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An Autobiography By

For hundreds of years, Russian Jewry suf-
fered continual persecution and oppression.
Cinder the Czarist regime, the Jews were con-
fined to the Pale of Settlement, subjected to
brutal decrees and sporadic violence, impov-
erished and degraded. Yet amid all the
adversity, Torah and Judaism flourished on
the harsh Russian soil. Yeshivos and Chas-
sidic centers sprung up wherever Jews lived,
and for the most part, the Jews remained
strong and steadfast in their faith. But with
the Communist takeover of Russia after the
Revolution of 1917, a deadly atheistic spirit
swept over the vast Russian steppe that, for
the first time, truly threatened to bring about
the spiritual destruction of Russian Jewry.

Deep in the Russian Night is the story of
Aaron Chazan, an indomitable Jewish man
who refused to surrender his faith in spite of
the ruthless persecution of the new regime.
The narrative begins with the author's family
and community under attack from General
Petlura and his Cossack hordes during the
infamous Ukrainian pogroms of the early
Twenties when chaotic civil war raged in
Russia. After the Communists consolidated
their hold on the country, the physical
danger abated somewhat, but the systematic
attacks on religion in general and Judaism in

Communist Party, a relentless campaign of
legal and economic pressure was mounted
against the Jews, a campaign which only the
most heroic and dedicated Jews were able to
withstand. Aaron Marcus was one of those
Jews, and he succeeded in bringing up a
family in the hostile Communist environ-
ment and instilling his own strong ideals in all
of his children.

Deep in the Russian Night is more than
the story of one man and his family. It is an
important historical record of Jewish life in
Russia from the time of the Revolution until
the author and his family were finally granted
permission to emigrate some fifty years later.
It chronicles the early development of the
Communist society, the terror-filled years
under Stalin, the atrocities of the Germans
during the Second World War, the Doctors'
Plot, the gradual relaxation of Communist
tyranny and the rise of the Russian baal
movement. It is a story of many
incredibly courageous Jewish heroes who
stand out as a beacon of hope and inspira-
tion in the continuing dark chapter of Jewish
captivity deep in the Russian night.






Copyright © 1990
C.I.S. Communications, Inc.

All rights reserved.



L-----------------1 eventful eras of Jewish history, a period that until
now has been closed from view. Noteworthy from several aspects,
this book is a personal account, in English, of the Russian Commu-
nist Revolution and its repercussions on Russian Jewry. It is told by
one Russian Jew who not only lived through it but also battled for
half a century against the system to maintain his Judaism.

Numerous volumes dealing with Russian Jewry have been pub-
lished since the Revolution, but these are generally historical
accounts which concentrate on Jewish social and economic life;
they barely touch on the religious upheaval that occurred. At the
time of the Revolution, the majority of Russian Jewry were strictly
religious Cbassidim. Immediately after the Revolution, the Com-
munist regime quickly and systematically crushed all signs of organ-
ized religion, enforcing a uniform lifestyle of atheism on its citizens.

This book recounts in detail how the cataclysm came about and
how it affected the lives of the unwilling but helpless Jews. In
addition, it describes events that overtook Russian Jewry in the
decades that followed.

Nothing is left out: The Revolution, the Ukrainian pogroms, the
persecutions, executions of Jews by the Communists, aided by their
Jewish lackeys in the Yevsektzia, collectivization, the Stalin purges,
the wave of anti-Semitism that led up to the Doctors' Plot and the
resurgence of Jewish identity, beginning in the sixties, of the new
Jewish generation. All this unfolds as Rav Chazan sets forth his own
compelling story. A person acquainted with Russian history may
find his previous conceptions challenged, but he will be amply
rewarded by the penetrating insight into the Communists' aims
revealed by this work.

Rav Chazan, the protagonist, originally wrote the details of his life
as a remembrance for his children and their descendants. He was
prevailed upon to release his story so that a wider public might learn
how the fieryjewish dedication to G-d and Judaism still exists in our
day. Accuracy is fully assured as Rav Chazan carefully followed every
stage of the writing and insisted on twice rechecking the completed
manuscript, refusing to include anything that he had not expe-
rienced himself. He often tried the writer's patience by changing
numerous near-insignificant details to set down the facts exactly as
they were.

This is the story of one family's devotion to Judaism in the face of
every reason to surrender. It is the writer's hope that this book will
inspire in its reader a deeper relationship to their own Jewish
heritage and Judaism as indeed it did for me.

M. Samsonowitz



Krasnostav could hardly imagine that it was once
a vibrant Jewish shtetl. Yet, in the early twentieth century, when I
was born, over two hundred and fifty Jewish families artisans and
merchants lived there.

The Jewish population, by and large, consisted of Ruzhiner, Kar-
liner and Czernobyler Chassidim whose lives revolved around the
Bais Hamidrash and their religious duties. They davened in shul
morning and evening. Their children learned in cbeder. Early Shab-
morning, a man used to go around, calling the Jews to read
Tehillim. "Shteit oif, shteit oif le'avoidas Haboireb! Get up to serve
your Creator!" Even as late as 1926, there was a man who made the
rounds on Friday afternoon, before Shabbos, reminding all the
people to stop working and close their shops. And close their shops
they did.

The name of the shtetl was derived from its lake, Krasnostav,
meaning "Red Lake," There was a legend that some centuries ago,
the Cossacks rounded up the inhabitants of the town and slaught-
ered them at the edge of this lake. The blood of the corpses turned
the lake crimson.

Life in the Ukrainian shtetl was simple. Residents dwelt in small
one-level houses. They learned to adjust their lives to the climate.
Most people worked hard all summer. During the harsh Russian
winter families would gather around the oven for warmth, letting
business slow down. Drinking and cleaning water came from wells.
To wash clothes, a group would go down to the nearby lake, cut a
hole in the ice and dip the clothes into the frigid water.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, our lives were not so much
marked by the physical existence as by the spiritual dimension, a
dimension that pervaded daily life. The district surrounding Kras-
nostav evoked the memory of glorious figures in East European
Jewish history. Within seventy kilometers of Krasnostav were the
town of Mezirich, home of the renowned Maggid, Reb Baer of
Mezirich; Anapoli, where Reb Zusia lived and taught; Koritz, from
where Reb Pinchas spread the light of Cbassidus; Polno'ah, home of
the Baal Shem Tov's illustrious pupil, Rav Yaakov Yosef Hacohen;
Sidilkov, home of the author of Degel Machaneh Ephraim, the
grandson of the Baal Shem Tov; Zevihl (Novograd Volinsk), where
Reb Shloimele lived; Slavuta, home of the children of Reb Pinchas
Koritz; and Shepetivka, the home of the Shepetivker Tzaddik.

I was born into a line of distinguished rabbis, a family that had
been zealous in maintaining its scholarship and communal leader-
ship for centuries. My maternal grandfather, Rav Moshe Hacohen
Rappaport, was an eighth generation direct descendant of the great
Shach, Rabbi Shabbesai Cohen (1611-1663), one of the greatest
Jewish scholars of Vilna and Lithuania, who wrote the Sifsei Cohen
on Shulchan Aruch. This grandfather was a man whose every action
reflected holiness. He had been the Rav of my hometown until his
son-in-law, my father, replaced him. He spent his later years in
constant Torah study and in teaching Torah to my brother and me.
In the turbulent years after the Revolution, he was my primary
mentor. It was from him that I acquired mastery in Gemara.

My father, Rav Mordechai Chazan, had been one of the eminent
students of the Iluy of Zevihl, Hagaon Rav Yoel Shurin, formerly the
Poltaver Iluy. For the rest of his life my father looked upon Rav Yoel
as his mentor. Appreciating this young man's deep yiras shamayim,
my mother's father decided to take him as a son-in-law. The couple
married, and I was their first born on Motzei Shabbos, February 3,
1912.1 was named Aaron, because in Yisro, that week's Sidra, the
words "Aaron and all the elders of Israel came" (Shemos 18:12)
were read. Shortly after my birth, my father became Rav of

Social structure in Krasnostav resembled that of other Jewish
communities. Status tended to be based on the person's degree of
Torah learning and devoutness. The most distinguished position
was held by the Rav. The community leaders, shochtim, Torah
scholars and persons of high character were next in the hierarchy.
Then came baalei batim. Although often unlearned, they carved out
a place for themselves in society through their pious deeds.

As the son of the town's Rav, I was inevitably regarded highly.
Even as a child, it was taken for granted that I would one day assume
my father's position. Little did I know how completely overturned
my world would become.




At first a provisional government was set up.
Seven months later, the Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional
government amidst furious bloody fighting. With the entire country
in turmoil and the government in disarray, diverse nationalities in
Russia tried to assert their rights. The Ukrainians were one such
group. They formed a Nationalist Party to secede from Russia. Under
various generals, peasants banded together and went marauding
from town to town.

The Ukrainian army's avowed purpose was to rid the Ukraine of
the Communists . . . and every Jew was considered a Communist.
This conception arose from the many renegade Jews who were
prominent in founding and joining the Communist Party. In those
first years, the Jews held the majority of high positions in the
government. Those Jews strongly opposed Judaism, yet ironically,

they gave a Jewish connotation to the term Communist, despite the
fact that the masses of Jews were loyal to their religion. As late as
1941, soldiers were still being given a free hand to pillage and kill
the unprotected Jews wherever they went. Indeed, General Den-
ikin, General Petlura and others even encouraged the murderous
excesses as a means of keeping the soldiers content and under

The Ukraine was well known for its pogroms against the Jews
even as early as the infamous years Tacb-Tat (1648-1649). Imme-
diately after the Revolution, and for the ensuing five or six years,
pogroms at the hands of Ukrainian mobs went on and Jews were
killed. I was only a child of seven when Petlura and his gang overran
our shtetl one Shabbos.

Rumors had just begun circulating about the atrocities they had
committed, but we were not yet fully aware of their deeds. One day,
some wild peasants burst into our house and seized my father, my
grandfather and the two shochtim who were in the house at the
time. I watched as they marched them to the wall of the shul across
from our home and cocked their rifle to shoot. Fortunately, the rifle
jammed, and these Petlurniks had to content themselves with beat-
ing them on the head, blow after vicious blow, with the rifle butt.

Finally, my grandfather and father slumped to the floor uncon-
scious. Apparently, the peasants thought their victims were already
dead, because they turned their attention to the shocbtim, and
dragged them through the streets by their beards. Mercifully, all
four recovered.

We were indeed fortunate; other Jews in our town had not been
as fortunate and were killed. Wherever the mobs went, Jews were
massacred. Another time, when rumors broke out on a Friday that
Petlura was on his way back to our town, my father grabbed the
children and our whole family fled. When we returned home on
Sunday we found two Jews dead.

Another time we escaped on the eve of Yom Kippur to the village
of Jablonivka. Together with over a hundred others, we hid in the
barn of a non-Jewish farmer. Ajewish maker of groats had arranged
this place for us. We stayed there, terrified. On Yom Kippur, with no
more than one or two Machzorim, my father led the prayers. When

the fast ended, we still did not go home for fear of the Petlurniks.
Fortunately, that night some gentiles brought some potatoes for the
adults and milk for the children.

Zevihl, the capital of our district, was located forty kilometers
from Krasnostav. In the fall of 1919, the peasants in Zevihl went on a
rampage, massacring thousands of Jews. The situation of the remain-
ing Jews was horrendous. Whoever had the means to escape fled.
Reb Shloimele, the Rebbe of Zevihl, and his household escaped to
Krasnostav, together with hundreds of other Jews. Each of the two
hundred and fiftyjewish families of Krasnostav took in two or three
refugee families. Many more lived in the women's section of the
shuts and batei midrash of the town for the entire winter, until the
disturbances had passed.

It was estimated that at the conclusion of two years of Nationalists
battling the Communists, over one hundred and fifty thousand Jews
had been massacred in pogroms. Tens of thousands of widows and
orphans were without homes or resources.

Finally, the Communists, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilyich
Lenin, defeated the Ukrainians. Understandably, many Jews hailed
their victory, seeing it as an end to the Ukrainian atrocities. While it
is true that the Communists brought a measure of stability, it only
served as a platform to promote their ideological atrocities, atroci-
ties akin to and in some ways surpassing those of the Ukrainian

At the very start of their rule in the Ukraine, the Communists
launched a campaign to disseminate their ideology. Everyone had to
"voluntarily" contribute toward building the Communist State. The
workers, they proclaimed, would no longer be exploited, since
everyone would be equal, each a government employee. Under-
standably, the workers and laborers were quick to join them. In
cases where Communists failed to persuade the people with their
rhetoric, however, they had no qualms about using other means.
Vast segments of the population were declared "enemies of the
people," meaning they did not uphold the Communist ideal. Dis-
crimination was sharpest against the religious Jews and against
groups with nationalistic goals, like the Zionist and Bundists, two
different irreligious Jewish groups who did not subscribe to the

Communist ideals. Only Jews who belonged to the Communist
Party enjoyed temporary safety.

The Communists could not tolerate religion; they felt that reli-
gious beliefs were a continuing source of hatred and political dis-
sension against Communism. In their view, the unity envisioned by
their Communist State could never be realized as long as destructive
religious forces were rife. That, at least, was the official line. To
convince the masses, they used a different tactic. "Religion teaches
that some people have to be poor and others rich, that you must
accept your suffering," they proclaimed. "This is only a subterfuge
to suppress all the workers, a subterfuge we must abolish! Religion
is the opium of the masses!"

At the time of the Revolution, the vast majority of Jews in Russia
were religious; the Jews in Socialist, Reform and Zionist movements
accounted for a very small percentage of the Jewish population.
What these individuals lacked in numbers, though, they made up in
zeal, working tirelessly to persuade their brethren to forsake Juda-
ism and join their respective camps. Decades before, the Maskilim 
Jews who abandoned Torah in favor of the "enlightened" culture of
non-Jewish society had made a breach in observant Jewish life.
They opened Yiddish theaters and published hundreds of stories,
novels and plays, all with the theme that religion was antiquated.
Only the small towns remained unaffected by the modernist trends.

Both the Jewish labor party (the Bund) and the Zionists estab-
lished secular schools where Jewish studies were ostensibly taught
in a traditional spirit; in fact, the schools brainwashed the children
with their ideals. They succeeded partly because of the general low
state of formal Jewish education which existed in Russia at the end
of the nineteenth century. Also, sincejewish primary education was
disorganized, with each parent engaging a private teacher for his
son or teaching the child himself, the parents welcomed these
schools which seemed to offer the best of both worlds. The general
subjects helped their children gain the knowledge necessary for
easier, more respectable jobs, while the religious subjects obviated
the need for private tutoring. Very few parents grasped the real
motives behind the schools' instructors.

My father told me that Reb Yoel Shurin saw some of the pupils of
the Jewish school openly desecrate the Shabbos, whereupon he
assembled the Jewish residents of Zevihl.

"We are placing our children into the hands of devious people
who are tearing them away from Judaism," he cried. "Now our
children are following in their ways and openly desecrating the
Shabbos] Our sages declare that such people, while still alive, are to
be regarded as dead. We must mourn our children as if they were
dead!" His voice broke and he sobbed tearfully infront of the whole

When the Communists seized power, all Jewish organizations,
religious and non-religious, were banned. Conversely, anyone wil-
ling to follow the Communist line was appointed to a respected
position, granted privileges and publicly honored. The easy life of
Communist Party members contrasted sharply with the widespread
struggle to survive. Some of the Zionists and Maskilim decided to
take the path of least resistance and join the Communist Party. They
fawned on the leaders. Indeed, there was nothing they would not do
to prove their loyalty, many going as far as to turn on their former
friends and associates. These new converts to Communism were
taken in by Lenin's promises of equality to the Jews. They felt they
could maintain their Jewish identity and still be accepted if they
went along with the Communist ideology. It was this group that
formed the nucleus of the infamous Yevsektzia, an organization
whose aim was to indoctrinate the Jews in Party ideals.

The Communists would probably have been as powerless as the
Czars to destroy the Jewish faith were it not for the Yevsektzia.
Before long, there were branches of the Yevsektzia in every town
and village. In the larger towns, they were headed by the local
Maskilim who had embraced Communism. In the villages, they were
led by the poorest and lowest workers, whom the Communists had
appointed as leaders in implementing their economic policies. The
poorer they were, the greater the authority they were given.

These newly empowered Jewish laborers set upon their more
wealthy neighbors with relish. Once they were convinced of the
righteousness of Communist equality, these Jews began to cherish
other Communist doctrines as well. They soon demanded that all
traces of the Jewish faith be wiped out.



The Yevsektzia acted with lightning speed. Cbadorim zndyesbi-
were immediately closed. New Government schools were
opened and staffed byjews who had previously taught in the Jewish
Labor schools. Such renegade Jews also headed the local Jewish
councils. Rapidly, ami-religious papers and journals were published,
with such names as Ernes (Truth) and Stern (Star). One was even
called Apikores (heretic). Its cover featured a picture of a spear
piercing a small circle containing a bearded religious Jew and a Star
of David.

These newspapers sounded the same themes being expounded in
the schools and councils, that the Jews were not a separate people.
The Torah and the Exodus were nothing but a myth. Zionists were
thieves who were stealing the land from the Arabs. And so on.

These teachers and newspapers propapagated their ideas in Yid-
dish which was the only language of most small town Jews. In
Orwellian fashion, they created a new Yiddish language with a
simplified alef-beis by eliminating vowel signs, as well as the letters
vets, ches and kaf. All Hebrew words were spelled in this new
dehebraized spelling, which was meant to undermine this specifi-
cally Jewish language.

In the first years, the Communists' victims were heads ofyeshivos,
rabbis, cbeder teachers and religious community leaders. The Yev-
sektzia would find innumerable ways to slander them, and once the
victims were brought to court, their fate was clear. Some rabbis
were imprisoned and tortured, others transported to Siberia and
not heard from again. Terror chilled the community.

Initially, parents who did not send their children to the new
schools were fined. If they persisted in keeping the youngsters from
Communist schools they were brought to trial and received a harsh
punishment. In the end, nearly everyone sent their children to the
Government schools. In all towns, separate schools for Jewish
children, where the new Yiddish language was taught, were opened
in order to infuse Communism among the Jewish population. Some
religious Jews preferred to send their children to the gentile
schools, where Christianity was denigrated rather than Judaism.

By gaining control of the schools, the Communists managed to
convert the Jews as well as the entire populace to their ideals. They



simply gained control of the country's youth. It went so far that
children would spy on their parents and inform on them to the

Among the other methods through which the Communists
achieved their ends was the institution of a new calendar. Instead of
consisting of seven days, a week was changed to six days. Schools
and factories were open five days and closed on the sixth. Children,
forced to attend school, would thus transgress five out of every six
Shabbosim. But even on the 'rest day,' adults and older children
were obliged to "willingly" help with work in the fields and facto-
ries as needed. The name for this compulsory-voluntary duty was

Once their outward actions were under control, the children's
inner beliefs were more susceptible to the ami-Torah message they
received in the classroom. Daily, the teacher would drill them, "Is
there a G-d?"

"No!" the children called out in unison.

Or the teacher would say, "Let's all say, 'G-d give us candy!' "

The children would duly make the request.

"Well, did anyone get candy?" the teacher would ask.


"Now let's say, 'Lenin give us candy!' "

The children would say the words, and a bag of candy would be
brought in.

Any child who did not join the Communist Children's Movement,
the Pioneers, had a hard time. Children were indoctrinated to hate
the Capitalists, oppressors and exploiters of the working people, as
well as "their servants," the Clericalists, such as Rabbis and religious
educators. They were taught that religious people were enemies
who prevented fulfillment of the Communist Utopia. Were it not for
them, everyone would be happy and successful. Thus stirred emo-
tionally, it is no wonder that young people took their lessons to

Anyone who adhered to Judaism was considered an enemy of the
people. Parents who wanted their child to daven had to keep him
inside and close the curtains. Very few families would do it. Not
many were prepared to jeopardize their lives and their children's



lives for the sake of Torah and mitzvos. The one child in a thousand
who kept any mitzvos had to hide it from his friends who would
surely mock him, while his parents lived in fear that they would be
informed on.

Every so often, the authorites would take one such parent to court
and accuse him of some crime in order to frighten the others. As for
those who were merely less enthusiastic about the new ideology,
the Communists had Stalin's slogan, "Those who are not with us are
against us!"

According to Soviet law, Jews were allowed to keep mitzvos
because, after all, Russia was by law a democratic land, and keeping
mitzvos was not inherently seditious. They claimed, in fact, that
theirs was the highest democracy. Still, the Communists frequently
contended that religious Jews were really Zionists, which was
strictly outlawed as a subversive movement, or were spreading
religious propaganda, which carried a five year sentence to Siberia.

Thus, in only three or four years, the intensive campaign of terror
did away with fully observant Jews, and by the end of the 1930s,
virtually no one kept Shabbos, the marriage laws, kashrus or bris
People, especially the young, were afraid to pray. They did
not resist the new movement and eventually joined the Communists
wholeheartedly. As the Rambam says, "It is man's nature to behave
as the others do. At first, trangression is involuntary, but if one
continues, one relishes the deed in the end."

Parents reacted in various ways to the Communists' indoctrina-
tion of their children. There were some who had already been
influenced themselves and were quite willing to break away from
their age-old traditions. Some even joined the Party actively and
became informers. Most of the parents though, were disconsolate at
their children's defection, yet felt powerless to curb it. Even at the
outset, when the punishment for withholding children from Com-
munist schools was not severe, they sensed that the battle would be
lost, if not today, then tomorrow. Only a few children came to learn
privately with my father. The other hundreds of Jewish children
were firmly ensnared in the Communists' hands.

I remember one Yom Kippur night when the school children
came around to the shut to wait for their parents who were praying



inside. Not one youngster went in to pray. Worse, some of the
teachers joined the waiting children and made a bonfire around
which the pupils danced to disturb the worshippers.

If the Communists made sure to infiltrate the minds of school-
chilren, they applied no less effort toward the adults. How could the
Jews embrace Communism if they persisted in clinging to their
"outdated" religion and, in particular, to their Rabbis and Roshei
Accordingly, the Communists devised a cunning plan.
Since rabbis, chazanim and Roshei Yeshivah were considered lazy
and unproductive parasites in the new Communist State, they could
attain their rights only after openly repudiating their previous work
as "useless" and expressing a readiness to begin working for the
people's benefit. Moreover, it was not enough for them to tell the
local party leader. The Rav had to make a declaration in the news-
paper or at the weekly council meeting in front of all the city's
Jewish citizens. Whoever failed to do this suffered greatly. Thou-
sands of rabbis' children were refused jobs in offices or factories, or
permission to attend schools where they could learn a respectable
profession, until they or their father made this open break with

At first, some Rabbis balked at making such a false declaration
which the people might view as sincere. Faced with mounting
pressure each month, however, more and more broke down. I
remember one such man from a nearby town who came to the
weekly council meeting with his tallis and tefillin, saying he did not
need them anymore. His son's wish to learn in an advanced high
school had finally convinced him to make this move.

For those Jews who tried to adhere to their beliefs, life became
bitter. Indeed, not only were they persecuted by the authorities, but
their former co-religionists did not encourage them or even see the
point of their struggle. Whoever tried to withstand the onslaught
was told, "You are crazy. Don't you understand that the Government
and the people will not tolerate a religion? Soon they will finish you
off. Think about your life!"

In my few years, I had seen life plunge from one extreme to the
other. Through it all, though, my parents' and grandparents' faith in
G-d was undaunted. Inspired by their strength of character, I also



refused to give in to Communist pressure. After all, how could I
forsake the birthright of my Jewish heritage? My brother, sister and I
never attended the Government school. I stayed at home and
learned with my father and grandfather, while my former cheder
classmates left the religious school one by one. Eventually, none of
my former friends wanted to have anything to do with me. I was an
oddity to them.

In addition to my having no friends and dreading the future my
family was starving. The only thing that kept us alive was our
unshakable faith in G-d.





known as collectivization, whereby all profit and
economic proceeds were funneled exclusively into the needs of the
State. Private business was outlawed. It was not uncommon for
entrepreneurs to be murdered. I remember one man who was
sentenced to death for illegally selling salt. Yet even with such
deterrents, no one wanted to work without profit, and since there
was no incentive, the Russian economy floundered.

In 1922, Lenin came up with the so-called New Economic Policy.
The N.E.P. was a nine-year grace period during which people could
run their own businesses and farms; it would remain in effect until
the plan for nationwide collectivization could be properly imple-
mented. In these nine years, the economy prospered. The peasants
cultivated their lands, and trade flourished. Only religion was
oppressed. For those who did not care for religion, the nine years



were good ones. Thereafter, with collectivization, scarcity of all
products and merchandise set in.

However, even during those nine years, the Communists gradu-
ally moved in. Factories were appropriated by the Government and
new ones were built. Many people had to join these in order to make
a living.

The factories became quite a potent Communist tool in getting
the people to resign themselves to the government policies. Each
factory was run by a party secretary who kept an eye on the workers.
The secretary then passed all information to the Ministry of the
Interior or G.P.U. This Ministry, which later became the N.K.V.D.,
thus had a file on everyone where he lived, what he ate, with
whom he spoke and associated.

It was dangerous to be religious. If someone tried to keep Shab-
he would be hounded by the Yevsektzia. His fellow laborers
would find ways to make his life miserable, and the foreman, who
did not want troublesome workers, would fire him.

The factories had the undeniable advantage of providing lunch at
a time when food was scarce. The meals were not kosher, of course,
and whoever refused to eat them would camouflage the fact. How-
ever, most of the Jewish workers took advantage of the free lunch
and ate the food. After eating it at work, they became used to eating
it at home as well. At length, those Jews who transgressed Shabbos
in the factory but kept it at home were just about the most observant
who could be found.

Around this time, my father was asked a fundamental Halachic
question about keeping Shabbos under such oppressive conditions.
A certain learned Jew approached him and asked, "According to
Halachah, a Jew is permitted to transgress Shabbos if doing so will
save his life. However, a clause follows that if a decree is passed
against keeping mitzvos where the intent of the edict is to force the
Jews to give up their faith, then Halachah demands even death,
rather than transgression of any mitzvah. Rav Chazan, does this
apply to our situation? After all, in the Shulchan Arucb, Yoreh Deah
(ch. 157), the Shach comments that this ruling applies only when
the decrees are solely against the Jews. If the decree is on all the
provinces of the Kingdom, the Jews included, that is not considered



a time of forced apostasy. Here in Russia," the Jew continued,
"where the Government has instituted a six-day week, it has done
away with not only the Jewish Shabbos, but even the Sunday of the
gentiles. Since this is a decree on the whole population, shouldn't
one be allowed to transgress Shabbos in order to save oneself from
repercussions by the authorities?"

My father did not accept this supposition.

"The words of the Shach," he explained, "refer only to situations
that do not involve Chillul Hasbetn ( desecration of G-d's Name ). If
performing the forbidden action were to give rise to a Chillul
that sin retains the status of yehareg ve'al yaavor, one
must die rather than transgress. The intent of the authorities when
they did away with the Shabbos and Sunday was to wipe out the
Name and Remembrance of G-d. Is there any greater desecration of
His Name than that? We are required to let ourselves be killed rather
than to passively agree."

My father brought further proof from the episode with Nevu-
chadnezzar's idol. It had been decreed {Daniel 3:4) that "all peo-
ples and nations of every language" had to worship it. Although it
was a decree for everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike, and everyone
bowed to it, nevertheless, Chananya, Mishael and Azariah were
prepared to die rather than bow, the reason being that the decree's
sole purpose was to worship an idol, thereby desecrating Hashem's

There were, in fact, many Torah observers who arrived at the
same conclusion as that learned Jew and went to work on Shabbos.
Moreover, even in those homes where no one worked on Shabbos,
the day's holiness was marred by the children, infected as they were
with the anti-religious propaganda taught in the schools. The frus-
trated parents did not even try to counter the schools' pernicious
effects, considering it a lost battle. Even many rabbis and sons of
important families could not muster up the necessary courage to
teach their children how to say Shema Yisrael, much less to pray.

The individuals who refused to give in were rare indeed. The
spiritual fate of those who joined the factories was all too clear. But
no one was allowed to refrain from working, by decree of law. There
was, however, one occupation a Jew could teach his son that was



recognized by the officials as honest and productive. This was the
slaughtering of animals and poultry according to Jewish law. There-
fore, many G-d-fearing Jews taught their sons to be shochtim.
Although shochtim worked in abattoirs under government supervi-
sion, they were at least able to keep Shabbos.

The number of shochtim multiplied sharply between the years
1928 and 1931, until collectivization began and pressure mounted
for them to work on Shabbos. At first, these shochtim resisted, but
the pressure did not let up, and some finally gave in and publicly
slaughtered chickens on Shabbos. These chickens were, of couse,

Most shochtim continued to resist, however, and serve the ob-
servant public until the Council obliged them to hire women to
pluck off the feathers, which were greatly needed for the home
market and even for export. Some of the women working in the
store were unfortunately gentiles and would often take knives and
do the slaughtering themselves, rendering the meat treif. It thus
became increasingly difficult to determine which meat had been
properly slaughtered and which had not.

There are still places today, like Odessa and Kiev, where gentiles
come and slaughter purportedly kosher meat, together with the
shochtim. Reb Mordechai Reshkovsky, a G-d-fearing shochet from
Odessa, once told me that an old Jew came to the abattoir with a few
chickens to be "shechted." He gave them to the gentile woman, then
turned to the shochet and said, "Reb Mordechai, I live among
non-Jews and have no one with whom to speak Yiddish. Here, let
those gentiles slaughter the chickens, and we'll have a friendly chat





Communists turned their campaign against the
yeshivos. Their tactics were simple to make life as difficult and
untenable as possible. Under this pressure, Rav Yoel Shurin (the Iluy
of Zevihl), along with his family, fled to Poland. Hisyesbivab of four
hundred students disintegrated. Many other yeshivos closed as well.
Some tried to reestablish themselves in other areas.

The school of Novardok was one suchyesbwah. At first, they tried
to maintain a foothold in Russia by starting small underground
yeshivos in many towns. When it was apparent that they could not
survive, they decided to evacuate all their students to Poland en
This was in 1922, when the borders were new and poorly
guarded. The Novardokers found courageous, G-d-fearing men in
Poland who wanted to help them save these youths from the spirit-
ual destruction in Russia. As the boys were stealing across the



border, thez would sing By the Waters of Babylon ( Tehillim 137)
which bewails the captivity in Babylon, to the tune of Russian
revolutionary songs, in order to fool the border guards into thinking
they were Bolshevik soldiers. In this way, hundreds of students were

Krasnostav, which was twenty kilometers inside Russia, became
one of the stops for these youths. Boys would arrive and sleep at our
house. The next morning, horse-drawn wagons would take them
over the border, fifteen to twenty at a time. Approximately one
kilometer from the frontier, they would abandon the wagons and
continue on foot under cover of the deep red Russian sky. The
Russian soldiers thought they had come to guard the frontiers, just
as they did themselves. My father knew that if he were caught
sheltering these boys he would certainly be put to death, but the
urgency outweighed the danger.

I remember when over twenty bachurim surprised us one Sha-
eve. They stayed in my father's house both days of Yom Tov. I
was sent to gather cballos, cake and other food from the neighbors,
as it was too dangerous for the boys to step out and be seen. Danger
notwithstanding, they danced and sang all Shavuos. When the holi-
day ended, their contacts came and took them across the border.
We were not the only family who risked helping Jews escape from
Russia. Householders from other towns all along the border also
took in boys.

Several times, I begged my mother to let me join these groups, but
she replied, "Aaron, you are too young. You're only ten. Who would
take care of you in Poland? Where would you go? Wait until you are
older and then you'll be able to go." No one foresaw that in a short
time the borders would be sealed tight.

Yeshivos in Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev all closed down not long
afterwards. Many chadorim and yeshivos run by Chabad Chassidim
went underground. They were kept alive by teachers and rabbis
with great personal courage, of whose fate I will tell later.

In 1924, my sister became ill and needed medical care. My father
wrote to ask advice of his mentor in Poland, Reb Yoel. He was
advised to move to Zevihl, the district capital, approximately forty
kilometers from Krasnostav, where a good doctor could be found.



Furthermore, Reb Yoel suggested that my father be appointed as the
city's Rav. Many of Reb Yoel's students still lived there, and they
gladly welcomed my father, giving him a writ of Rabbonus.

My family moved to Zevihl at the end of the summer. Most of the
four years they were there I remained in Krasnostav, learning pri-
vately with my grandfather in order to become proficient in large
sections of Yoreh Deah and Chullin. My brother, a year and a half
younger than me, joined me every so often in these studies.

My bar-mitzvah was held in Zevihl at the beginning of 1925, and
the town's Rebbe, Reb Shloimele Goldman of whom my father
often asked advice  attended the festivities. But the spiritual life
was eclipsed by ominous signs. The Rebbe left for Palestine the
following year after a gang of boys attacked his grandson and pulled
at hispeyos. These boys had once been his classmates in the reli-
gious environment of the cheder*. It was becoming clear that there
could be no future for Judaism in Russia.

When I was fifteen, -a Lubavitcher Chassid, Reb Mordechai
Eliezer, secretly opened z yeshivah ketanah in Zevihl. He asked me
to come and encourage the students by sharing my knowledge with
them. After Pesach, a brilliant and dedicated Talmid Cbacham, Rav
Shaul Bruk, took over from Reb Mordechai as Rosh Yeshivah. We
studied in Reb Yoel's former yesbivab, which also had a shul. While
Rav Bruk lectured, we would take turns practicing precautionary
measures. One youth guarded the window facing the street to
report the approach of any Yevsek. In that event, the Rosh Yeshivah
would jump out a back window to the chicken abattoir yard, which
was nearby. He would begin sharpening his knife as if he were a
shochet. The children would pretend to be playing games or learn-
ing amongst themselves.

One day, I was reviewing my Gemara at home when an agitated
classmate knocked on my door. He reported that a well-known
Yevsek named Krupnik had entered the shul and a policeman was
now standing at the door. Fortunately, Rav Bruk was not teaching at
the time. I immediately left for the yeshivah. When I asked the
policeman to let me enter, he contemptuously moved aside. In the
study hall, I saw all fifteen students sitting around a table with open
Gemaras. Krupnik was standing next to them.



"It's good you came," he said to me. "Do you also study here?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Who is the Rav that teaches you?"

"We don't have a Rav."

"How can you study without zRav?"

"Everyone learns from his father," I said, "and when our fathers go
to work, we all come to the shul and review the Gemara. If we have
a question, we ask one of the more learned worshippers."

Satisfied with the answer, Krupnik turned to the students.

"Children," he said, "I see you are learning the chapter Hakones
Tzon Ladir
( One Who Brings Sheep into a Fold, the sixth chapter of
Bava Kama). Tell me, what practical purpose will you ever have
from this study?"

The students sat silent.

Answering for them, I said, "The purpose is that we will be careful
not to cause damage to other people."

"That can be understood by itself," he said disdainfully. "That's
basic human decency."

"Not really," I countered. "People don't always do what is decent.
For instance, when neighbors quarrel, they'll willingly sacrifice
what is morally right for what they selfishly want. It's only when we
learn from the Torah what is right, and when we appreciate its
binding, eternal nature, that we refrain from doing wrong."

"Well then," Krupnik said, "you do know how to learn. Tell me,
doesn't the Torah say that you shall incline after the majority (Tal-
mudic interpretation of Shemos 23:2)? You are only a few; why
don't you follow the majority who are not religious?"

"First of all," I said, "didn't you see the earlier clause of that verse
which states that you shall not follow a majority to do evil? Second,
you were the minority just a few years ago, and the majority were
religious. Why didn't you follow them then?"

"Because we are in the right," he said.

For another hour, Krupnik tried to influence us. His main efforts
were devoted to trying to get us to reveal the name of our teacher.
Finally acknowledging defeat, he got up and left. The Yevsektzia had
lost that battle, but they did not give up. The day finally came when
they succeeded in finding Rav Bruk giving his lecture. The youth



guarding the window was daydreaming when Krupnik suddenly
walked in.

"Aha, my dear^taf!" he exclaimed in triumph. "I've finally caught

Rav Bruk paled, but he quickly recovered himself.

"What do you mean, caught me?" he said. "This is the first time
I've been in this building. I happened to walk in here to pray and one
of the boys asked me to explain the Gemara."

The students verified his words. Krupnik, though, was not
swayed. He ordered Rav Bruk to come to the police station, where-
upon the Rav took his tallis, tefillin and a slaughtering knife.

What was he doing in Zevihl, they asked him at the station, when
his family lived in Ilena? What relationship did he have with the
students in the sbuR The Rav answered that he was presently in
Zevihl learning to be a sbochet to be able to provide for his family. As
for the children, he repeated the story he had told Krupnik. At the
end of the investigation, they recorded his statement as evidence,
and ordered him to leave the city within twenty-four hours. If he
disobeyed the order, they warned, he would be summoned to court.
But the Rav protested his innocence and did not leave town. They
brought his case to court, and he was released on bail.

After that confrontation, Rav Bruk began to give his lectures in the
attic of the shut. Its tile roof made it stifling hot inside, and just
studying required great effort. Rav Bruk gave one lecture at 9:30 and
a second one in the afternoon. He did not leave the attic the whole
time in between lectures despite the suffocating heat. After six
weeks of this, the increased vigilance of the Yevseks forced Rav Bruk
to move the yeshivah to a private house where it remained for two
months, before moving back to the shut.

Following this, my father decided that I should now learn at
home. The other children had no choice but to study under risky
conditions, he explained, but since I was legally allowed to learn
from my father, why should I endanger myself? Also, the fewer
students at the shut in Zevihl, the better it was for everyone. Shortly
afterwards, the increasing agitation against religious people in
Zevihl forced my family to move back to Krasnostav.

Up till here I have told Rav Bruk's story first hand. The remainder I


heard from other people:

In November of that year ( 1928), the court convened to hear his
case. He hired a non-Jewish attorney who believed in the sincerity of
the Rav's claim. The fact that the judges were gentiles was also
helpful. If they had been Jews, he would unquestionably have lost
his case. At the trial, Rav Bruk repeated his claim that he was
learning to be a shochet in Zevihl and showed his contract from the
abattoir. His sentence was unusually light, three months conditional

Despite the apparent victory, the trial attracted unwanted public-
ity to theyesbivab. Studying there became more and more difficult.
The gabbaim of the sbul refused to allow them in, fearing that if the
yesbivah were discovered, they would be harshly punished. In the
end, the Rav decided to use an abandoned sbul on the outskirts of
the city, but there, too, they were not left in peace.

In January, Rav Bruk was caught teaching and was brought to the
police station where his case was reopened. He had to sign an
injunction not to leave the city until his case came up in court. For
the moment, though, he was free.

He saw that he could not continue his regular lectures, so it was
decided that one of the older bacburim would teach the youngest
class. A few times, the bachur was caught with his students, but
because he was so young, no one suspected that he was the teacher.
As for the highest class, the Rav would supervise the lessons from
outside the yeshivab and give his sbiur in a private house at night.

Since the danger was mounting, it was decided that theyesbivab
could not remain in Zevihl. Rav Bruk broke his injunction, and
traveled secretly to Constantine, where he contacted teachers of
the religious community, asking for their support. They agreed to
help, and after Pesach of 1928 the yesbivab moved to Constantine.
The Yevsektzia of Constantine was no better, though. After a few
months, they caught wind of Rav Bruk's situation and began to track
the students down. Rav Bruk was taken back to Zevihl.

When Rav Bruk's case came up after Pesacb of 1929, he was
sentenced to nine months of labor, followed by confinement in his
home town of Ilena. He protested, appealing to the district court in
Zhitomir, which rejected his appeal. He then turned to the High




Court in Kharkov, which also upheld the verdict. He was allowed,
though, to choose the city in which he would serve out his sentence
under supervision of the police. The Rav decided to stay with his
people in Zevihl. His forced labor was cleaning the streets of the
city, which turned out to be easy work. An added advantage was that
he could do it in the early morning hours and have the rest of the day
to himself.

Rav Bruk continued to study every day with three youths who
remained in Zevihl. One of them eventually joined the Chabad
Yeshivah in Kiev. The other two were brothers whose parents were
murdered in the pogroms. The younger one eventually succumbed
to the influence of Communism. The elder, Yaakov Shatz, remained
with his Rebbe. In time, he married Rav Bruk's daughter and settled
with her in Moscow. In 1937, during the terrible Stalin purges, he
was arrested together with all the Chabad and Breslover Cbassidim.
It was routine to sentence such prisoners to ten years "isolation,"
but in fact, they were nearly all murdered in prison. With his death,
the last trace of the yesbivah in Zevihl disappeared.

This yeshivah had been started in the early 1920s. When the
Communists started to persecute religion and all chadorim were
closed, Rabbeim were afraid to teach children because the Yevsekt-
zia was familiar with each and every one of them. Reb Shloime of
Zevihl, the great tzaddik, was ready to give his life to save Judaism,
and so he organized a school in his house with about thirty children,
mostly orphans. Among these children were four youths from Belo-
Tzerkov, Naftali, Yosef, Zvi and Yitzchak, whose fathers had been
murdered by Petlura and his bands. There were also two orphans,
brothers from Beresdiv, whose names were Yaakov and Moshe.

In 1926, the persecutions got still worse. Reb Shloime left for
Eretz Yisrael with his wife and eldest grandson. When he arrived in
Jerusalem he did not declare who he was. However, inevitably ajew
who came from America identified him as the Rebbe Reb Shloim-
kella, from which time onward he had a great following, and the line
is still going strong.

The Rebbe's son and his family remained in Russia. The school-
children remained alone is Zevihl as sheep without a shepherd. As
their love for G-d was very strong, they did not want to go to the

Russian schools. They searched for a place where they could remain
observantjews. In time, some of the children succumbed to Com-
munism. The others heard that in Oman, near Kiev, where the Rabbi
of Breslov was buried, there was a settlement of Breslover Cbassi-
Those Cbassidim were concentrated in two streets. They were
not influenced by the times; their children did not go to the Russian
schools, and in general, they somehow continued their Jewish

Three of the six orphans mentioned above went and remained
there until the beginning of the collectivization in 1929-1930. From
those three, two are still alive; Naftali who is now living in Jerusalem,
and Yosef, still in Kharkov, both religious Chassidim. Yitzchak and
the orphans from Beresdiv remained in Zevihl. Those three children
were the first students of Rav Bruk when he arrived in Zevihl. When
the Yevsekuia got word of this yeshivab, Krupnik took away the
youngest one, Moshe, who was consequently influenced and lost to
assimilation. Yitzchak, under the influence of Rav Bruk, went to Kiev
to the Chabad Yeshivah. The last one, Yaakov Shatz, remained with
Rav Bruk and as mentioned above, married his daughter. He was
executed in 1938 during the purges, together with many other
Chabad Chassidim and about thirty Breslover Chassidim from


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