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Tuesday
Jul262016

Saving the Frierdiker Rebbe from Russia

After his release from prison on Yud Bais Tamuz 5687 (July 12, 1927) the Frierdiker Rebbe was in imminent danger, the Communist Regime was looking for a reason to arrest him again, and it was of utmost importance to secure his exit from Russia with his family and library * The archives of the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) include some communication between the heads of the JDC regarding this issue, and a record of a meeting of the heads of Aguch in the USA with the JDC * Is the JDC partially responsible for the Frierdiker Rebbe’s arrest?

After his release from prison on Yud Bais Tamuz 5687 (July 12, 1927) the Frierdiker Rebbe was in imminent danger, the Communist Regime who was angry that they were “forced” to release him was looking for a reason to arrest him again.

The Frierdiker Rebbe was in charge of Judaism in Russia, and was financing clandestine activities to ensure Jewish survival; from Chadorim and Yeshivos to Mikvaos and Shochtim, everything was sponsored by the Frierdiker Rebbe.

In today’s installment we present the communications between the heads of the JDC in Europe who saw the danger and were trying to figure out a way to ensure the Frierdiker Rebbe can leave Russia, with his family and his library. Additionally, a record of a meeting between the heads of Aguch in the USA and the heads of the JDC.

These fascinating documents are part of the JDC Archives (which were digitized and uploaded online, thanks to a grant from Dr. Georgette Bennett and Dr. Leonard Polonsky CBE).

Make Every Effort to Allow Rebbe to Leave

In a cable sent by Dr. Bernard Kahn (director of the JDC in Europe) to the JDC offices in New York, to be given to Dr. Joseph Rosen (director of the JDC operations in Russia) on August 23, 1927 [25 Av 5687] he writes:

Orthodox groups are still much worried about Lubawitscher Rebbe. They urge you make every effort that permission is given to Rebbe Schneerson leave Russia with family and library. Please write.

Dr. Rosen: I Will Work On It From Moscow

The next day, August 24, 1927 [26 Av 5687], Mr. Joseph C. Hyman (JDC New York) writes a “Memorandum” to the JDC officers, quoting the response from Dr. Rosen (who was in New York at the time):

With reference to the cablegram which came yesterday from Dr. Kahn to Dr. Rosen, in which Dr. Kahn advises that the Orthodox group urge Dr. Rosen to make every effort to secure permission for Rabbi Schneerson to leave Russia with his family and library, I communicated this message to Dr. Rosen. I have this word from him today:

“Dear Mr. Hyman:

I am not going to do anything about this matter now. Please advise Dr. Kahn that when I return to Moscow I will see what the situation is and if I find it possible I will do whatever I can. I am writing Dr. Kahn a personal letter on this subject.”

Riga Community Putting Pressure

Three weeks passed and nothing happened, so Rabbi Dr. Meir Hildesheimer, the leader of the Orthodox Community in Berlin and director of the local Beis Medrash L’Rabonim, sent a telegram to Dr. Rosen (who was still in New York), dated September 16, 1927 [19 Elul 5687]:

Rabbi Schnersohn who is now in Moscow is still in danger, wherefore the rabbi of Riga deems it necessary to influence the Russian government to liberate rabbi and his entire family consisting of 8 persons as well as his library, we are sending commissioner to Moscow and beseech you likewise to cable to Moscow. Cable us if and to whom and what you have cabled.

Dr. Rosen: Speak to Smidovich

The same day Dr. Rosen responded, reiterating his commitment to help when he is back in Russia and advising Rabbi Hildesheimer to contact Mr. Pyotr G. Smidovitch, a Russian Politician who was very friendly with Dr. Rosen:

I think it [is] inadvisable for me [to] cable Moscow [in] connection [with the] Schnersohn matter. [I] would advise your delegates take this up [with] Smidowitch. I expect [to] be [in] Moscow [in] November and when there will help much as possible.

Aguch Meets JDC Heads

In a long letter dated September 16, 1927 [19 Elul 5687] and addressed to Dr. Cyrus Adler (Philadelphia), Mr. Joseph C. Hyman (JDC New York) discusses a meeting he had with Rabbi Chaim Schneur Zalman Kramer and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lokshin, leaders of Agudas Chassidei Chabad (Aguch) in the USA, with regards to securing the Frierdiker Rebbe’s release from Russia with his library and ensuring the financial viability of Judaism in Russia:

A Mr. H.S. Kramer of Brooklyn, New York, telephoned me asking for an interview for Rabbi Lakshin and himself to discuss the situation of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the needs of the Rabbinical budget for Russia.

I made clear to Mr. Kramer over the telephone (and I happen to know Mr. Kramer personally) the general financial situation of the Joint Distribution Committee and our difficulty in arriving at any budget or making any new commitments at this time.

With respect to Rabbi Schneerson, I told Mr. Kramer that I knew that Dr. Rosen, who had already met Rabbi Lakshin and discussed the situation with him, had done everything that he could personally to assure the liberation of Rabbi Schneerson.

Mr. Kramer asked, however, that he be permitted to come here and discuss the whole situation in full, and Rabbi Lakshin and he met me yesterday. I went over the same ground with them. Rabbi Lakshin’s plea was threefold: first, that we do whatever might be possible to assure Rabbi Schneerson’s freedom of movement from Russia to Latvia. He had assurances, he stated, that the Latvian Government was ready to offer Rabbi Schneerson asylum. He was not certain, however, that there were not a number of difficulties still to be overcome with respect to getting Rabbi Schneerson out of Russia. I was able to point out to Rabbi Lakshin and his associate that the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was in receipt of a message from its Riga correspondent that the Latvian Government had agreed to permit Rabbi Schneerson entry, and that the Soviet officials had likewise sanctioned his departure.

Since I dictated this letter to you, last night, we received a message from Rabbi Hildesheimer of Berlin addressed to Dr. Rosen in which Rabbi Hildesheimer again expresses a fear that Rabbi Schneerson is still in danger and urges Rosen to cable Moscow. I took this up directly with Dr. Rosen who asked me to cable Dr. Hildesheimer that he would regard it as inadvisable to cable Moscow from here about the Schneerson matter but that when he returned to Russia (and he expected to be there in November) he would do as much as possible to help. In the meantime he suggested that Hildesheimer and the delegation ought to approach Mr. Smidovitch.

The second thing Rabbi Lakshin wished to take up with me was the matter of securing approximately ten thousand dollars, which he stated would be necessary in order for Rabbi Schneerson to take with him his immense library of Hebrew, religious and theological books and manuscripts.

The third matter was a request that the Joint Distribution Committee makes a further substantial provision for the budget of the Rabbinical Committee in Russia.

As to the two latter matters, I again referred to our present situation — the fact that we had made no budgets for any activities in Eastern Europe or elsewhere (with the exception of the agricultural work in Russia) for next year. I pointed out likewise, that in the minds of certain members of the Committee, there was considerable doubt whether the Joint Distribution Committee, even if it had the means at this time, could legitimately make an appropriation for the purpose of enabling Rabbi Schneerson to leave Russia and to take his library with him. I stated that I personally recognized the particular esteem and respect accorded Rabbi Schneerson; I said that I also knew that a number of members of our Committee might be expected to be sympathetic to a plea for the preservation of this undoubtedly great collection of writings and manuscripts; I could not, however, hold out any hope or give the gentlemen any assurance on this score or with respect to the Rabbinical Committee budget for next year.

Rabbi Teitelbaum had promised Mr. Kramer and Rabbi Lakshin that he would personally present their plea at the next meeting of the Cultural Committee, and I would undertake likewise to present to the Committee, a memorandum concerning our present interview and discussion.

Rabbi Lakshin ventured the hope that prior to the meeting of the Cultural Committee, you could find it possible to grant him a brief interview. I take it that he will write you asking you to give him a few minutes of your time at your convenience next week.

May I add personally, although I made no commitment to the gentlemen, that I would regard it as quite within the scope and function of the Cultural Committee, if it had the means, to make a modest subvention toward the preservation of Rabbi Schneerson’s library…

JDC: Are We Somewhat Responsible?

Three days later, on September 19, 1927 [22 Elul 5687] Dr. Adler responds to Mr. Hyman, and entertains the idea that maybe the JDC shares some responsibility for the arrest of the Frierdiker Rebbe:

I have your letter of September 16th about Rabbi Lakshin. I have read it carefully. I had written to Rabbi Lakshin some weeks ago –when he wanted to see me at once with a Committee of Rabbis– that if it was about JDC matters that he could present them to you. Today I received another letter from him and I have written him that I could see him at the Seminary on Wednesday…

Since dictating a letter to you this morning about the Schneerson matter, this aspect of the subject has occurred to me. Are we in any way responsible for Rabbi Schneerson’s difficulties due to the fact that he handled money which he received from us indirectly and if so does this not rather put a different aspect upon the matter? You need not write me a letter about this but just think it over and if you want to talk to me you can reach me on the telephone at the Seminary on Wednesday, at 12 o’clock or afterwards.

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