By Dovid Zaklikowski
Photos: Dovid Zaklikowski, Kestenbaum & Company and Lubavitch Archives
Documents, old books and artwork stand in bookshelves and lie stacked on desks and tables in four rooms of auctioneers Kestenbaum & Company’s midtown Manhattan offices.
The company’s chairman, Daniel Kestenbaum, holding the Sam Kramer Archive, exudes energy and knowledge of Jewish history.
“This is Chabad history,” he says. “Once this is sold, who knows where the items will go? Lubavitchers should have access to their history.”
Kestenbaum laments the fact that Chabadniks seem to take little interest in historical documents related to the movement. “Most of the Chabad lots are sold to non-Lubavitchers,” he says.
The Kramer Archive documents Chabad’s activities in the United States in the early 1940s, a tumultuous time when the movement’s future seemed to be in jeopardy.
Many of the central figures of the Chabad community were stranded in Europe, headed towards destruction with the rest of European Jewry. While the Rebbe was understandably sympathetic towards his own followers, the documents show his care for those not directly in his sphere of influence as well.
The familiar giants of Chabad lore appear in the documents and letters—Reb Mottel “Mordhuchs” Cheifetz, Mordechai Dubin, Reb Itche der Masmid, Isaac Gurevitcs and Reb Yoel “Joel” Kahn—but the archive also includes non-Chabad figures, such as the Amshinover Rebbe, “Szymon Kalisz,” and the Gerrer Rebbe, the Sfas Emes.
Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary, known as the Rashag, spearheaded the Rebbe’s efforts to save Jews in Europe. He was then the chairman of the Executive Committee of Agudas Chasidei Chabad and the United Lubavitcher Yeshivoth, the two central organizations of Chabad in the United States.
The archive documents a flurry of letters and meetings between the Rashag and American government officials who were at first reluctant and later refused to allow European Jews into the United States.
“In view of the fact that there are many rabbis and worthy laymen, as well as a great part of our Talmud students for whom we must procure visas because conditions abroad are now very bad and critical, and it is verily a matter of saving their lives, I therefore wish to bring the following very important matter to your careful consideration,” the Rashag wrote to Mr. Sam Kramer, in the first of a long correspondence to save European Jewry.
The patriarch of the Kramer family, Rabbi Moshe Eliezer “Morris” Kramer was the founder of Agudas Chasidei Chabad in the United States in the year 1924.
Following his passing shortly thereafter, his children became the financial pillars of Chabad in the United States, enabling the Frierdiker Rebbe’s efforts to rescue Jews from Europe and supporting the Lubavitch yeshivahs.
They were involved in the Frierdiker Rebbe’s visit to the United States in 1929. The youngest Kramer sibling, Sam Kramer, a distinguished attorney, during WWII led the effort to assist the Frierdiker Rebbe’s escape war-torn Europe. As seen in this correspondence, he continued his efforts on behalf of European Jewry together with Chabad.
The correspondence includes such vignettes as the Rashag advising that the students of the Otwock yeshivah should not be connected to Chabad while arranging their travels through the Soviet Union to Shanghai.
“Kindly note that we must be very careful when going to get the Russian visas, and that nothing should be said that these students have any connection with Rabbi Schneersohn or Chabad, for this information is not advisable for Russia and it would bring much harm to these students,” he wrote.
Kestenbaum admits that the correspondence in the archive would not have much interest for most, and he doesn’t expect it to sell. But a small black notebook included in the archive will bring in more than its $18,000 list price, he predicts.
The notebook contains the detailed records of the daily financial activities of the Frierdiker Rebbe during his first year in the United States, and it provides a glimpse into how Chabad functioned during those crucial months. The records, handwritten by the Rebbe, include donations and expenses.
Payments for staying at the Greystone Hotel, the trip to Lakewood, purchasing 770 Eastern Parkway and paying lawyers’ fees for efforts on behalf of European Jewry are all noted.
Of particular interest are the entries entitled ezer, assistance to organizations unaffiliated with Chabad, such as Rabbi Breuer’s mikvah in Washington Heights, the students of the Mir yeshivah, Ezras Vilna and the Yitzchak Elchanan yeshivah.
Famed expert on Jewish manuscripts Rabbi Eliezer Katzman says that the notebook holds great importance. “It shows how the Rebbe was careful with all the goings and comings of the tzedakah that he administered.”
Kestenbaum says that the notebook still needs to be studied: “A detailed study of this record book will reveal much original insight relating to the Frierdiker Rebbe.”
The auction will take place on June 23rd, for more information visit https://kestenbaum.net
Other lots of Chabad interest
LOT: 51 (CHASSIDISM). Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Tanya – Likutei Amarim. Second edition. Title within typographical border. With the haskamoth of R. Zevi Hirsch Meisels of Zolkiew and R. Isaac Samson of Cracow. ff. (3), 2-74. Some staining. Later calf-backed boards. 8vo. Vinograd, Zolkiew 545; Mondschein, Tanya Bibliography (1981), pp. 36-43, no. 2; Stefansky, Chassiduth no. 623.
LOT: 235 (LUBAVITCH) (Yeshivath Torath Emeth, Jerusalem). Correspondence from the administrators of the Yeshiva R. Alter Simchavitz and R. Chanoch Hendel Havlin, almost all written to R. Yisroel Jacobson. Pertains to the activities of the Yeshiva, the health of the Rebbe and the Mashpia and varied financial concerns. c. 40 pages.
LOT: 237 SCHNEERSON, YOSEF YITZCHAK (Sixth Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, 1880-1950). Typed Letter Signed, in Hebrew, on personal letterhead, written to R. Chaim Zalman Kramer and R. Yekuthiel (Sam) Kramer concerning activities to raise funds for Russian Jews; utilizing the Ezrath Achim organization in Tel Aviv to seek visas and travel papers for rabbis to leave the Soviet Union and move to Eretz Israel. One page. With stamped envelope with a Warsaw address.
LOT: 238 SCHNEERSON, JOSEPH ISAAC. (RaYaTz. Sixth Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, 1880-1950). Autograph Letter Signed, written in Hebrew to “Anshei Shlomeinu” and “Temimim,” upon the third anniversary of the death of his father, the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch, R. Sholom DovBer Schneersohn (The Rashab). A heartfelt call concerning his father’s final instructions, encouraging his followers to unite and fully imbue their lives with Chassiduth. Written in purple ink, signed in black ink. Two pages. Folio.
LOT: 239 SCHNEERSON, YOSEF YITZCHAK (Sixth Grand Rabbi of Lubavitch, 1880-1950). Typed Letter Signed, in Yiddish, on personal letterhead, written to R. Yekuthiel (Sam) Kramer concerning activities to strengthen religion among Jewish youth. Three pages.
LOT: 240 SCHNEERSON, YOSEF YITZCHAK AND MENACHEM MENDEL (Sixth and seventh Grand Rabbis of Lubavitch). A Collection of miscellaneous manuscript and printed material pertaining to the Lubavitcher Rebbes and history of Chabad. Including: R. Dov Nissan Bezpalov. Autograph Letter Signed to R. Israel Jacobson. Concerning the Rebbe’s activities in Otwock. Warsaw, 24th Elul, 1937.
* Two Typed Letters: “Enclosed find your admission ticket for the special reception which will admit you to the specially reserved section on Pier 97 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe arrives in New York. 7th Adar Beith, 1940.
* Hebrew and English Placards welcoming the arrival of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1929/1940).
* Various letters and material pertaining to meetings and activities of Agudath Chassidei Chabad, Machne Israel and Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, 1936-41. * Writing of Sepher Torah for reception of the Messiah, 1942.
* Israel Jacobson. Autograph Letter to the Rebbe. Concerning Beth Rivka of Brownsville and East New York and asking if the Rama’sh can assist in the education of the girls. (1943 unsent?).
* Photographs taken of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by R. Shmuel Schrage (founder of the Crown Heights protection group “the Maccabees”). 10th Shevat 1959.
* Citizenship papers and plaques pertaining to Sam Kramer and family.
* Three original drawings of Chassidic Rabbis by David Abramowitz. Lodz, 1938-39.
* Printed books: Ma’amarei Chassiduth, Riga, 1931. M. Indritz, In die Getzelten fun Chabad. Chicago, 1927. Hatamim, 1938.
* Manuscript: Ma’amarei Chassiduth Babroisk, 1902-08, plus other manuscript material pertaining to Tephilah (10 leaves), leaf with signature of R. Yehudah Leib Schneersohn of Homel. Title page of Moshe Nechemia Kahanov of Chaslawitz, Nesivoth Hashalom, Warsaw, 1877 with signature “Yitzchak Duber” (R. Yitzchak DovBer Schneersohn of Liadi). Including c. 50 pages, 25 photographs, misc. manuscript and printed texts.