How The White House Got The Rebbe Rayatz Out Of Soviet Russia




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    How The White House Got The Rebbe Rayatz Out Of Soviet Russia

    It is 96 years since the Rebbe Rayatz left Soviet Russia Historian R’ Shneur Zalman Berger uncovers the behind-the-scenes work of the president of the United States and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in helping the Rebbe and his family An astonishing historic documentation, based on a variety of sources, along with a fascinating review of the fundraising efforts in the U.S. to help the Rebbe Rayatz leave Russia • Full Article


    It happened at the farbrengen on 12 Tammuz 5743/1983, Chag Ha’Geula, when the Rebbe sat at the center of the table and addressed the thousands of Chassidim on the significance of the day. The Rebbe suddenly began expressing gratitude to the president of the United States of America who held the office in the period when the Rebbe Rayatz was freed, who worked on behalf of his release and exit toward free lands.

    The Rebbe said, “The United States and those who lead it were among the first to deal with the release and exit of the Rebbe Rayatz from Russia. Although the president today is not the one who was president at that time, he succeeds him, and gratitude and thanks must be given to the presidential leadership of the country today, by way of continuation of the presidential leadership of those days.”

    At the end of Tishrei 5688/1927, about three months after being released from imprisonment, the Rebbe Rayatz left Russia along with his family. This exodus was imperative, since great concerns were raised regarding his safety.

    The JTA reports on the arrest of the Rebbe RayatzThe leaders of the Chassidim learned that the NKVD, the communist secret police, were furious about the Rebbe being able to escape their clutches and they were looking for a reason to re-arrest him.

    Right after his release, the Rebbe traveled to Malachovka, a quiet suburb of Moscow, far from the Chassidim, where he waited for developments. The Rebbe stayed there for about six weeks, while the Chassidim did all they could to enable him to leave Russia.

    The greatest pressure came from the U.S., both from President Calvin Coolidge and William Borah, senator from Idaho, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    At that 12 Tammuz farbrengen, the Rebbe emphasized that all the work done on the part of the U.S. for the release of the Rebbe Rayatz and his ability to leave Russia was done in absolute secrecy. This was because of the complicated relationship between the U.S. and communist Russia.

    During the Rebbe’s incarceration, members of the Joint Distribution Committee and Chabad askanim importuned the president and senator to work on freeing the Rebbe. Even after his release, the pressure did not diminish; on the contrary, it continued for the purpose of exerting pressure on the Soviet Union to enable the Rebbe to leave the country.


    Telegram sent by Agudas Chassidei Chabad upon the Rebbe’s leaving Russia. | Telegram sent to the Rebbe Rayatz by Agudas HaT’mimim upon his leaving Russia (the Rebbe’s response in the margin)


    In a book on the subject of Christian and Jewish political activism, we find the following mention: “After heavy pressure by people around the world, including President Calvin Coolidge, Rabbi Schneersohn was released from jail and sent to exile.”

    The book L’Hatzil es HaRebbe (Hebrew edition, p. 40) also mentions the president along with other government figures: “Lawyers Fred and Oscar Rabinowitz, sons of Rabbi Dovid Rabinowitz, an ardent Chassid of the Admur, succeeded in meeting with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who turned to other senior government figures including Senators Wagner and Borah, who requested that the Soviet Union release the rabbi. President Calvin Coolidge also, ultimately, called for his release.”

    This was revealed in greater detail during a discussion that took place in the Senate on 5 Tammuz 5754 in a talk about the Rebbe. Senator Daniel Moynihan of New York and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee delivered an impassioned speech about the Rebbe. In his introductory statement he told of the special connection between the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of the previous generation and the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, i.e. the Rebbe Rayatz:

    “Senator Borah played a role in the release of Rabbi Yosef Schneersohn from Soviet prison and the emigration of his family members, including the present Rebbe, from Stalin’s Russia. The intervention by Senator William Borah for this Chassidic movement stands as a noble example of brave, moral leadership.”

    From these sources we see that the president of the United States and Senator Borah did much, both in having the Rebbe Rayatz released from prison and in getting him and his family out of Soviet Russia. The Rebbe’s household included his son-in-law to be, the Rebbe, who left a short while later.

    The Bolshoy Dom prison in Leningrad (present day S. Petersburg,)


    In the period between the Rebbe’s release and his leaving Russia, it became necessary to raise large sums of money to fund the continued activities to secure the safety of the Rebbe and his family. In order to raise money quickly, it was decided to turn to the Chassidim in the U.S.

    Rabbi Yaakov Zuravitzer (Moskolik), the interim secretary of the Rebbe Rayatz, sent a special letter to Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson in which he asked for help. This letter, from 22 Tammuz 1927, is quite unusual since during the time that the Rebbe Rayatz was in Malachovka, hardly any letters were sent from the Rebbe or his secretary because of fear of the authorities.

    Because of this fear, Rabbi Simpson was unwilling to show the letter to Chassidim in the U.S. He copied it by hand, leaving out the secretary’s name. The content of the letter was that large sums of money were needed to get the Rebbe out of the Soviet Union. The money raised needed to be sent to R’ Mordechai Dubin in Riga.

    Rabbi Simpson enclosed with this letter a copy of a telegram that he received from Rabbi Feivish Zalmanov from Warsaw, with a request that $10,000 be raised in the U.S.

    On Thursday, 21 Tammuz 5687, Rashag wrote from Russia to Rabbi Zalmanov who lived in Poland, about the importance and urgency of getting his father-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, out of Russia. Part of the letter was written in hints, “Surely you will write to his sons, R’ Elya [Simpson] and R’ Yisroel [Jacobson], to make the proper efforts and that the assistance of his relatives [the money that the Chassidim would raise] be sent to you and R’ Mordechai the son of R’ Zalman Dov [Dubin].”

    The next day, Rashag wrote another coded letter to Rav Zalmanov in which he said that the Rebbe Rayatz borrowed money but it wasn’t enough. The financial situation of Chassidim in Russia did not enable them to donate large sums. Therefore, Rashag concluded in his letter, “It is necessary to alert [the members of Agudas Chassidei Chabad in the U.S.] – R’ Menachem Mendel Leib [Lokshin], R’ Eliyahu [Simpson], and R’ Yisroel [Jacobson] – to make a big and organized effort in this matter, to receive suitable sums from their relatives [Chassidim and friends of Chabad in the U.S.] and all that they have should be sent to one of two places, to you and to R’ Mordechai Dubin.”

    In the days that followed, Rabbi Moskolik sent another letter to Rabbi Jacobson in which, besides for his writing, there was an addition in the Rebbe Rayatz’s handwriting. The letter described the Rebbe’s situation in detail and the necessity to work assiduously to have him moved to Riga:

    “It is clear that if you knew the current dangerous situation you would work with great diligence and you wouldn’t rest a moment from doing all sorts of things to move his residence as mentioned earlier. You must publicize that this is not merely a private matter of the Chassidim, but a general matter that affects all Jewry, no matter one’s party. This is the truth, and yesterday I wrote briefly to his brother [his friend] R’ E’ [R’ Eliyahu Simpson], and now I am also writing to R’ MAL [R’ Lokshin], and you should determine among yourselves how to arrange this.”


    Fundraising in the U.S. began immediately. In the first phase, $2000 was sent; it was a particularly large sum for those days. Rabbi Yechezkel Feigin, who had been appointed as the Rebbe Rayatz’s secretary at the time, was in touch with the directors of Agudas Chabad in the U.S., and he informed them in a letter, albeit in code, that the sums of money transferred to the Rebbe were not sufficient. Large sums of additional money were urgently needed. R’ Feigin explained in his letter that Chabad Chassidim in Russia already gave more than they were able, and now mesirus nefesh was needed on the part of the hanhala of Aguch in the U.S.

    In a letter from 27 Av, R’ Feigin added that the Rebbe planned on emigrating from Russia to Latvia and living in Riga temporarily. This fact was still a secret and only the closest Chassidim knew about this. In his letter, R’ Feigin makes clear that it seemed that Chabad Chassidim in America did not understand how serious matters were during the arrest, and perhaps now too, they did not understand that the Rebbe had to leave Russia immediately due to the danger.

    “In truth it is impossible to measure the good news and even if all the waters of your Atlantic Ocean were mashke, it would not be enough if we had the strength to drink it all, yet as it seems your assessment of the situation is greater than it is (and perhaps whoever informed you erred in this, and errs and does not know).

    “The truth is that even if the danger has passed, and he actually left his illness [imprisonment] behind, but that is only in actuality, v’dai l’mavin. And aside from the statement of the Sages that a miracle does not happen every day, may Hashem protect us, our Sages also said not to rely on a miracle.

    “Therefore, what has been till now is only due to Hashem’s kindness upon us, but we now must do what we can, and it is absolutely necessary to take him with Hashem’s help completely out of his illness [imprisonment] so that, G-d forbid, it does not happen again. Perhaps for this, expert doctors are needed [this might refer to help from the American government]. And it is essential that he travel to our brother Mordechai Dissner [he should go to Riga where Mordechai (Dissner) Chafetz lived].”

    R’ Feigin noted that money was needed to cover expenses that occurred during the imprisonment. Although Lubavitcher Chassidim in Russia donated large sums, the Rebbe remained greatly in debt. Aside from that, money was needed so that the Rebbe and his household could leave Russia for Riga and for living expenses when they first arrived in Riga.

    R’ Feigin’s conclusion was that $25,000 were needed for these expenses.

    Rabbi Simpson and Rabbi Jacobson’s hiskashrus to the Rebbe was such that they worked very hard to attain large sums of money. They did not rest but continued working to obtain more and more money. They held meetings and marathon discussions with American Jewry. A report was sent about one of these meetings to R’ Yechezkel Feigin who showed it to the Rebbe. R’ Feigin wrote about the Rebbe’s reaction in a letter dated 14 Elul 5687:

    “It was apparent that he took great pleasure from it. Before my trip he told me again to correspond with you.”

    R’ Feigin also wrote that the Rebbe said that in the event that there wasn’t ready cash, they should take a loan and he would repay it. In a long and moving letter, R’ Feigin explained that it was not possible to say “we cannot.” This is the basis for the detailed explanations in R’ Feigin’s letter. He sought to convince them that the situation was non-negotiable and Chabad Chassidim in America had to donate money unconditionally so that the Rebbe could leave Russia.

    In conclusion, he noted that he did not write this on his own: “You should understand that everything in my letters is not my own views.” This was more than a hint. Now it was clear to the Chassidim that R’ Feigin’s sharp words came from the Rebbe himself and the work to raise money intensified.

    Despite the letters and good will of all, they still had not managed to raise the necessary funds. Tishrei time they were informed from Riga that a large sum of money was needed so that the Rebbe could move there, after the Rebbe had already miraculously received an exit visa and had gone to Leningrad to part from the Chassidim.


    On 25 Tishrei 1927, Erev Shabbos B’Reishis, the directors of Aguch in the U.S. held an urgent meeting for the purpose of brainstorming ideas to raise money for the Rebbe. The meeting took place in the office of Aguch that was in a factory belonging to the Kramer brothers. The Kramers were very rich and some of them served as members of the hanhala of Aguch, and they also attended the meeting.

    R’ Yisroel Jacobson and R’ Eliyahu Simpson dominated the meeting. Hiskashrus to the Rebbe burned within them and they decided they had to send at least $4000 for the Rebbe, no matter what, and R’ Lokshin agreed. This meant that they wanted the Kramer brothers to donate $4000 on the spot, a huge amount for those times.

    The Kramer brothers, despite being big mekusharim of the Rebbe, and despite wanting to help him, expressed their surprise – where would they get such a sum? This was an amount equivalent to all the donations collected from many Chassidim since they heard of the arrest. They tried to say that perhaps they would raise the money or borrow it and then get the money back from Aguch. When they finished speaking, they left the meeting and went back to work.

    Those who remained in the office were taken aback and did not know what to do. They knew that to the Kramer brothers it was out of the question to give such a large amount, but R’ Simpson and R’ Jacobson would not give in. They knew they had to help the Rebbe and were determined to persuade the brothers to immediately donate $4000. It was R’ Lokshin, the oldest among them, who went to speak to them. He begged them to return to the meeting and that is when lengthy and complicated negotiations began.

    The Kramer brothers wanted to give $1000, and then compromised at $1500, but R’ Simpson and R’ Jacobson pleaded with them to give $4000. In the end, their determination and persuasive words convinced the brothers to accede to their request and give that enormous sum. The money was sent by telegraph to R’ Mordechai Dubin in Riga.

    The Rebbe left Leningrad by train on Thursday, 24 Tishrei, and arrived in Riga the next day. In the U.S. they did not yet know of the great miracle that happened overseas.

    When they heard the good news in New York, the hanhala of Aguch and the hanhala of Agudas HaT’mimim sent telegrams to the Rebbe. In Aguch’s telegram, the Kramer brothers, R’ Lokshin, R’ Simpson and R’ Jacobson, announced that they had sent R’ Dubin a sum of $8000. The telegram sent by Agudas HaT’mimim was signed by the chairman, R’ Simpson and member of the hanhala, R’ Jacobson.

    The Rebbe responded in a telegram to each of the telegrams that he received. In the telegram that he sent to Aguch, he affirmed receipt of the amount. About two weeks later, the Rebbe sent a letter in which he thanked them for raising the money. The Rebbe briefly described what he went through and thanked the members of Aguch for collecting the large amount of money for him:

    “Your sending the 8000 sh’kalim [dollars] from the summer until now, to our esteemed friend Mr. Dubin, was properly received by me. That was less than half the amount that it cost when I sat in jail, efforts made to obtain permission to travel, the expenses of the trip, and I have yet to acquire a residence. The expenses from Russia are extremely great, and surely Hashem will help. I thank and bless you and all our friends of Anash, the T’mimim, for your support. May Hashem help you materially and spiritually.”

    In a telegram to Agudas HaT’mimim, the Rebbe wrote: “Simpson. With joy I read the blessing of Agudas HaT’mimim. Please convey a blessing in my name and my hope for the elevation in status for the Torah and the T’mimim, materially and spiritually. With blessing. Schneersohn.”


    Chabad Chassidim in the U.S. were not satisfied with the fact that the Rebbe got out of Russia. They yearned to see him. The first to ask this of the Rebbe was Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson. The Rebbe responded:

    “Your yearning to meet is something I truly sense… and that is my entire goal to unify with Anash and the T’mimim so that we can fulfill the holy obligation upon us all as one, in fulfilling the testament of my father the Rebbe to illuminate the darkness of the land with the light of Torah.”

    It seemed that the Rebbe would soon arrive in the United States. Upon receiving the letter, Agudas HaT’mimim held a meeting in which they spoke about the possibility of the Rebbe coming to the USA. We can see the resolution of the participants in the minutes of the meeting:

    “Issues of the day were #1 – the letter that the chairman [of Agudas HaT’mimim], R’ E. Simpson, received about the possibility of the Rebbe coming … After various suggestions and speeches, it was decided that since it is essential that the coming of the Rebbe achieve the desired result, therefore it required particular attention that it should be so. As such, much public relations and work was needed both in advertising his coming and organizing Anash in advance of his coming, along with practical spiritual activities as much as possible until his coming. So that upon his coming there would be the requisite tools ready to receive his light and its influence, but since much time was needed for this, it was decided to get to work right away.”

    In the following period, other Chassidim sent requests from the U.S. to the Rebbe asking that he visit them. In the middle of 5689/1929, about a year and a half after he left Russia, the Rebbe announced that he acceded to their request and feverish preparations began.

    The Rebbe Rayatz arrived in the United States in Elul 1929, and the Chassidim in the U.S. greeted him with a royal and moving welcome, as recorded in the descriptions of that time (many of which were published in this forum over the years).


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    How The White House Got The Rebbe Rayatz Out Of Soviet Russia