Note: The 12th of Tammuz is the anniversary of the liberation of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn from his exile in Soviet Russia in 1927. The Rebbe was arrested in June of that year by agents of the Yevsektzia (the "Jewish Section" of the Communist party) and the GPU (forerunner of the KGB) because of his work to preserve Judaism throughout the Soviet Empire. The Rebbe was sentenced to death, for his "counter-revolutionary" activities, but a miraculous confluence of events forced the Soviets to commute it, and then to release him altogether.
The full account of the Rebbe's arrest and liberation can be found here.
The following is a translation of an excerpt from the Rebbe's diary (written several months before his arrest and printed as an appendix to "The Heroic Struggle"), in which he describes how (on an earlier occasion) he was saved by Divine Providence from the hands of four GPU thugs. While traveling by train to Moscow, in order to meet with various Rabbis and philanthropists to plan and budget further efforts for the upkeep of Yidishkeit in the face of soviet oppression, the Rebbe happened to meet a high ranking member of the Soviet Secret Police through whom his salvation would be effected mere days later.
…at one of the stations we stopped for an hour due to a major search of five cars in which 12 people were arrested-and instead of 9 o'clock, we would arrive in Moscow no earlier than 930. For about an hour and a quarter I wrote the ma'amar, and the attendant came again, sent by my neighbor, who was requesting permission to enter and make my acquaintance. Though I was greatly averse to the idea, I could not refuse him, and I said I would organize and stow my belongings. Then I would announce that he might enter.
The man entered and said, "My name is Mark Saminovitch Bashkov."
He was the chairman of the Sovnorkom in the city of Tsheliabinsky, and a member of the general U.G.P.O. What surprised me was that he entered with his hat on.
Me: My name isYosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.
He: Your title?
He: All Jews are "Yidden," what kind of a title is that?
Me: So it is, every Jew is a Jew, and that alone is their true title. It is never lost or replaced by others. If someone bearing an ordinary title commits a crime, he loses it. But even the sinner does not lose the title 'yew," as it says, "a Jew, although he has sinned, is still a Jew” since his essential spark of Jewishness is eternal. But there are various levels in this: there are some who merely love their nation, honor Jewish wisdom, honor the Jewish Torah, cherish G-d's commandments, and cherish Jewish customs; and there is also one who is prepared to literally sacrifice himself for the fulfillment of a single Jewish custom, and surely for a positive commandment or to prevent the violation of a negative commandment. All of this is a direct effect of the essential spark of Jewishness, but the person's education and various life experiences are crucial in revealing it.
The attendant announced that in several moments the train would arrive at the Moscow station.
He: I was born in Arsha in the Mohilev region. I would very much like to make your acquaintance more closely.
He said that for two or three days he would be very busy, and on the third day he would be freed from his work. If I would still be in Moscow he wished to visit me, and if I was travelling home to Leningrad he would come there specifically to meet with me, for he honored his parents' memory and his elderly father. They and their entire families were Lubavitcher chassidim, and the Lubavitcher Rebbes' names did not cease from their mouths, as was also true of his grandparents. His paternal grandfather's parents and his maternal grandfather were already travelling to Lubavitch one hundred years ago.
"Tell me," he finished, "in what hotel are you staying in Moscow?"
Me: Stara Varvarskaya.
He: Thank you. Be well, and much success.
The train arrived 35 minutes late. I was still impressed by the meeting with the chairman of the Tsheliabinsky Sovnovkom - especially because he was a member of U.G.P.O., which is feared by all citizens of the country, whatever their rank. Moreover, the executive officer of U.G.P.O. is Menzshinsky, who is known as a very serious person who demands truth, and he himself is from a chassidic family in Arsha. The Lubavitcher Rebbes' names also did not cease from their mouths or their forefathers, for they also went to Lubavitch 100 years ago.
My meeting with Bashkov was not mere chance-even a single straw blowing in the marketplace, as our Rebbe the Baal Shem Tov says, is by Divine Providence. G-d himself takes the wind from his "storehouse" to move the straw from side to side or from place to place. All of this is a link in the chain of G-d's blessed will, and how much more so in an event like this.
My wisdom is inadequate to understand the lesson of this Divine Providence, but the incident in general strengthens my assertion that it is only the Yevsektzia youth who disrupt religion and destroy religious institutions. It is all their doing...
After several close calls including a secretive escape in the middle of the night via the Hotel kitchen, the Rebbe prepared for his meeting with Bashkov:
...I left covertly, and I went to Novi Rodi, which is in Kremlin Square, and bought fruit. I went to the hotel and ordered hot water with tea and honey, and then I waited to receive the son and grandson of Chassidim: Mark Saminovitch Bashkov--chairman of the Tcheliabinsky Sovnorkom and member of U.G.P.O.--to chat about his memories. Moments after 7:30, Mark Saminovitch entered, hat in hand.
I asked him to sit and he inquired as to my health and said that if I had time for him, he would be free till 9:30. He would then have to leave for a meeting scheduled at ten, and the next day he would be travelling to Tcheliabinsk.
Me: I have arranged my schedule so that I will have adequate time.
It was very significant to me to hear his family recollections of years past, which were intertwined with my own family history and religious traditions that were then being uprooted from their source without logic or reason.
He spoke at length about his travels as a member of the G.P.U. to visit various cities until he was designated to a high position.
Suddenly the door opened, the official Kratov and three youths entered with him, one of them in a police uniform. All of them, aside from Kratov, had guns in their hands. Kratov, in a rage, called out: "Citizen Schneersohn, you are under arrest. Do not move from your place. If you do, they will shoot you and you will be to blame for you own death. Tell us where your luggage is so that we can search it. "Garshka," he said to one of his deputies, "close the door."
Bashkov sat staring; though his face reddened he did not utter a word. Already accustomed to searches and to the investigators constantly saying things designed to induce fear, I sat placidly and answered, "The small suitcase is there, and the large one is next to my bed behind the partition between the living room and the bedroom."
Kratov commanded his assistants to search, sat on one of the chairs, and related how he had beaten Jewish Rabbis and teachers, knocking out their teeth and destroying their eyes. In his birthplace, the city of Amitzlav in the region of Mohilev, there were two rabbis. One was 75 or 80 years old and the other one about 50. He had harnessed both of them to a wagon of refuse from the stable of Kuzma the shoemaker, ordering them to pull it. The older Rabbi stumbled, fell to the ground, breaking his hand and foot, and died on that very day. The other Rabbi pulled the wagon and threw up, falling to the ground. Kratov said, "I honored him with a kick, and he rolled over with an outcry of great pain. After two days he also died."
His comrades scattered my clothing about, searched in the pockets of the garments and shuffled the pages of my books. They placed the writings on the table, and Kratov commanded me to stand. He searched the pockets of my clothing, placing everything on the table, and said, "We atheists and communist youth will destroy the fanatic Jews, the Rabbis and teachers and those like them; we will totally eradicate them, leaving no trace. You, too, Citizen Schneersohn, will share their lot. There are two possibilities, either to the wall, that is to be shot by the firing squad, or to the exile region of Solovaki where you will rot!"
After concluding the search of my pockets, he turned to Bashkov saying: "And now, Comrade, stand and we will also search you. Perhaps--or certainly--you are an emissary of Citizen Schneersohn to build mikvaot (ritual baths) or to organize childrens Torah classes to support the counter-revolutionaries, the Rabbis, teachers, and their colleagues from the Black Hundreds."
Bashkov (coldly and deliberately): Comrades, it appears that Citizen Schneersohn is not knowledgeable in the law of the land, but you are most assuredly apprised of the legal requirements, (he cited the chapter and the section of the law:) Anyone who makes visits to conduct searches, whether from the police, the G.P.U. or U.G.P.O., must show his identification with his picture attesting to his identity. Moreover, he needs to show a more specific document--a Warrant--for his activity conducting searches in the dwelling of such-and-such a person, and if he finds something relevant to his search he can arrest whomever he wants; he has that permission. This document needs to be sealed with the stamp of the agency that assigned the search to him. And therefore, show me your documents, and I will know who you are.
Kratov exploded in rage and began to shout: "I am a member of the Yevsektzia appointed by ____ (he named one of the agencies, but I dont remember which one). I am responsible for the surveillance of this hotel, overseeing its officials, orderlies, guests and all those visiting. A nobody comes from the street, a glutton, look"--he pointed with his finger to the table of fruit--"a bourgeois glutton." He ridiculed Bashkov: "And this dog also demands to see my documents! Stand and let me search your pockets. If not, I will deal you a blow that will disfigure your face. Pig, son of a dog! Comrades, let us commence our task. It looks like we have caught a fat fish in our net." He placed his hand on Bashkovs shoulder, commenting, "We will find a place for you also in the dungeons of the clinic on Lubyanka Street."
Bashkov: I demand obedience to the law.
Kratov and his associates laughed derisively and approached Bashkov. Abruptly, Bashkov rose in anger, removed his hat from his head and said a single word in a loud voice, the meaning of which I did not know, taking his identification from his pocket.
Kratovs face turned white. They all recoiled and stood like blocks of wood, petrified as if thunderstruck.
Bashkov (to Kratov): Come here and show me your identification.
Kratov (in a trembling voice): It is in the desk of the hotel office.
Bashkov: Go and bring it.
He then commanded the others to approach in order and display their identification. He made a notation in his book and then inquired for the search warrant. They answered that they did not have one but that Kratov surely did. He informed them that they could leave and that tomorrow they were to appear in the U.G.P.O. office to see the investigator, Comrade Yarmulov.
Kratov presented his identification.
Bashkov: Where is the search warrant?
Kratov: I have no such document. I acted on my own judgement due to my responsibility over the hotel guests. I suspected Citizen Schneersohn of being a counter-revolutionary, and so I was allowed to conduct a search.
Bashkov: Fine, tomorrow morning come to the G.P.U. office to investigator Yarmulov. He will explain to you the laws regarding investigations and searches. He will also teach you the proper way to address people.
Kratov stood to plead for mercy.
Bashkov: I must conclude my conversation with Comrade Schneersohn. Do not detain me, for I must leave in a few minutes.
Bashkov apologized for the incident and said that it was caused by the wild youth, impetuous and displaying inadequate self-discipline. He assured me that they would never dare to do this again.
Me: This will not improve the situation; it is common knowledge that the harassment is from the Yevsektzia, overwhelmingly consisting of hot-headed youths, impulsive in their actions.
Bashkov requested of me that should this recur, I should contact him at his residence at the address he had given to me. He left. I closed the door of my room and recited the evening prayers. I reflected on Divine Providence, perceiving with my own eyes actual Divine intervention.