In 1947 Rabbi Menachem Mendel returned to Paris, there to be reunited with his mother, Rebbetzin Chana.1 It was two decades since they had last seen each other, and in the interim they had largely been able to keep in touch by mail.2 But with the world in the grip of World War II, his parents exiled to Kazakhstan, and R. Menachem Mendel himself fleeing to New York, communication between them was disrupted.3

At some point R. Menachem Mendel learned that mail from the Holy Land could make it through to Russia, and he tried to send packages to his parents and receive news of them through his contacts there. “I repeat my request, twice and threefold,” he wrote in one letter, “that you inform me... if there is any news of their situation.”4 Whether or not these attempts bore fruit remains unknown.

“I repeat my request, twice and threefold, that you inform me... if there is any news of their situation.”

In August 1944, R. Menachem Mendel, received a telegram informing him that his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, had passed away in Alma-Atah. The report of this news in the next issue of Kovetz Lubavitch noted that the precise date of his passing was yet unknown. In fact, R. Levi Yitzchak drew his last breath a full eight days before the crushing news reached his son.5

As the war drew to a close new channels of communication opened, and R. Menachem Mendel stepped up efforts to enable his mother to leave the USSR. Though the chief rabbis of Sweden6 and the Holy Land7 were enlisted to help, all attempts at external intervention were unsuccessful.

Within Russia, however, Chabad chassidim mobilized to illegally engineer a mass exodus via the border city of Lemberg.8 With the help of Chabad activists in Kazakhstan, Rebbetzin Chana traveled to Moscow,9 then to Lemberg, where she was given false Polish documents and spirited across the border.10 Sometime in 1946 she arrived at the Pocking Displaced Person’s camp in Germany, where Chabad survivors and refugees were regrouping and recuperating.11

When Leibel Zisman, a teenager at the time, left Pocking for New York, Rebbetzin Chana entrusted him with a letter for her son, which he delivered to R. Chabad chassidim mobilized to illegally engineer a mass exodus via the border city of Lemberg.Menachem Mendel in person.

“It was not a long letter,” Zisman recalled, “but he took a long time with it… When he finished, he turned to me and asked, “How does my mother look?” …I told him what he wanted to know — that she seemed very thin and pale, that she spoke softly, that she wore a long blue dress with flowers on it and a wig, but no makeup or lipstick. He didn’t seem to get enough of it, and he peppered me with questions about how his mother was doing for half an hour.”12

Unwilling to entrust her passage to America to others or delay their reunion, R. Menachem Mendel flew to Paris. The local Chabad community felt honored to host the Rebbe’s son-in-law and his mother, and shared wholeheartedly in their joy. Remaining in Paris for several months, R. Menachem Mendel’s sweeping erudition and personal sensitivity left a lasting impression.13

Rabbi Eugene Lerner managed the Paris office of the Jewish Rescue Committee, and prepared the necessary papers that allowed Rebbetzin Chana to enter the United States. Years later, both he and Zisman recalled the Rebbe's enduring gratitude.14

When fresh tragedy struck, the Rebbe went to great lengths to shield his mother from further anguish. In 1952 her youngest son, Yisroel Aryeh Leib (Leibel), passed away unexpectedly in England at the age of forty three. She had already lost her husband to the Soviets, and her middle son, DovBer, to the Nazis. The Rebbe apparently feared that a new blow would be too difficult for her to bear, and he was determined to keep her from finding out. In an age of international communication this was not easy, and the Rebbe went so far as to imitate his brother’s handwriting so her correspondence with him would continue.15"My son acquires the World to Come with the ten minutes that he comes to visit me every day.” In her private diary she expressed pain that she had not seen Leibel for so many years, nor met his wife and daughter, “but I am happy when I see his handwriting.”16

Despite the Rebbe’s voluminous schedule, he was constantly sensitive to his mother’s loneliness, and she took great pride and comfort in his accomplishments.17 No day passed without him paying her a visit, and he also made sure that she had a steady stream of other visitors. “Some individuals,” Rebbetzin Chana wrote, “can acquire their portion in the World to Come in a single hour. My son acquires it with the ten minutes that he comes to visit me every day.”18

She lived the last seventeen years of her life in a bright era of renewal inspired by the spirited leadership of her son, and she often thanked G‑d for all the good he had brought her. When strong enough she attended his public talks, noting in her diary the pleasure she derived from listening to him and the eager devotion displayed by “the young people” towards him.19