Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Life After the Gulag

Machla Abramowitz

Walking on Rechov Chanah in Jerusalem’s Shikkun Chabad, you’ll notice a street sign posted on a set of steps. “Maalos HaRav Nanes” the sign declares, commemorating a man who survived twenty years in the Soviet Gulag, later moving to Eretz Yisrael and teaching Torah to hundreds who visited his house on Rechov Chanah. Mishpacha examines the four phases of a fascinating life.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It had always been Berel Neumark’s intention to celebrate his uncle Reb Eliezer Nanus’s 100ths birthday by throwing him a large party.  Unfortunately, that birthday never arrived.  Instead, Reb Leizer, as he was affectionately called, passed away just three months short of the landmark date. Rav Leizer’s passing thirteen years ago marked the end of an era – in which people who survived Stalin’s Gulag were still alive and approachable, eager to share the miracles of their triumph.

You may not recognize the name Eliezer (Leizer) Nanes, but you may very well know his story. After spending twenty years in the Soviet Gulag and never once desecrating Shabbos or Yom Tov, Reb Leizer Nanes wrote a book documenting his experiences there. His story has come to epitomize the spirit of a unique group of Russian Jews who kept Yiddishkeit with extraordinary mesirus nefesh. These were Jews who defied the anti-Semitic onslaught during government-inspired pogroms under Russian Czar Nicholas II, which eventually morphed into a direct assault on Yiddishkeit during the Bolshevik Revolution and throughout the Communist era. They did so by building an underground network of chedarim, yeshivos, shuls, and mikvaos — all the elements that characterize Orthodox Jewish identity. They often paid a heavy price for their efforts, but their personal sacrifices enabled vestiges of Yiddishkeit to survive in the Soviet regime.

The name Eliezer Nanes is unfamiliar because he wrote his book, Subbota (Shabbos, in Russian), under the pseudonym Avraham Netzach. Reb Leizer earned the nickname “Subbota” when he was forced to stand on a watchtower with his upper body exposed to the frigid Siberian winter air, with a sign stating “Subbota” hanging from his neck, for refusing to work on Shabbos or Yom Tov. The book first appeared in print in Yiddish in 1972, a year before Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published, and it was translated into English in 1979. The book has long been out of print – anyone willing to sell their copy demands a hefty price for it — and Reb Leizer’s family members are in the process of reprinting an expanded version of the book.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

What’s in a Name?
Shoshana Friedman “What does Writer X have to say this week?”
Atonement — Fake and Real
Yonoson Rosenblum White confessionals and faux rituals
Four Walls Coming Full Circle
Eytan Kobre All the while, there’s been a relationship in the offing...
And Yet We Smile
Yisroel Besser We are the nation that toils to be happy at all costs
Out of This World
Rabbi Henoch Plotnick Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo — we are in Hashem’s company now...
Steven and Jonathan Litton
Rachel Bachrach The co-owners of Litton Sukkah, based in Lawrence, NY
Tali Messing
Moe Mernick Tali Messing, engineering manager at Facebook Tel Aviv
Sick Note
Jacob L. Freedman “Of course, Dr. Freedman. Machul, machul, machul”
Avoiding Health Columns Can Be Good for You
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Only one reliable guide for good health: our Torah
Endnote: Side Notes
Riki Goldstein Most Jewish music industry entertainers have side profes...
Me, Myself, and Why
Faigy Peritzman Where there’s no heart and no love, there’s no point
Can’t Do It Without You
Sarah Chana Radcliffe When you step up to the plate, you build your home team
Eternal Joy
Mrs. Elana Moskowitz The joy of Succos is the fruit of spiritual victory
The Appraiser: Part III
D. Himy, M.S. CCC-SLP and Zivia Reischer Make sure your child knows his strengths
Hidden Special Needs
Rena Shechter You won’t see his special needs, but don’t deny them
Dear Wealthy Friend
Anonymous There’s no need for guilt. I am truly happy for you