The sentence: Five years of exile in Central Asia

At the end of the month of Kislev, I received a notice from one of the NKVD departments summoning me on a particular Monday at nine o’clock in the morning.

After all my efforts and several promises from important government agents, and after receiving various clandestine inside reports from where my husband was being held—I received reports from people who had seen him, and various other indications, that led me to want to believe that they were about to inform me that he was to be released.

As usual, I arrived punctually. I deposited my passport at the main office, and was granted entrance to the facility. I imagined that after nine long months of not seeing my husband, and after enduring such traumatic experiences they would surely allow me to see him. But instead they took away my entry pass and locked the door behind me! I was completely under their control...

After an hour’s wait, they summoned me to a room in which four men sat, all dressed in military uniform. One of them—the oldest, as I later learned—was in charge of the prisoner deportations from this region. They informed me that my husband had been tried in Moscow and sentenced to five years of exile in Central Asia.1

“But how will such a weak, elderly man be able to endure this?” I asked. “The conditions in his place of exile are very good,” they responded. “Your husband will remain a regular citizen as before; he just needs to change his place of residence. He will even retain his rights to vote! All you need to do is prepare whatever he asks of you for the journey.”

One member of the committee was a Jew and he was charged with conveying my husband’s requests to me. Without delay he told me that he had attended cheder as a child, and therefore recognized all the items listed in the note submitted by “Levik Zalmanovitch”: firstly, his tallis and tefillin, a siddur, a Tehillim and all the five Chumashim in one volume. There was just one item that he was not familiar with—something called “Tanya”—“I never heard of this before.” My husband also asked for a gartel.2

“When the day of his deportation will be confirmed,” the man said, “bring these items to the prison courtyard, where they will be taken from you.”

After receiving this news, I was granted permission to meet with my husband and bid him farewell before his journey. A day was set on which this would take place.

The first meeting

There were four men in my husband’s group: the Rav, two shochtim, and the shammes of the shul in which he prayed.

On the appointed day, I took along a package of food for which they had granted permission for me to bring to him to improve his health. So that I should not be alone, I was accompanied by a young man who was one of our good friends.3 . He was the son of a Polish Rebbe and had studied together with our children.

During our meeting we saw each other through an iron screen. A uniformed, armed prison guard stood close by making sure that we speak only in Russian.

The change that my husband’s face had undergone over the course of these ten months is beyond words. His first question upon seeing me was: “Thank G‑d that we could see each other. Tell me, how many days Rosh Chodesh does the month of Kislev have this year—two or one? I need to know this in connection with Chanukah.”4

The visit lasted for several minutes, over the course of which the guard managed to yell at us three times, “Speak Russian!” My husband was very nervous, and when we said our goodbyes, he tearfully begged for my forgiveness. He thought that he would not survive the journey. I left the package for him, bid him farewell and returned home, where I began running from place to place to find out the day on which my husband was to be exiled.

The journey to Kharkov

I visited the official offices designated for these purposes. But the real work consisted of secretly locating relatives of those in charge of the etap, the prisoner convoy, and glean some information from them—the father-in-law of the prosecutor, the aunt of the prison doctor, and the like. They all promised to be of help, but when I reached the deportations administrator he told me that my husband does not appear on the list of prisoners slated for deportation.

The next day I received a letter from my husband, which had been mailed from Kharkov, stating that he is being held in a transition prison. He also included the address of the prison. Discovering where he actually was, I immediately decided to travel there.

That year, the frost was dreadful, and even worse was the heavy snowfalls. It was impossible to know when a scheduled train would depart or arrive.

At 12:00 a.m., I went out and secured a chicken. Bringing it to the shochet meant making a treacherous, uphill trek, of several kilometers. Despite all this, I managed to accomplish everything.

In the morning, several close friends, who would frequent our house on a regular basis, came over to our home, with the objective of convincing me not to make the journey, under any circumstances. They argued that, in any case, I would not be allowed to see my husband. I, however, couldn’t come to terms with that prospect, and set out to find ways to obtain a rail ticket.

It was impossible to buy a ticket for the same day; one had to reserve a ticket several days in advance. However, after great effort, a ticket arrived at my house at 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon for a train that was to leave that very day at 3:00 p.m. I was scheduled to arrive in Kharkov at 11:00 o’clock in at night

The journey was not at all easy as I was unfamiliar with the city. Mendel Rabinowitz5—one of our good friends—informed his brother Hirscheh,6 by telegram, of my arrival, so that he would come out to greet me.

Due to the heavy snowfall the train arrived four hours late. As a result, I arrived in Kharkov at 3:00 a.m. Hirscheh met me at the station. It was pitch dark and frighteningly frigid, and the coach was not heated. Hirscheh brought me to his house. Care was taken that I would not be noticed by the landlady or the woman tenant. I was seated in a side room near a small fireplace, served some hot tea, and I warmed up a somewhat.

At seven o’clock in the morning we went straight to work. After vigorous, concerted effort and by utilizing our local connections we secured permission for a lawyer to visit my husband in his cell, in the hope that he would in some way be able to improve his conditions. After handing over seventy-five rubles to the prosecutor’s till he approved the visit.

Soon enough, I learned that this would be the last day of the etap layover and that the deportation was scheduled for that very day.

Since it was very difficult to obtain food products in Kharkov, Rabinowitz took sugar and some butter out of his buffet and gave them to me for my husband. I was also informed that they accepted soap and, cigarettes for the prisoners. My husband had asked for them several times, but in Dnepropetrovsk they always rejected my requests to be allowed to bring him cigarettes. And so I provided my husband with everything I possibly could to take along on his journey.

I spent an entire day running from place to place until I put it all together.

When I had everything ready, I went with Hirscheh to the prison, which was located, as usual, quite a distance from the city. At three o’clock in the afternoon, after slipping and falling three times, we arrived at the prison.

We met with the lawyer who told me that he had arranged for Levik Zalmanovitch to be examined by a doctor in order to determine whether he was well enough to be deported in the prisoner convoy with the other prisoners, and that the doctor declared him to be in perfect health. I later discovered that he had lied; no one had met with my husband—neither a doctor nor a lawyer.

After that exchange with the lawyer, I was given permission to meet with my husband and give him the package that I had brought for him.

2 Nissan 5708—1948

To deliver a discourse on 2 Nissan

I have not written for so long... For some reason I am finding it difficult.

Today, 2 Nissan,7 reminded me of the first time that I travelled to my husband’s place of exile for Passover. The year was 1940. Physically, my husband was not well on this day. It was only two months after the grueling etap to exile, and the living conditions there were worse than I had imagined they would be. Yet on this day, he forgot about everything.

“Today8 is Beis Nissan,” he stated. “It would be proper to deliver a Chasidic discoursebut there aren’t too many listeners. I would like to pen a dissertation but, alas, there is no paper on which to write.9 Contemplation will need to sufficemay G‑d grant me the strength to think.”

— A week before Pesach I travelled to the city of Kzyl-Orda 10 and brought back two notebooks, powder with which to prepare ink, and a small bottle to serve as an inkwell. This gave my husband indescribable joy, and he immediately began writing. He took to the writing with more enthusiasm than to eating the bread that I had brought for him after such a long and arduous hunger period.

My husband sat for a while immersed in his thoughts, and then began speaking about the Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom DovBer, completely oblivious to his surroundings and his state of affairs.

The heat was then so intense that it was impossible to sit fully dressed. I recall how in the evening, I brought my husband a fresh change of clothes, and at around 10:00 in the morning the shirt was already covered in black specks... This was caused by fleas, which soiled the shirt over the course of the night. It was simply intolerable. After a while, we managed to find rooming with less fleas.

When my husband spoke, he would always glance at the stains on his shirt, and would transport himself to a completely different world. He absolutely refused to allow take these difficulties to heart.