Many young Jewish men were saved from being enlisted into the ruthless Russian army by the efforts of a fearless young Jewish woman. She befriended a Russian woman working in the NKVD, the Russian secret police, who supplied her with blank Polish passports. These were filled out for the Jewish men who now appeared as Polish citizens. Once the passports were officially stamped, the person owning it would not be enlisted.
Eventually many used these passports to enable them to leave Russia. Because her
friend trusted her, she was able to save hundreds of Jewish men. After she
got married, she decided it was too dangerous to continue this ‘business’ and
was thinking about giving it over to someone else. She consulted with one of
the respected Chassidim living at the time in Samarkand. His response was
clear and succinct. Reb Nisan Nemenov told her, “beshum oifen nit… ich ben
dir maftiach az es vet nit shaten.” – Absolutely not… I promise you that no
harm will befall you. “An elterer chosid zokt darf men folgen”, was ingrained in
the Chassidim of yore.… – When an elder Chasid tells you to do something,
you listen. Reb Nisan understood that she was the one who was trusted by
the Russian officer; if she would quit, G-d forbid, many young men’s lives
would be endangered. This ruse continued for a while longer, until one time,
her friend told her secretly, “Do not come back again. They are looking for
you.” Hearing these words, her husband quickly made plans to leave Russia.
Thankfully, he was able to ‘purchase’ Polish passports of refugees who had
unfortunately died in Russia. Their name now became Langsam to match their
new passports and within a short time the couple left Russia for freedom. On
January 1 st , 1947, they landed in America and settled in Brooklyn, New York.
Now please read on.
A Chanukah miracle. By Shmuel Langsam
In the early 1950’s, I was a young child growing up in the Crown Heights
section of Brooklyn, New York.
My mother, Esther Langsam*, wasn’t feeling well. She went to one doctor
after another. She finally went to a big specialist in Manhattan and he told her,
“You have the dreaded C disease.”
In those years (1952) there was no cure for it. The doctor told her, “Go home,
enjoy your kids for the next couple of weeks or months and that’s it, because
there is nothing else medically we can do for you.”
Esther was devastated when she heard these words. She thought to herself,
“What will I accomplish if I go home? It would be better for me to go speak to
the Rebbe and ask for a blessing.”
She took the train to 770 Eastern Parkway (the main Chabad synagogue and
headquarters, and where the Rebbe would see people in a special room
called the Yechidut room). When she came into 770, she headed for the office
where she met Rabbi Chadokov, the Rebbe’s secretary. She told him, “I have
to speak to the Rebbe right away.”
Rabbi Chadokov answered her, “Sorry, it’s impossible; there is a line. Maybe
in three months, but now, for sure not. In any case, during the day, the Rebbe
doesn’t have Yechidut (private audience), only at night. And in any case, it’s
Chanukah and there isn’t any Yechidut scheduled during Chanukah.”
Esther was not put off. She said to Rabbi Chadokov, “I don’t have a couple of
months to wait! I need to see the Rebbe today!”
Rabbi Chadokov replied, “I am going into the Rebbe’s room before mincha
(the afternoon prayer). Write what you need, and I will give it to the Rebbe.”
But she felt she needed to speak to the Rebbe in person.
So, she answered cleverly, “In Szlobin where I grew up, there wasn’t a Bais
Rivkah (the Lubavitch girls’ school), so I didn’t go to Bais Rivkah, and I didn’t
learn to write in Hebrew.”
Rabbi Chadokov told her, “The Rebbe knows Russian. You can write in
She answered, “No, I couldn’t do that! To the Rebbe, one needs to write in
Hebrew, in the holy tongue!” For a while it went back and forth, until Rabbi
Chadokov said to her, “You see here in this room, there is a bochur (a young
Yeshiva student), Leibel Groner, go over to him and he will write it up for you
She went over to Rabbi Groner, who had been privy to the whole exchange.
He saw the tension building up in the woman. When she repeated to Rabbi
Groner, “I must see the Rebbe – it’s a matter of life…”, he felt sorry for her and
suggested, “Write in Russian and tell the Rebbe that it’s very important and
you are asking to see the Rebbe for two three minutes,” and let’s see what
She did just that and gave the letter she wrote in Russian to Rabbi Chadokov
and he took the letter to the Rebbe.
When the Rebbe read it, he told the secretary that after mincha I will speak to
In Russia, Esther was involved in making false Polish passports to save
young Jewish men from the army. She was fearless. To the Russians, she
was a wanted woman, so she kept changing her name. Seven eight years
after she left Russia, the communists were still looking for her. She heard this
from a Chasid who made it out of Russia. He had been imprisoned on false
charges and while there, he was told that they would lighten his sentence in jail if he tells them what her alias is now. This happened when she was
already in America!
Some years later, when the doors of the former Soviet Union opened, Esther
had the opportunity to bring her sister and family out of Russia as part of a
deal of unification of families. She was concerned about using her maiden
name and asked the Rebbe’s advice and blessing. The Rebbe responded to
her that she should send in the documents with her name and not to worry.
“That was before; but now they already forgot about it,” the Rebbe assured
her. Thank G-d, her sister and family were able to emigrate and the family
After mincha, she waited for the Rebbe close to the entrance of his room as
she had been instructed. When the Rebbe came to his room, following
mincha, he remained standing by the door. She told him what the doctor said.
The Rebbe looked at her lovingly and responded, “ich der ken aich nisht fun
Samarkand” (I don’t recognize you from Samarkand – though the Rebbe had
not lived in Samarkand, he was aware of the dangerous things she did there
fearlessly and now what the doctor said put her in a frenzy.) The Rebbe
continued, “Geit aheim git di kinder Chanukah gelt, macht latkes un fargest
vos der doctor hut gezagt “ – Listen to what I am telling you, the Rebbe said to
her, “Go home, give the children Chanukah gelt and make latkes for them.
Forget what the doctor said!”
And what about the illness? Rabbi Langsam concludes, “We never heard
about this illness again. My mother lived for forty years after that!”
As seen on chabad.org from an interview with JEM – Jewish Educational
Media Disc 200 Program 798
With additional information from Rabbi Shmuel Langsam.
*Esther Langsam a’h B. 5 th Chanukah candle 5681 (1920) D. 16 th Kislev 5757
(1996). This Chanukah would be Esther’s a’h 100 th birthday! May she be a
good interceeder for her family and all Israel.
Some additional notes:
Mrs. Esther Langsam, of blessed memory, was the sister of Rabbi Mottel
Shusterman, a’h, the baal koreh – the outstanding Torah reader in 770, the
Rebbe’s shul, for many years.
Rabbi Langsam adds: “My mother was a tzadekes (righteous woman). She
did not do this for money. She met this Russian woman officer who worked in
the NKVD in Samarkand where a large group of Lubavitch families had fled in
the beginning of WWII. She made up to pay her and she would give her blank
ID cards which she would fill in and they would be stamped officially as Polish
passports. In this way many young Jewish men were saved from the notorious
Russian army. Mother was in contact with the famous Muma Sara before she
left Russia. They would consult and discuss about people who needed to be
helped.” (Sara Katzenellenbogen is our grandmother – my father’s mother, of
blessed memory, who was very involved in helping many Jewish people leave
Russia a few years later when a window of opportunity came up. For this
endeavor passports of deceased Polish citizens were used by the Russian
families who could thus leave Russia after the war was over.)
Mother married on 5th Shevat, 5705 -1945, in Samarkand to Yechezkel Gavartin.
They changed their name to Langsam when they had to flee Russia. They left Russia
towards the end of 1946, going through Czechoslovakia. For Chanukah of that year
my father and mother were invited to London, England, to the home of Rabbi
Yerachamiel Binyaminson, a Lubavitcher rav, who felt indebted to my grandfather for
enabling him to become the rav of their city in Russia. He left Russia some years
before for medical reasons and settled in London, England. After Chanukah, my
parents continued on their journey, and arrived in America on January 1st, 1947.
Because it was a national holiday, they disembarked the next day, which was Asarah
B’Teves. At first, they settled in Williamsburg, then moved to East New York, and
eventually settled in Crown Heights. They raised a wonderful Chassidic family. Our
mother was an inspiration to the family.