Sunday, July 06, 2014

The USS Missouri - And the Rebbe

The USS Missouri was the platform upon which World War II ended. Not on land - but on a gunboat of the United States. That's where General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, held the solemn ceremony, where the enemies formally surrendered.

Who was responsible for wiring this huge battleship? The Rebbe of Lubavitch.

I already recalled one story I heard about this work the Rebbe did back then, circa 1944, which I related here: Escorted by Generals.

Now I came across another such story. Here's the transcript of the video. At the end of this narrative I leave you with a link to the video to see 1st hand, and because of slight changes from the transcript.

(Interview of Milton Fechter with "My Encounter With The Rebbe".)

I worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard from January 1943 till June 1945. A retired admiral came to City College and said that they were desperately in need of engineers for the Navy Yard. They were building the battleship Missouri there - that's the battleship on which afterwards General MacArthur accepted the surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo Bay after the war - and they were also working on a smaller battleship, the Idaho, and one of the aircraft carriers, but I forget the name for that one.

So they gave me my diploma early and I came to work there, in Building 3, on Flushing Avenue and Vanderbilt. The building, it's a giant building, is still there. It was a huge operation - there were 77,000 people working there - and our section had about fifty engineers and craftsmen, evenly divided between Jews and Gentiles. I mention this because at the time, that was one of the things that was on the Gentiles' mind, always to look who is a Jew.

New York City in 1943 wasn't like today. Up in the Bronx, for example, was an Irish man named Joe McWilliams, he was a big anti-Semite and he had an organization called the Christian Front. Half the New York City police were Irish, and many belonged to the Christian Front. And they created a lot of trouble for Jews in the Bronx. In Brooklyn, Ridgewood, you had the Germans, and before the FBI broke up what they called the "Bund," they used to march at night in Hitler uniforms on Bushwick Ave.

There was this guy I went to school with for 5 years - I was 3 years with him in high school and then 2 years with him in City College. A fellow from a good family, with money. I'm sitting next to him in class. It's Friday, June 1940, the professor comes into the class, and he had a long face. Gentlemen, he says, I have some very sad news to report, it just came over the radio, that France had surrendered to Hitler. My heart fell all the way down.

This guy sitting next to me, turns around to me and his eyes are blazing hate. And here is what he says to me: "You'll get yours next." I tell you, I couldn't say a word. I was so stunned. Five years I go to school with him, and didn't know what was in him.

I'm trying to give you a picture of the times. It's different today. It's completely different today. Then, you're in a room with 50 people, everyone knows who the Gentiles are and who's a Jew. The fact that people were so busy working on the war effort had dampened a bit the anti-Semitism that had raged in New York City for a number of years prior to the war, but it was still there.

Our section was separated from the electrical section by a wooden fence about 3 feet high. And that section had about 300 men sitting at drafting tables. So I turn to the man next to me, and I said, what are they doing there? And he said they are all doing wiring diagrams for the ships, mostly the Missouri. So much electrical wiring goes into a ship, you have no idea.

I take a look, and you have 300 people in white shirts, because in those days most people wore white shirts. And in the middle is sitting a guy with a black beard, earlocks, a black hat and a black suit.

So I turn to the guy next to me, I said who is that? He says, "He's a rabbi, and he is also an electrical engineer, a graduate of the Sorbonne." I looked over there and I said to myself, boy I've got to give this guy credit. If I were sitting among all 300, I couldn't wear earlocks and a beard and feel comfortable. He sat there serene as if he was sitting amongst his chevra, and that really struck me.

So, I went over and introduced myself. He told me his name is Schneerson. But he didn't tell me he was the son-in-law of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I didn't ask him. Nobody knew, as far as I knew.

He spoke quietly, he was a gentleman and he had two very smart eyes. He was a very self-contained individual. He wasn't interested in what someone on the left thought of him, or someone on the right thought of him. He was content with himself and he obviously had a lot of inner strength. It was very illuminating to me, to see a person in a hostile milieu to be so serene.

Friday he left early because of the Shabbos. And Saturday he didn't come in, Jewish holidays he didn't come in. He was the only guy that got that accommodation. Nobody else left for Saturdays or Fridays or holidays. Only one man - him.

I came up there a couple of Sundays to see some people there and I'd see him sitting there all by himself in that vast hall. Oh, it was more than a block long, that building. You take a look at it. It was quite a building.

He came in Sunday, I guess because he didn't come in Saturday. And he worked all by himself Sunday. And, I'll tell you one thing, the rabbi had a lot of courage, to be there all alone on Sunday. The rats that ran around there were about that big. And he sat by himself, drawing the wires for the various electrical wiring that goes into a ship. You couldn't give me a million dollars to sit there by myself on Sunday.

I didn't see him very often, because he never came to the cafeteria. He wouldn't go to the cafeteria; it wasn't kosher. So I didn't speak to him that much, only about three times altogether. But as I say, I was very impressed with his serenity. You see, if he'd sat among three hundred guys with beards and he was perfectly at ease that would be one thing. But to sit among three hundred goyim, completely oblivious to everything around him, that was something that struck me.

Later, when I read in the paper that he became Rebbe, I wasn't surprised because I saw that he was a very bright man and he obviously he had a lot of inner strength. He could have continued working as an engineer. He had the capabilities, the math he knew more than most of us there. Sure he was an engineer but that wasn't his life, he didn't make it top priority with him. His life was rabbinical and not engineering. He had hobbies, and engineering was one of them, but he was a rabbi at heart. Sometimes he was an engineer, but the Rebbe was always a Rebbe.

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(LINK to interview with above person.)
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Here's a LINK to another person's encounter with the Rebbe -- this time when the Rebbe was Rebbe.

And here is part II of what the engineer was saying.


  1. beautiful story. thanks for posting.

  2. Anonymous4:59 AM

    the rebbe didn't graduate from the Sorbonne. That's Lubavitch nonsense.

  3. noahide4:32 PM

    Aa the future proclaimed King Moshiach he was already then fighting the Wars of the Lord by building a prominent warship to fight Germany, Japan and the evil empires of Gog and Magog.

  4. Mr. Anonymous; "Lubavitch nonsense" - what you really mean to say is something much worse.

    Anyhow, you are right. I see in wiki this:
    "In 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Schneerson left Berlin and moved to Paris, France. He continued his religious and communal activists while studying mechanics and electrical engineering at the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l'industrie (ESTP), a Grandes écoles in the Montparnasse district. He graduated in July 1937 and received a degree. In November 1937, he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939."

    If it were pure "nonsense" as you suggest, I suppose the army hired him based on forged documents.

    As for how well-heeled the Rebbe was in regard to the Pentagon's upper echelon, do some research on Dr. Naftali Berg, while you're at it.

  5. Mr/Ms Noahide - great point!