Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Last week concerned transcripts of NKVD arrest warrants and interrogations of four Jews arrested in Chernigov, Ukraine, on March 8, 1939: my mother’s father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1874-1939), rav of Repka and later Chernigov; his nephew Reb Levi Yitzchok Schneerson (1889-1943); Reb Shmuel Shulman, a shochet; and Rabbi Gavriel Kagan (1889-1972), a prominent Chabad chassid who served as shammes at Chernigov’s only remaining shul.

The transcripts were obtained by Reb L.Y. Schneerson’s daughter, Margolia Schneerson. Her father’s arrest warrant, as a “preventive measure to avoid his escape,” reads:

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“Schneerson, Levik…a Jew, non-partisan, literate, working as a butcher [shochet]…is a member of an anti-Soviet clerical organization and…of an illegal charity society closely associated with Tzaddik Schneersohn [the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe], a cousin who immigrated abroad in 1929 [actually 1927], from whom he receives large sums of money for carrying out anti-Soviet work in the USSR.

“Schneerson, Levik, being a religious fanatic, graduated from the illegal yeshivos school and is conducting anti-Soviet agitation among the Jewish population. In order to spread the religion, Schneerson, Levik, as a former religious butcher at the synagogue, was appointed by Rabbi Schneerson, Mendel [his uncle], and Kogan, Gabriel, as bird [shochet] in a poultry slaughterhouse…”

The arrest warrant for my grandfather, Rabbi Mendel Schneerson, and Rabbi Gavriel Kagan, reads: “To raise the spirit of believing Jews, M.L. Schneerson and Kogan, G.Sh., created at the synagogue an illegal yeshivos school where young people were recruited and brought up in religious nationalist spirit, and also appealed to believers to educate their children so that they remember they are Jews by origin and not to allow anti-religious influence on them….

“Schneerson, Mendel, and Kogan, in order to provide Jewish believers with kosher meat, arranged for the former religious bird butchers, Shulman and Schneerson, Levik, [to work] at the poultry slaughterhouses. In addition, Schneerson and Kogan are trying to organize a matzah bakery in Chernigov, where it will be possible to group Jewish believers and carry out anti-Soviet propaganda activities.”

The arrest warrant for Shmuel Shulman reads, in part: “In the past, a bird cutter [shochet] at the synagogue, now, on the instructions of Rabbi Mendel Schneerson and Kogan, Gabriel, got a job…at a poultry slaughterhouse, where he cuts a bird for believing Jews in compliance with all religious rites. Shulman, dissatisfied with the existing regime, is conducting anti-Soviet agitation among religious Jews. Referring to pogroms in Germany, he said, ‘And what’s happening here? In Germany synagogues were burned, but from us they were confiscated.’”

The arrest warrant for Gavriel Kagan reads in part: “A religious fanatic, graduated from an illegal yeshivos school in the town of Nevel, conducts anti-Soviet agitation among Jewish believers, organized an illegal yeshivos school in Chenigov, which attracts Jewish youth. Kogan was involved in especially extensive activities to involve young people in the synagogue and education in religious fanaticism.

“He often delivered nationalist sermons in which he stated: ‘Arouse the holiness of religion in the hearts of the young generation. Give the youth the idea not to forget religion, and that the persecution of religion is a temporary phenomenon, as is its [Soviet] persecutor, which is only temporary.’”

In the Marxist Soviet paradise, even slaughtering poultry according to Jewish law or baking matzos for Pesach were considered “anti-Soviet activities.” Teaching Torah, particularly to young people, was a serious crime.

The interrogations of these four individuals continued until the end of August.

(To be continued)

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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the central Lubavitch Youth Organization and a weekly columnist for The Jewish Press.