The following account was shared by Dina Sharinov (1923-2009), a childhood neighbor of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson in Dnepropetrovsk (Dnipro), Ukraine, and transcribed in Hebrew by Frady Brod.

I remember Rebbetzin Chana very well. Her face always seemed angelic. She wore long dark skirts, even when they weren’t very fashionable. She dressed smartly and aristocratically.

As a child, I loved visiting the rabbi’s home. We lived on the same street as the rabbi, whom everyone affectionately called “Reb Levik.” At the front of their home was a long foyer, where we would spend our visits. Beyond that were rooms we were never allowed to go into, where the family’s privacy began.

Sometimes, Rebbetzin Chana asked us if we wanted to add new stamps to our collection, before showing us the mail with stamps from overseas. “This is from my son (she would mention the Rebbe’s name),” she said, with a hint of pride. “He’s advancing marvelously in his studies.” The greatest prize was to be allowed to carefully tear the stamps off of the envelopes.

Rebbetzin Chana and her son (the future Rebbe) at a reception in their honor in Paris.
Rebbetzin Chana and her son (the future Rebbe) at a reception in their honor in Paris.

Affable and attentive to everyone, Rebbetzin Chana helped those in need. Neighbors often came over to her, but I don’t remember if she ever reciprocated and visited others in their homes. Put simply, she was on a different plane.

A Special Request

My father, Reb Mendel Gansburg, was wholly dedicated to Reb Levik, treasured his words of advice, and prayed in his synagogue down the street. In the winter of 1939, someone came by our house and told us that Father needed to meet with Reb Levik. Immediately, my mother sent me running to alert Father. At that time, my father worked on an assembly line for electronics. It was a favorable job, as a Chabad chassid (and a regular in Reb Levik’s synagogue) directed the operations of the warehouse and turned a blind eye to my father’s absence on Saturdays.

I called my father, and he dropped everything and followed me. That was how he honored the rabbi.

Reb Levik told my father the police had visited his house the previous night. With the Communist chokehold gradually tightening around Reb Levik, he knew he would be arrested any moment. He entrusted my father with his priceless library, candlesticks and a few other possessions.

It was not long before Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was arrested by the secret police.

Rebbetzin Chana was alone. No one wanted to support her. Even the most stalwart chassidim were afraid to step in and help, lest they were caught associating with someone now deemed an “enemy of the state.” Despite the danger involved, my father provided Rebbetzin Chana with basic necessities that he managed to procure. In her diary, Rebbetzin Chana describes him as “our dearest friend who deserves to be truly remembered” and “one of the few who displayed remarkable unseen abilities during this difficult time.” Indeed, my father overcame his fears and traveled to Kiev with Rebbetzin Chana to advocate for her husband in court.

Rebbetzin Chana also records this story about my father in her diary: While still in Dnepropetrovsk, there was a terrible food shortage in the city. My father stood in line for a long time to collect some food to bring home. He never touched it. Although it wasn’t known to be unkosher, my father quieted his hunger pangs with black bread and sour tomatoes. Kosher meant more to him than hunger.

Reb Levik said about my father that he had a good head and effectively grasped Chassidic concepts. Occasionally, my father received manuscripts of Reb Levik’s novel insights on Torah. He diligently went over the manuscripts until he mastered them.

At night, boxes filled with books were slipped out of Reb Levik’s home and ended up in a special corner of our house. I was a child back then, but I still remember the covers of many books; some were leather and others were adorned with elaborate jackets. The other valuables were buried next to a tree behind my house.

My Father Reveals a Secret

A few years later, Rebbetzin Chana followed her husband to his place of exile, Chi’ili, Kazakhstan. The Wehrmacht was on its way to Dnepropetrovsk, and our entire family fled the city.

Before we left the city, my father called me over.

“Dinachka, you are the youngest in this family and I hope you’ll live for a long time and return here. I want you to know that here, in this exact location, I buried the possessions of the Schneerson family. When they come back, I want you to tell them this.”

The synagogue in Yekatrinoslav where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the Rebbe's father, served as Rabbi. Courtesy of JEM.
The synagogue in Yekatrinoslav where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the Rebbe's father, served as Rabbi. Courtesy of JEM.

We fled in the direction of Bukhara. My brothers found work in a factory, and I on a farm. Part of my job was to drive long distances on a horse and buggy.

While still en route to Bukhara, my father wrote to Reb Levik and Rebbetzin Chana from every station, asking about their well-being. If I recall correctly, my father heard of an evolving community in Tashkent comprised mainly of Jewish refugees and decided to join. But he never made it. Due to the extreme famine, my father succumbed to malnourishment.

After Father’s death, we received a condolence letter from Reb Levik. In this letter, he also requested that we send over his possessions, which would be of great benefit to him. (The letter was eventually presented to the Rebbe by my cousin, Reb Yitzchak Gansburg, as a gift from me.)

We returned to Dnepropetrovsk after the war and were welcomed by an unpleasant surprise: non-Jewish strangers lived in our house now, and not a remnant of the books remained. Yes, they said, there were books in the house when they arrived; they used them as kindling during the winter. I didn’t dare ask about Reb Levik’s precious items buried in the backyard. A few years later, I returned to Dnepropetrovsk by myself and discovered a factory built over the hiding place, complete with a concrete floor. I made inquiries and learned that the previous residents had moved out after a sudden windfall . . .

This photo of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was taken during his imprisonment.
This photo of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was taken during his imprisonment.

Life Insurance

Sometime after Reb Levik’s incarceration, my cousin from my mother’s side, Berel (Boris) Gurary, visited us. He worked as a railroad inspector. He told us that once, while he was working, he saw the rabbi being transported from prison to his place of forced exile. Boris barely recognized the rabbi, whose noble features bore the signs of his incarceration. The rabbi confided that he was very hungry. Boris gave him some rolls that he had, and the rabbi blessed him with long life. “I made it through the entire war without eating nonkosher food,” Boris would marvel. “I knew that I would survive because I had ‘life insurance,’ a blessing from Reb Levik.”

During that brief meeting, Reb Levik told Boris to let it be known that he was innocent of all charges and never harmed anyone. The rabbi continued on his way, and we never saw him again.

As I remember, the main synagogue in our town was converted by the Communists into a clothing factory. Only after Rabbi Shmuel Kaminezki, the Rebbe’s emissary, came to town after the fall of Communism was it able to become a synagogue once again. Today, it is bigger and nicer than it ever was.

After Rebbetzin Chana made her way to America, I was fortunate to receive a postcard from her. Due to the Communist block on information, I never even knew that her son had become Rebbe. I certainly never imagined that so many years later, people would be interested in every detail of the lives of the Rebbe’s parents, our dear Rabbi and Rebbetzin Schneerson.

The grave of Dina Sharinov in the Tel Regev Cemetery in Israel (credit: Gal, billiongraves.com)
The grave of Dina Sharinov in the Tel Regev Cemetery in Israel (credit: Gal, billiongraves.com)