The Story of

Mulka Joffe

This special project tells the story of Shmuel Joffe, one of the leaders of the Briha project, which arranged passage to Mandatory Palestine for more than 450 Eastern European Jews. It will tell the story of Mulka Joffe from his childhood and his involvement in the Jewish scouting organisation up to his death, recounting the most vivid episodes of his life.

The Nadav Foundation presents a special project, The Mulia Joffe Story, produced on the basis of J-DOC digital archive documents

J-DOC is an archive for unique documents related to the USSR state policy regarding the Jews and the history of Soviet Jewry.

Each illustrated story is an important special J-DOC project, providing an opportunity to learn more about Jewish communities as well as informal Jewish associations, about people who opposed the regime, as well as about the clandestine struggle to protect Jewish culture and religion, civil rights and freedom to leave the Soviet Union.

All protagonists and events are real, all events occurred in the recent past. At J-DOC, a team of researchers is working every day to study the documents and testimonies from those years, reconstructing the events of our protagonists' lives. The story of Shmuel Joffe is based on J-DOC archives and memoirs of people who knew Shmuel personally. We are delighted to introduce you to Mulia and guide you on a journey through his fascinating life!

Mulka Joffe, The Smuggler

The ways in which Jews arrived in Eretz Yisrael in the 20th century were bizarre and diverse. Sometimes there were organised routes, and sometimes one had to make one's way through checkpoints, impassable roads and hostile armies. Sometimes it was the work of an extensive Zionist organisation to take the Jews who had resolved to make aliyah to their destination. Sometimes it was done by two or three people who had never set foot on the Promised Land but were determined to assist the weaker and more vulnerable. Many perished along the way, but thousands more were saved and made it to Eretz Yisrael.

The story of Shmuel ("Moulka") Joffe is one small piece of this vast puzzle; it is a story of a hero who never set foot on the land he dreamed of all his life but who helped over 400 Jews from the post-war USSR win their right to a new life. Collecting the story of Shmuel Joffe was made possible thanks to J-DOC archival materials. We are happy to introduce you to Moulka and guide you through his fascinating life.

Our protagonist, Moulka Joffe, was born in Riga in 1918 in a family of Leizer and Schone Joffe. He had two elder sisters Ruth and Yehudit. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Joffe family owned a big flat in the center of Riga before the war. The family belonged to the educated middle class of Jews in the capital. As a schoolboy, he joined Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzair (Young Watchman), a powerful Zionist youth organization throughout Europe.

Халуцианство – бескорыстное посвящение себя сионистскому движению.

Following a 1930 split, Joffe, along with many other Latvian teenagers, became involved in the Netzakh (Young Scouts or No'ar Tzofi-Halutsi) movement, which remained faithful to the original ideology of Ha-Shomer Ha-Tzair, i.e. the idea that Jews should return to Eretz Yisrael and live and work in kibbutzim. The ideology of Netzakh rested on the tenet that the collective takes precedence over the individual, and the immutable principle for its members was their political commitment to a kibbutz as a precondition for the creation of a Jewish state and the renewal of the Jewish people.

Both organizations resembled the scout movement in their type. Moulka Joffe went through all the ranks of the Netzakh system, from the "kfirim" ("lion cubs", ages 11-14) to the "bogrim" ("adults", age 17 and up). He was among the movement's most active members, often accompanying envoys from Palestine and organizing sporting events and summer camps.

On May 15, 1934, Latvian Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis organized a military coup. All parties and movements were disbanded. The Netzakh archives were moved to the house of Ilka Zaidin, a friend of Moulka, while the group's activists had to "go underground". During Ulmanis' dictatorship (1934-1940), they worked clandestinely and following the Soviet occupation ( starting from 1940) - in the utmost conspiracy. Joffe completed three years of service in the Ulmanist army. Upon his return, he assumed one of the top leadership positions in the adult section of the Netzakh.

After the initial shock caused by a right-wing coup, work began to restructure under new circumstances:

"There was a strange mood in the organization, a kind of over-confidence. I am talking about the feelings of 14-15-year-old kids. However, we never thought the movement was over. It simply wasn't possible. On the contrary, when the organization was disbanded, we looked at it through a romantic prism: clandestinity, risk, etc. This added an unexpected edge to our work... We would get together in houses, synagogues, and woods...".

By September 1st 1939, the outbreak of World War II, Latvian Jewish organizations and communities were in a shattered state. Unable to sympathize with fascism, most political activists sympathized with the USSR.

"With Hitler's rise to power, there was a split within our forces ... as if one had no alternative other than to be for or against. Fascism and extreme anti-Semitism were gaining strength, and the only force that could contain it was communism, hostile to us...".

At the same time, lack of information combined with distrust towards Soviet propaganda confused us and made us increasingly entangled in our immediate aims and goals:

"We had to explain to ourselves why we were not part of this cause [the Spanish events] the answer was: we had a different battle... The bloody events of 1936-39 had already started to unfold in Palestine...". Aliyah never really stopped, but it was becoming ever more difficult to pursue, but "even the worst pessimists never thought of the possibility of total annihilation of the Jews; we just thought that we were in for some major trouble".

On June 17, 1940, the USSR forcibly annexed Latvia. For many Jews, this seemed like a chance to take a short leap, leading many to join the Communist Party. However, convinced Zionists found themselves in a tight spot - "we were forced to go underground even among the Jews". The Soviet regime based its whole system in the Baltic region on a semblance of internationalism. All nationalist beliefs were becoming dangerous. Yiddish replaced Hebrew as the language of instruction in Jewish schools and gymnasiums. Books in Hebrew were removed from libraries, and books in Yiddish were censored.

Towards the autumn, a decree was issued to dissolve all non-Communist organizations - Netsakh resorted to a trick: the organization announced it was self-dissolving. After vetting all its members, several clandestine cells were set up. Moulka Joffe was one of the key figures in this operation, and the clandestine leader, Yitzhak Gordon, would entrust him with special tasks. Troikas were formed, each troika communicating with the center through a liaison.

"We intended to go very deep underground We didn't want an exemplary self-immolation', and we wanted to avoid quick failures and arrests, as it happened with the others. We had a clear idea of how to operate in the Soviet underground. We realized that what was needed here was not romanticism but the utmost caution".

The main task at that time was to protect the Zionist literature and exchange information on what was happening in Palestine and the Jewish world. Members of the cells held meetings where they delivered reports and reviews. In terms of organization, the system set up by Gordon would later prove to be a solid backbone for the post-war operations of the Moulka Joffe's group.

Around June 1941, mass arrests and deportations of Latvian citizens (mainly rich and middle-class homeowners) began, including many Jews accused of Zionism as well as of their "bourgeois background". According to researchers, 75 thousand Latvian Jews fell into the hands of Nazis, who occupied the Baltic States almost entirely in the first week of the invasion. Very few managed to escape from Riga - those who could flee by train or otherwise to Soviet territory in the first week of the war.

A few well-organized and swift members of the Netzakh managed to escape. Moulka Joffe and his fellow movement member Gamliel Blaushild fled from panic-ridden Riga on June 27, 1941. Blaushild recalls:

"I went into the street to look for my comrades, but could find no one, and found nothing. In the afternoon, I got hold of Moulka Joffe. We met the same evening. His parents and my mother refused to leave the city. The two of us decided to set off early the following morning. Moulka arrived on a bicycle. I didn't have one, so Moulka ditched his. Right there on the spot, we had to choose whether to go to the train station or to walk up north. We walked to the Estonian border. When we had travelled part of the way, we managed to catch a train. Finally, we got to Valka on the Latvian-Estonian border. There we learned that a partisan squad was being formed, so without a moment's hesitation, we asked to be part of it. We barely managed to convince the organisers that we were worthy of it, and that night, Moulka managed to procure a war rifle".

"Our squad was 20 strong. Moulka quickly rose to leadership thanks to his outstanding character, and the next day he was appointed machine-gunner of the squad The unit's task was to uncover Estonian nationalist partisans and launch operations against them A few weeks later, we were told that the unit was joining the Red Army and would be supplied with Soviet weapons. One day we were instructed to attack a German outpost unit. The enemy immediately spotted a machine-gun squad that had secured forward positions, and fire rained down on it. I was the first to be wounded. Moulka crawled up to help me, and a bullet hit him too. I was hit a few more times. My situation was terrible".

Within twenty-four hours, Moulka took the wounded Blaushilde on a cart to the rear. There was no paramedic or doctor on site. Moulka covered up his wound and was running around looking for a doctor, and when he found one, Blaushild had already been sent to Tallinn. Meanwhile, Moulka's condition deteriorated - he had surgery and was transferred from Tallinn to Leningrad.

Recovering from his wounds, Moulka enlisted in the Red Army, but in the early months of the war, the Soviet authorities would not accept immigrants from the Baltic States into the army. The recovering Moulka was to be evacuated from Leningrad. He chose Ashgabat - a large city close to the Iranian border and, consequently, to Palestine. He left shortly before the siege ring closed.

The journey south, closer to Palestine, was not an easy one. That is where the story of the Moulka Joffe begins, the story of a passionate Zionist boy spotted by the leader of the Jewish underground in Riga, Itzhak Gordon. He was resolute to the point of adventurousness, generous to the point of self-denial and totally committed to his goal and the best way of achieving it.

Joffe saw Ashgabat as the first step in his plan. He planned to cross the Iranian border and reach Eretz Israel. Yet Mulya firmly believed, as a matter of principle, that it should not be a one-man escape. So he resolved to bring his comrades on board with him. The exiled government of the Latvian SSR was based in Kirov, and there was a center for tracing family members of Latvian refugees. Members of the Zionist movement used this channel to find each other, and so did Moulka Joffe, who had briefly settled in nearby Vologda.

In Kirov, he got the address of his closest friend from Netzakh and the underground, Yaka (Yakov Yanai), and summoned him by telegram to Sverdlovsk, where they spent a short time. Yanai recalled: "I came to him on a night train with no ticket. Moulka was waiting for me at the station with a chunk of fish and a cup of cocoa in his hand. God knows how he got his hands on these delicacies in those hungry times. His first words were, "We're going south"!

We decided to take a detour - military echelons blocked the straight route. At the time, traveling across the country was dangerous and difficult. But Moulka had a travel warrant to Ashgabat issued in Leningrad with the Special Department of the NKVD seal on it. It is unclear how Moulka came to have this document, but he and Yaka had a hearty and almost trouble-free journey (the document meant he was easily given decent food rations).

We first decided to sneak to Tashkent, where rumor had it that there were Jews who knew smugglers' routes quite well. We traveled through Novosibirsk and Almaty. They had only one ticket, and Moulka gave it to his friend.

"I'll manage somehow, don't worry," he told me. Every time the inspector would pass in the car, Moulka would pretend to be asleep, and the inspector would vainly try to shake him awake until the other passengers would interfere, hissing at the inspector: 'Leave him alone, he's a soldier from the front.

Moulka and Yaka made it safely to Tashkent. However, they soon realized they would have to stick around longer if they wanted to assemble a group and cross the border. There was quite a large Jewish community living in Tashkent by then, but it was very hard to register there legally. The solution to this problem was to enroll in higher education: in late 1941, Joffe entered the Polytechnic Institute in Tashkent, while Yanai continued his studies at the Conservatoire, which had been evacuated to Tashkent. Their studies and work were a front for their Zionist operations. Moreover, the military canteen where Moulka worked also fed them and provided them with food to sell at the market so they could send money to their starving relatives all over the Soviet Union.

Simultaneously, Joffe and Yanai were assembling a group to cross the border. They got in touch by mail with members of the Jewish movement scattered around the country: a few of their old comrades were in Tashkent itself; they also managed to smuggle five Jewish girls, whom the friends had found in Kungur, in the Urals, into Tashkent. It was not an easy task: they had to secure a work release for the girls in Kungur and then get some documents proving they were studying in Tashkent. Through Moulka's and Yaka's efforts, by early 1943, the five girls had been accepted to the Textile Institute and arrived in Tashkent. Meanwhile, Moulka was establishing links with other groups planning to move to Eretz Israel. For instance, in Katta Kurgan, not far from Samarkand, there were Jewish youths evacuated from the Baltic who talked to Joffe about joining his group.

Attempts to cross the border failed - a Jew lawyer who promised to help Moulka proved untrustworthy, and his Turkish contacts, who allegedly knew all the weak spots along the Afghan border, were scoundrels who almost brought the Jewish group to their death. Moulka's group was by no means the only group to attempt to flee the USSR through this stretch of the border - runaways were regularly caught on both sides, and the locals were paid "per head" for the runaways. Moulka almost fell into this trap but weighed the risks in time and stopped the plan.

While preparing the escape in Tashkent, they managed to gather a group of like-minded people (Yekutiel Shur, Kopel Skop, Gamliel Blaushild, Paula Aronas and others), sometimes referred to as the "Tashkent Commune", and based on the principles of mutual aid and welfare that they had adopted back in Latvia.

Amidst the famine, the group prioritized providing food for themselves and their loved ones. Moulka was the heart of the commune's "economic activities": thanks to him, group members could land "good" jobs in the canteen, night-time shop guard, etc. They would sneak out a little flour, vegetables or leftover soup from the canteens and share it among all the commune members. "Stealing" food did not seem like a deadly sin to them. Yaka told a friend:

"Believe me, I am a changed man. I no longer find it a disgrace to break the commandment 'Thou shalt not steal' when it comes to a piece of bread or a few potatoes. I don't see it as a weakness; it is a way to survive, which is more important to me now than ever. If we are not to burn our past, we must realize that this is essential for our future."

Joffe saw making bonds with his Riga friends scattered across the country as his second task.

“I, too, am waiting for Moulka like the Messiah," Rosit Rosenberg wrote to Yanai in Tashkent from the Ferghana Valley. - There is still an arduous journey ahead of us. Let our enemies perish, and we shall live. Even if the Afghan plan fails and you have to go back to Russia, it does not mean that the dream of your life was in vain..."

When they could not bring their friends to Tashkent, which was extremely difficult in wartime, the commune took it upon itself to support them with letters, parcels, and signs to show them they were remembered. Packages were sent not only to friends in Riga but also to incarcerated Zionist prisoners from Latvia.

The correspondence was handled by Yaka, Moulka and the five girls who had come from Kungur. They were able to move several of the movement's members to Tashkent: for example, Hamliel Blaushild, demobilized due to disability, with whom Moulka had parted ways on the Estonian battlefield and who was considered dead, arrived there. Rafael Lifshitz, who had earlier been on the Belarusian front, also made his way to Tashkent. Moulka was not in Uzbekistan any more, but his team members managed to arrange medical care for Livshitz and get his discharge papers sorted out. Parents and relatives of the community members also got help. Moulka was also able to help Esther Gilinska, whom the Samarkand NKVD had tried to force to snitch on the officers who came to the canteen where she worked. Her letters' innuendos made her friends in Tashkent realize that Esther was in trouble, and Moulka traveled there to sort it out. Esther escaped from Samarkand, in Tashkent, her friends hid her in their dormitory, and then Moulka got her a job on a kolkhoz outside Tashkent.

Joffe also succeeded in establishing contacts with Eretz Israel, which helped him later on. By the end of 1943, Moulka moved to Moscow and, a year later, returned to Riga, freed from the Nazis, where he continued smuggling Zionist Jews into Palestine.

Chapter 2

For Moulka Joffe, returning to Riga was but a brief stopover ahead of the mission he had been preparing for years. His failed attempt at crossing the Soviet-Afghan border made him explore other options. As other Jewish groups were devising plans for crossing through the North or China, Joffe recognised a real opportunity of crossing the Polish border.

Riga was liberated on 13 October 1944, but the return of the evacuees was not immediate. Initially, only those who had obtained permission from the Council of People's Commissars of Latvian SSR were allowed to return to the city. This included individuals such as engineers and technicians who played a crucial role in the reconstruction of the city and the restoration of normal living conditions. Moulka arrived in Latvia within two months after the capital had been liberated. Prior to his arrival, he had executed a well-planned strategy. In late 1943 Joffe arrived in Moscow from Tashkent, where he made the same move as before by legalizing himself through studies - in the academic year 1943-1944, Moulka was enrolled as a student at the Moscow Hydro-Technical Institute. The fact that he had two aunts in Moscow also helped him secure a residence permit.

In the meantime, by late 1944, Jewish information channels reported the opening of a repatriation channel to Poland for Polish nationals. Joffe figured that he might try to use this route, especially if he operated from Riga, where he might take advantage of the mess of the war's end, the new government and the constant movements of large groups of people. Jakov Janaj recalls that Moulka pulled off a risky move in Moscow:

"Moulka showed up at the Moscow NKVD and told them that he had worked in the Riga port before the war (which he had). As he allegedly held a high position, he knew where some documents and designs of the port facilities were hidden. Authorities were led to believe that his presence in Riga was essential, so Moulka was issued a special assignment to Riga, a very rare document in those days".

Thanks to this NKVD paper, Moulka got a large flat in Riga (instead of the one he had lived in before the war), which he used to register his returning comrades and turned it into a sort of "club" for the movement. Slowly members of the Jewish movement started arriving in Riga - some returning from evacuation, others wounded from at the front, and others together with the Soviet troops that had liberated Riga.

In the summer of 1945, Moulka eventually crossed the Soviet border. That opportunity came from Raja Rozenkovic, a member of Beitar and a schoolmate of his, who had a Pole friend who suggested including her and several friends on a list of Poles who had lived in Latvia before the war and had become Soviet citizens and intended to be repatriated to Poland. “For a handsome fee”, she and Moulka were put on the list and embarked on their journey.

As Rosenkovich recalls, it appeared that they got involved with a shady bunch; there were not enough documents to cross the border in this way. They spent several days in a half-destroyed house on the border. "There we took a ‘crash course in Polish’, and at the advice of some crook, we came up with excuses explaining why we couldn't speak Polish even though we were 'Polish natives'". The Soviet border guards detained the entire group for some time, but miraculously they were eventually released and made it to Warsaw.

"In the devastated Warsaw, Moulka set off looking for the Jews while I hid in a house in the countryside. A few hours later, Moulka came back glowing: 'There are Jews, there is a community, there is the Beriha organization,'"

Rozenkovich recalled. Staying in Warsaw was extremely dangerous, so Moulka and Raja joined a сonvoy of Greek Jewish repatriates leaving for their homeland.

That is how they got to Czechoslovakia; in Bratislava, they broke away from the convoy and headed for Austria. They crossed the border illegally, on top of a train, but mistakenly entered the Soviet occupation zone, where they were nearly seized again. This time they were traveling through the country disguised as Austrians returning from German labor camps and reached Linz, where they managed to procure identity papers as Austrian citizens.

"There, we first heard that there were Palestinian soldiers in Austria. We stood at a junction and started shouting after each passing car. And one day, when we shouted "Atzor!", the car stopped. Tears welled up in my eyes. We ran into Jewish soldiers from Palestine."

They helped the friends get to Italy, where they had to part ways: Raja Rozenkovic was detained at the border, while Moulka made it safely to Milan. In Milan, he appeared wearing the uniform of a Jewish Brigade soldier. The journey from Riga took two months.

Merkaz la gola, a de facto branch of Haganah in the Jewish Brigade, was already active in Milan at this time, its main task being to accommodate refugee Jews. Later, the organization's activists told historians that Moulka struck them deeply: they admired the young man for taking upon himself such a mission under those circumstances. He was the first to tell them about the fate of Latvian Jewry. He insisted that an urgent evacuation should be arranged for members of the Halutzian movements, their relatives and, if possible, Zionists they knew of scattered all over the USSR. He insisted on saving the survivors as a priority.

At his request, the leaders of the Briha decided to facilitate the repatriation of Latvia's Jews. But what was their surprise when, rather than accepting their offer to travel to Palestine himself, where his sister and many of his comrades were already living, or at least to stay in Italy or a neighbouring country to help organise the passage of Jews to Eretz Yisrael, Joffe offered himself as leader of the Latvian operation. The man who had just risked his life to escape the USSR volunteered to be sent back.

Zalman Levinberg, who met Moulka in Milan, recalls:

"When I met Moulka, I already had plenty of experience of meeting Jews who had escaped death during the Shoah. Nearly all of them were physically and mentally broken. As Palestinian Jews, we saw them as passive and needing our help, unable to look after themselves. It was clear to us that our sacred duty was to do all we could for them. And then I met this guy from "out there" who outdid us in his eagerness for self-sacrifice. It was just incredible: this guy, who had escaped from the Soviet Union, aware of all the dangers, was eager to go back there out of loyalty to his comrades who had stayed behind. Moulka's behavior somehow touched our Israeli pride".

Chapter 3

Moulka insisted that no other person was better informed than he was regarding the practicalities of this passage or the state of affairs in Latvia. At that time, he wrote in a letter to a friend in Palestine:

"You probably still remember me a little, so you will understand that I could not be satisfied with having saved myself and leaving hundreds of helpless people behind. I realize the danger I'm facing. But I have made up my mind I will not be at peace until I have done everything in my power to save those who stayed behind, even if doing so means that I must return to the wild beast's den, whence I cannot know if I will make it out alive."

In early November 1945, Moulka arrived from Milan in Lodz, where an organization was being set up to help move Jews from Poland to Palestine. Jews from Lithuania were merging into the same stream, where it quickly became known that they could escape the USSR amid the crowds of Polish returnees. In Latvia, however, no one was aware yet of this "window". Due to the blatant state anti-Semitism, Joffe urged the Polish organization to expedite the extraction of Latvian Jews. A decision was made to send Moulka back to the USSR for three months - a longer stay would increase the risk of him being captured.

He was given "clean" documents in Lodz, and they also worked out the safest ways of smuggling people out. There, Moulka was also given instructions to include a few Poles in each group alongside members of the Latvian Halutzian movement, as well as to collect his comrades who were lingering in Tashkent, and he was also tasked with trying to rescue a famous Zionist, Nehemiah Gross, from a camp in Vorkuta.

Moulka's home base was Vilnius, from where numerous Lithuanian Jews had been sent out more or less safely. Yakov Yanai took over the operation in Riga. He was assembling groups that were to sneak into Vilnius. Staying there without a domicile was dangerous for Latvian Jews, so the groups had to hide in private houses for days and sometimes weeks. The last part of the journey to the free world - the passage from Vilnius to Lodz - was the most dangerous. With money supplied by the Polish organization, Moulka obtained false documents for people under his charge to identify them as former Polish citizens. He had to pay all sorts of middlemen because even getting train tickets from Latvia to Lithuania was a problem and involved travel documents; he also had to pay for renting flats or rooms ("clandestine hotels") where groups of refugees would hide out while awaiting departure.

In most cases, planning the actual crossing of the Soviet border in advance was impossible. Sometimes, a group would be told to get ready just an hour or two before leaving the city. Moulka and Yakov attempted to assemble the groups and have their documents issued as 'families.' If possible, they also aimed to occupy entire compartments on the train with their people, avoiding arousing suspicions among neighbors that these 'Poles' didn't speak any Polish. Right before departure, refugees were given letters of introduction on tissue paper, which they had to keep well hidden and produce at the aliyah center in Lodz: the contact with the Polish side was often one-sided, and they did not know how many people would be coming or when.

The number of Jews leaving Riga for Poland exceeded all expectations. Initially, it seemed to be a few dozen young Jewish activists, but it soon became apparent that hundreds of people were fleeing from the USSR. Meanwhile, the people who organized this process in Riga and Vilnius while sending their families, friends and acquaintances off to Eretz Yisrael stayed behind. By spring 1946, only Ilka Zaidin, Moulka's friend from "Netzach", was still in Riga, and the rest were now working in Lithuania.

Financial trouble began at the same time - passing money from Poland to Vilnius was complicated, and much more money was needed than expected. Occasionally they managed to send the money across the border with Jewish military men returning home from Europe. Sometimes they borrowed money from wealthy Jews, who were issued "promissory notes'' payable by the Lodz office upon their arrival there. In May 1946, Joffe managed to cross over to Poland again to bring back some money for his organization. Moulka's other goal was to dissuade the leadership of the Aliyah Centre from terminating the project prematurely, as this was the last real chance for Latvian Jews to escape from the USSR. In Lodz, they heeded Moulka's arguments, but the issue of his return to Lithuania was heavily contested - everyone thought that the risk was too high. Moulka would not change his mind - he decided to go back, only agreeing that he should find another person in Vilnius to replace him and bring the project to completion.

This journey nearly ended in disaster. Moulka was travelling back to Vilnius disguised as a Soviet soldier returning to the USSR from his deployment. His papers were strong, but precisely at that time, the Border Guard Service was ordered to subject every such soldier to thorough questioning: filtration stations were set up for this purpose. At the border checkpoint in Brest, Moulka was called in for questioning; inconsistencies were found in his testimony and documents, resulting in his arrest. In his double-bottomed suitcase, he had hidden the 2000 dollars he had been given in Lodz. After two days in prison, Moulka escaped, leaving the money behind.

Yakov Yanai says:

"One night, I was woken up by someone tapping on the window of the basement where we were staying at the time. When I opened the window, to my surprise, I saw Moulka climbing in through it. He was tired and worn out, dirty and sooty beyond recognition. His face was covered with a rash. He said immediately: "Thank God I got away! - I'll wash up and go to sleep..." Later he told me what had happened: he had been in custody for eight days. Before he was to be sent to prison, two prison guards took him to the bathhouse. There, he miraculously escaped through a gap in the fence in the darkness and then managed to hide from the patrols circling up and down the streets of this border town at night. Unnoticed, he reached the train station, saw a freight car loaded with coal, climbed onto the platform and found some homeless youths there. With them, hiding in a pile of coal, he made it to Vilnius...".

The tensions were building up - the Soviet authorities were, naturally, aware of this outflow of Jewish fugitives crossing the Polish border. At first, they turned a blind eye to it, but over time, they resolved to end it. An operation was conducted in Lviv to arrest the organizers, and Moulka rushed there to save his comrades, successfully exposing the traitor but nearly got caught. Until the end of the summer of 1946, in Vilnius, the extraction process went on with practically no disruptions. Thus almost everyone who wished to go to Eretz-Israel was extracted from Riga. In September, an order came from Moscow to Latvia to arrest the masterminds behind this smuggling of Jews. On September 22, in two groups, Moulka and his comrades decided to try to make their way to Poland.
In the second group, among others, were Jaka and Moulka. Most of them escaped persecution by switching trains and routes and hiding for days at tiny railway stations. Moulka, however, was arrested. Yanai recounts:

"On the morning of 27 September, I arrived in Baranovichi. Moulka was waiting for me at the station. I was afraid to enter the flat and wandered in the city park all day. I thought I wasn't being followed. It seemed like the longest day of my entire life. Moulka was busy with all sorts of preparations. First, he went to Karpov's to collect the ID papers. Next, he went to the market to buy some old clothes to stuff the suitcases. If we travelled without any clothes, we were likely to arouse the suspicion of the customs officers at the border. In the evening, I came up to the 8 o'clock train to hand over the tickets and see off the four people who were leaving. I wanted to make sure they departed safely. In the meantime, Moulka stashed away our Soviet passports so that we could use them in case we could not cross the border and had to flee. By our Polish IDs, we were the Fishman brothers, newly arrived from Fergana. Under the cover of darkness, we walked to the station. The minute we climbed the steps of the train car, four huge men in civilian clothes seized us. Moulka shouted in Hebrew, "Beseder!" We had no illusions. It was the arrest we had been dreading and waiting all along."

"We both entered the prison in a militant and upbeat mood. To some extent, the arrest freed us from the suspense. Nobody was chasing us anymore... We accomplished our mission. Hundreds of Jews were smuggled to Poland, and on their way to Eretz Yisrael...".

The two arrested men were sent to Lubyanka in Moscow. Night interrogations under a spotlight, sleep deprivation for days on end, beating, solitary confinement, and not knowing what friends were telling the authorities. They would take away Moulka's glasses, they wouldn't give him anything to eat, and they gobble up delicious meals in front of him during interrogations. Moulka's tactic was to recount in great detail things that had never happened: in this fashion, he made up elaborate stories about his clandestine activities in Munich, Paris, and London, greatly confusing the agents and giving them plenty of extra work.

Yanai and Joffe met at an interrogation one day:

"Before that, I asked them to buy me 5-6 packs of cigarettes with my allowance. I wasn't a smoker - the cigarettes were meant for Moulka. When they brought me into the room where Moulka was, he jumped up, and we threw ourselves into each other's arms and kissed; the investigators were startled. They immediately pulled us apart. Since Moulka told the investigators there were 150 people smuggled, they interrogated us as to why our numbers didn't add up. There were no discrepancies in other details. Moulka took most of the blame for all the work, thus mitigating my wrongdoing. I saw that even the stenographer was touched by how we tried to take the blame and make things easier for each other. Before we were taken apart, the investigators allowed me to hand Moulka some cigarettes. We kissed each other goodbye again".

A year after the arrest, in September 1947, Yakov Yanai and Shmuel Joffe were sentenced to 25 years in labour camps. On their way from Moscow to Gorky, they met again: suddenly, Moulka was brought into the overcrowded compartment of the Stolypin carriage where Yaka was transported. For some 30 hours, they were together.

"This meeting was like the hand of God," Yakov explained. Moulka was planning an escape; they agreed not to wait for one another and, should a chance present itself, to flee separately. "At the transit facility, we spent one night together. We slept next to each other, sharing a single blanket. But the next day, he was suddenly taken away from the cell. It was on Yom Kippur 1947."

Since Moulka had once already broken out of custody, he was put in high-security camps. Pechora, Abez and Dzhantui are now globally-infamous dots on the Gulag map. For years, he had nurtured various escape plans. The last attempt progressed to the point of a passport made for him in Riga by his sister Ruth. However, this plan, too, failed - Moulka was suddenly transferred to another camp. At the end of 1953, Moulka was transferred to the Chita region. From there, the letters Ruth began to receive signaled a profound depression. "I am trapped in a desolate and God-forsaken place. The barren landscape is depressing. I am now so far away from people and freedom that it is clear to me: I shall never get out of here," wrote Moulka. Despite this, while in the camp, he strove to master a new speciality (“forestry inspector") to try and get transferred to a less strenuous work assignment.

It was at this time, however, that the fit and healthy Joffe resolved to carry out his old plan of getting out of the camp: he knew that a prisoner whose medical condition raised fears for his life, upon confirmation by a medical commission that he cannot be properly treated in the camp, might be released by order of the local court. In early 1954, he decided to go on a hunger strike. A year later, Ruth, coming to visit him in the camp, saw her brother:

"A human skeleton was in front of me, somewhat like a living man, somewhat like a ghost. Only the eyes were still those of Mulya. I found out at once that right before my visit, a grave accident had occurred. Mulya had written some notes with additional instructions for me. The jailers suspected something, stripped him naked, conducted a thorough search and found the notes. Mulya fought with the warders, trying to swallow the notes so they would not fall into their hands, and was brutally beaten. That is how he was brought in for the visit - withered, battered, utterly shattered."

Joffe's health was so poor that the camp's head doctor had twice signed a statement advising Moulka's release, but the camp supervisor disregarded these recommendations.

Ruth came to visit her brother a couple more times. He was growing weaker, saying he would agree to end his hunger strike: " Many people get released now. There is a chance that you too will get released soon," she told him. But the camp authorities kept saying:

"We know that your brother is deliberately starving himself. He is a big criminal. We will send him to Khabarovsk, and there they will treat him. Then we will reform him."

On the night of 4-5 October 1955, on a train from Khabarovsk to Birobidzhan, in a locked carriage transporting ailing convicts, Moulka Joffe died. His sister Ruth transmitted his words to historians:

"No one else would have done the job as well as I did. Even if I'd known that I'd only save one person, and for that, I'd face this bitter end - I'd still have done exactly what I did. I have no regrets.”