On June 14, 1940, the armies of Nazi Germany conquered Paris. A French General offered the Rebbe a residence in the countryside; but the Rebbe, comprehending the true significance of the Nazi occupation, declined the offer and fled Paris on one of the last trains to leave the city. After a perilous passage over the front lines of the occupation, the Rebbe and his wife arrived in Vichy, France.

They remained in Vichy for a few months, then relocated to Nice in Southern France where they stayed until their final escape from Europe. Throughout this time, the Rebbe’s father-in-law — who had survived the bombing and occupation of Warsaw and had arrived in New York in March of 1940 — conducted a vigorous campaign to rescue them and bring them to the haven of America.

The Rebbetzin would later recount that throughout their flight from the advancing Germans, the Rebbe retained his characteristic devotion to helping others, and to the observance of even the most minute details of Jewish law and custom. Also characteristically, the Rebbe found a way to focus on the positive aspect of every experience — even that of a refugee, uprooted from his home and fleeing for his life (see letter excerpted at right).

On June 12, 1941, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin boarded the Serpa Pinto in Lisbon, Portugal, the ship that would take them to the United States. On Monday, June 23 (28 Sivan on the Hebrew calendar), 10:30 A.M., the Rebbe and Rebbetzin arrived in New York.

The Rebbe's Correspondence

"Your letter... awakened memories of the time we were together in Vichy and Nice, under conditions to which we were both unaccustomed."

"When a person is uprooted from his habitual environment... there come to light certain traits of his inner character as they are in their purity, undistorted by the expectations of society. Often, these traits reveal the hidden good in this person, of which perhaps even he himself had been unaware, because they were hidden under the layers of 'manners' and social conventions. Fortunate is the person who does not allow these traits to disappear when he subsequently settles down and finds tranquility..."

From a letter written by the Rebbe in December of 1944 (free translation)