An interpreter who helped a Chabad rabbi converse with a terrorist in the Chabad House in Mumbai said demands were relayed to India, but no one helped while the Holtzbergs still were alive.
In a first-person article published in the New York Jewish Forward, P.V. Viswanath, an Indian Orthodox Jew, revealed that he was contacted by Chabad Rabbi Levi Shem Tov, whose call to his friend Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg was answered by one of the terrorists holding the rabbi, his wife and four other Jews.
"I grew up in Mumbai, India, and I had heard earlier in the day from my brother about the terrorist attacks in my hometown, but I had thought it was going to be over quickly," wrote Viswanath, a professor in New York.
"Then my nephew called. He told me that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement was looking for Indian language speakers to help them keep track of developing news after terrorists took over the Chabad house in Mumbai…. I know several Indian languages, including Hindi and Urdu.
"When [Rabbi] Shem Tov found out that I was available and could speak Urdu, he called again and put the three of us on a conference call" several hours after the terrorists attacked on Wednesday, November 26th. The terrorists identified himself as Imran.
"Right at the very beginning, we asked Imran if everybody was all right," according to Viswanath. "We asked him this several times and each time he said everybody was all right. At one point, we asked him if all the people there were conscious, because we had heard reports that some of them were unconscious. Imran told us that everybody was fine: Nobody was hurt and they had not touched anybody. 'We haven’t even slapped them around,' he said.
"The bigger mission for us, on the call, was to try and find out what Imran wanted. His one demand was to speak with someone from the Indian government. 'Put us in touch with the Indian government and we will let the hostages go,'" the terrorist told the interpreter.
'Put us in touch with the Indian government and we will let the hostages go,'" the terrorist told the interpreter.
However, frantic calls to the government were met with bureaucracy. "When we tried to call the Indian authorities we were bounced from one office to another. As this was happening, Imran made reference to the reports that some of the other attackers in Mumbai had been captured. He said he wanted his friend who had been captured brought to him. He added, once again, 'Do this, and we will let your friends go.'"
Viswanath related that the terrorist spoke in a calm voice and did not appear to be under pressure. It later was discovered that the terrorists were heavily drugged during the ordeal that lasted more than 50 hours.
After failing to get a response from Indian officials, the local police said it was ready to join the conference call, "but when he did, we lost our connection."
"During the final call with Imran, at 5:30 on Thursday morning, we told Imran that we would try and find somebody in the Indian police to negotiate with him. Unfortunately, we did not succeed in finding anybody else in Bombay, nor were we ever able to contact Imran again.
"During the night we had also tried to reach somebody in the State Department or the FBI to help in our ordeal. Ultimately an FBI team did show up, providing tips for dealing with a hostage, but I never had a chance to put their advice into practice."
Viswanath concluded that despite the tragic murders of the Holtzbergs and four other Jews, the interaction with Chabad energized him. "I had originally responded to Chabad with the intention of providing them with assistance, but I actually left with the feeling that Chabad had given me something," he wrote.