A new book titled “The Partisan,”
The Rebbe referred to Reb Zushe Wilmowsky affectionately as “mein partisan,” and indeed, Reb Zushe tackled each task like a partisan. Although he had no tanks or air force at his disposal—i.e., funds or employees—he dove into each challenge with vigor and perseverance, never deterred by the physical limitations.
During World War II, he escaped a labor camp and joined Tuvia Bielsky’s band of partisans, where he remained optimistic and joyful even as their lives were threatened daily. He carried that spirit of determination and persistence with him for the rest of his life.
When the war ended, his tribulations did not. He managed to escape from Russia and sneak into Romania. From there he made his way to a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Italy, and finally to the shores of Israel.
He was among the temimim who fought the missionaries, saving generations of future Yidden. He also opened a much-needed Chabad yeshiva in Lod, educating thousands of children of chassidim and Yemenite immigrant Jews.
At the Rebbe’s behest, he co-founded the Reshet Oholei Yosef Yitzchak network of schools, established N’shei Chabad in Israel, distributed sifrei Chassidus to litvishe yeshivos, and moved mountains to establish the village of Kfar Chabad.
The biography about his life titled “The Partisan” says Reb Zushe devoted his entire life, right until his untimely passing, to fulfilling the Rebbe’s shlichus. The book was translated to Enlish and was published by BSD Publishers.
Presented here is one of the chapters of the book:
Close Connection with President Shazar
“Nu, so now it won’t be easy to reach you,” Reb Zushe said to Shneur Zalman Shazar four days before he was elected president of Israel.
“Why not?” wondered Shazar.
“There will be armed guards at the door,” Reb Zushe smiled.
“Can the police actually stop you?!” Shazar retorted playfully, well aware that Reb Zushe could not be deterred from accomplishing anything he set his mind to.
(Excerpted from Panim El Panim newspaper)
Born to a Lubavitcher family, Shazar developed a close relationship with the Rebbe during his years as a top Jewish Agency official—a relationship which continued after he became president, and encompassed numerous letters, important directives, and a few widely-reported visits.
Reb Zushe first met Shazar when he was trying to obtain government accreditation for the Reshet schools. The Rebbe instructed him to reach out to Shazar, who was the director of the Department of Education in the Jewish Agency at the time (see chapter 9).
The Yossele Schumacher Affair
One of Shazar’s first acts as president was to pardon a number of prisoners, including Reb Sholom Stroks, uncle of the famous Yossele Schumacher.
The Yossele Schumacher affair began when Alter and Eda Schumacher, who had emigrated from the Soviet Union, fell on hard times. They had no choice but to ask her parents, Reb Nachman and Mrs. Miriam Stroks, Breslov chassidim living in Meah Shearim, to raise their two children, 9-year-old Zina and 8-year-old Yossele.
When the Schumachers regained their financial footing a few months later, they were ready to bring their children back home. The grandfather agreed to have the daughter brought back from Kfar Chabad where she had been sent for school. He promised to return Yossele before the new school year began, but that didn’t happen.
On the 18th of Teves, 1960, the story broke and media headlines screamed, “Boy Kidnapped by Grandfather!” igniting unprecedented public interest.
The grandfather refused to return the son to his parents, claiming that they planned to take him back to the Soviet Union and educate him as a communist. The grandfather, who had only recently emigrated from Russia himself, knew very well what that would mean for his grandson, and felt he could not allow it to happen.
The child “disappeared,” and the parents, concerned that he might be smuggled out of the country, involved the courts. Despite court orders to return the child to his parents, the grandfather refused.
Searching Chabad Yeshivas
The police were called in, but despite their best efforts they could not locate Yossele. They did discover that the boy’s uncle, Reb Sholom Stroks, was likely involved in his disappearance, but he too had disappeared without a trace.
They scoured every frum school and yeshiva in the country, including Chabad in Yerushalayim, Rishon Letzion, and Lud, but came up empty.
Yossele was moved from place to place within Israel for six months, after which he was disguised and sent to Europe where he was hidden for another two years before being moved to New York. Meanwhile the Israeli public seethed, bombarding frum Jews on the streets with the question, “Where is Yossele?”
Prime Minister Ben Gurion called for the Mossad’s involvement and they successfully tracked down Reb Sholom Stroks who was hiding in London. He was arrested, extradited, found guilty in an Israel court, and sentenced to three years in prison.
Shortly after the trial, on the 29th of Sivan 1962, Yossele was found staying with a Satmar family in Williamsburg, New York and was promptly returned to his parents in Israel.
Sholom Stroks Speaks
As soon as Yossele was found in New York and reunited with his parents, the public saga came to a close, but Reb Sholom continued to sit in prison. Chabad yeshiva students in Lud supported him during this period.
His friend, Reb Yaakov Rainitz, relates:
“I knew him for many years, and felt that it was my privilege to be there for my friend. We brought him kosher food and sefarim, to make it easier for him in jail.”
With one exception, Reb Sholom never gave a single interview about the entire episode, explaining that the press were notorious for distorting the truth. In honor of this book about Reb Zushe, however, he agreed to share:
“The boy was raised for a long time in my home and my father’s home. We never kidnapped him—we just didn’t return him. My sister planned to bring him back to Russia, and we had no choice but to keep him from her, to save him. We were following what rabbonim told us to do.
“I received letters from the Rebbe while events were unfolding. Since I was clearly being followed, the Rebbe wrote in Russian or Yiddish and sent the letters to another address, and then they were given to me.
“I was arrested in England, and suffered for more than a year in a London prison. After that, I was extradited to Eretz Yisrael and sentenced to three years in prison there. But after a year and three months, I was let free because President Shazar pardoned me. Reb Shlomo Maidanchik and Reb Zushe Wilmowsky arranged the pardon, and I am eternally grateful to them for it.”
A Mysterious Delegation
As mentioned, Shazar pardoned Stroks as soon as he took office, a decision likely made that morning:
“On the day Shazar was elected, his colleagues, directors at the Jewish Agency, threw him a goodbye breakfast. It was called for 8:00 am sharp, but when the clock turned 8:30, he was still nowhere to be found. It would be a few more minutes before he appeared with his entourage. One of his attendants explained: ‘Mr. Shazar is truly sorry, but at 7:45 a delegation from Kfar Chabad visited his home to congratulate their friend on his victory—and as you know, Chabad always comes first.’” (Newspaper)
It was there, at that early morning meeting, when Shazar agreed to grant Reb Sholom clemency.
Ten days later, the Rebbe addressed the pardoning:
“Someone who has risen to power through Jewish votes, and since ‘Wherever there are ten, the Shechina resides,’ especially as there are tens of G-d-fearing people among them, and all of his past sins are forgiven… There are those questioning, but doubts do not come from a good place. As the Frierdiker Rebbe has said, ‘When you wish to check if something is of value or integrity, see what it produces.’ And here, the first thing was to reunite a husband with his wife and child, making peace. And as the letter I’ve received, it was a hard battle. Especially as he has done this right on the first day and in his ascension to power, which is a significant act…” (Unedited, translated sicha—Sivan 9, 5723 (1963))
The words “making peace” clearly allude to Reb Sholom’s release, but the Rebbe didn’t leave it as an allusion. A few days later, sections of the sicha were edited especially for publication in the Tog Morgen Journal:
“The Rebbe explained that even though other sects disagree with religious Jews celebrating the election of Shazar, still the practical outcome must be considered for proof. In this case, he (Shazar) began his activities from the first day in office with pardoning Jewish inmates, and as a result of this brought a husband and wife back together. Here the Lubavitcher Rebbe certainly refers to Yossele Schumacher’s uncle, Sholom Stroks, who is now free to return home to his wife and child. Sholom has had no contact with his family for over two years.
“The Rebbe said that the rush to pardon Jews is ample and actual proof, and for this act alone his being elected was worthy…”
This was how Reb Zushe, together with Reb Shlomo Maidanchik, merited to do the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim, releasing captives, thereby bringing the Rebbe nachas.