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Murdered by Soviets in 1938, Jewish Activist’s Gravesite Found

By , St. Petersburg, Russia

After years of digging through the files of the KGB—the communist state security agency formerly known as the NKVD—a mass grave with over a dozen Chabad-Lubavitch followers murdered at the hands of the Soviets in 1938, was located and marked with tombstone last week.

Today, Rabbi Mendel Marosov, 98, takes a break from studying a scholarly Jewish book to recall those days when his father and brother were taken away. “For many years we did not know what happened to father. The NKVD told us that they cannot divulge any information about his whereabouts,” Morosov told lubavitch.com.“We did not know that he was executed until many years later.”

Morosov’s father Rabbi Elchanon Dov (Chonya) served as the aide of the fifth and sixth Chabad Rebbes, respectively, Rabbi Shalom Dovber and Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn. Chonya was an activist for Judaism, working fearlessly under the noses of the Soviets until he was arrested in 1927 together with Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn. He remained in prison for three years.

Upon his release he settled in St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad, and resumed his activities, organizing clandestine adult education classes in Jewish studies at night. The NKVD put out a warrant for his arrest and thus his life on the run began. To evade them, he changed his name to Duber Posner and disguised his appearance. But in 1938, at age 61, he was among at least a dozen leaders of the Chabad underground who were arrested, their fate unknown for years.

In 2008, with the family still in the dark, one of Morosov’s great-grandchildren visited the city. He turned for help to Rabbi Ifrah Abramov, an educator in the local Chabad school. Abramov began searching the NKVD archives.

Since then he uncovered thousands of pages of testimony given by the victims during their interrogation. “He came to my home and presented me with the documents,” says the 98-year-old son. “I made one request: if he finds my father’s gravesite, he should erect a tombstone.”

Abramov continued his search. In 2012 he learned that all those rounded up on that spring night in 1938 were summarily executed. They were buried in the Levasovskoj government cemetery. Now the date of their deaths was finally known. 

When Abramov came to the cemetery to find out where the group was buried, he was brushed off. He persisted, negotiating an obstacle course of bueraucratic red tape, until, in the spring of 2014, cemetery clerks pulled out old maps and Abramov found the exact location they were buried.

Recently, permission was granted to erect a marker on the site, a development late in coming for the nonagenarian rabbi who has difficulty getting around inside his home.

“I myself can’t travel to the cemetery. But at least now my family can go and pay their respects. There is finally a matzevah, [tombstone] and for this I am grateful.”

The marker includes the names of the other activists who were killed and buried there that night: Rabbis Pinchus Althaus, Shmuel Nemotin, Yitzchok Raskin, Meir Friedman, Yehshayahu Gold, Dovber Koznitzov, Feivish Esterin, Shaul Katzenelenbogen, Yaakov Golobchik and Elchonon Epstein.

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