension, they realized that the evil ones had not managed to catch all the great Chassidim of Malachovka and only the seven of them had been arrested.

After years of suffering in exile, all except R’ Yaakov Moskolnik returned home. He died in exile, may Hashem avenge his blood.

THE CHASSIDIM FLED

With the outbreak of World War II, the Chassidim in Malachovka fled from the front which was approaching them. Only the Chassid R’ Eliezer Pinsky continued living there even though the Germans shelled the city and the environs unceasingly. He remained, with mesirus nefesh, to look after an old, sick, childless man who due to illness was not able to flee. The man died in 1942 and R’ Pinsky had him buried in the cemetery in Malachovka which entailed great mesirus nefesh. Shortly afterward, R’ Pinsky became sick with pneumonia, and he died in Malachovka and was also buried there.

After the war, a few Chassidim returned to Malachovka. Most of the Chassidim had left Russia via Poland and a few remained in Tashkent and Samarkand.

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