Following her illustrious husband’s passing, Rebbetzin Chana traveled to Moscow. She did not have any family left in Russia.
Her eldest son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel had married the daughter of the Previous Rebbe and was then living in America. Her was in desperate straits and very precarious. With the name Schneerson and because her gentle giant of a husband had been branded as a ‘traitor’ to Communism and exiled to Chili Kazakstan, where he passed away, it was very dangerous for people to associate with her and where she slept one night, she could not sleep the next.
The Chassidim understood that it was imperative that Rebbetzin Chana must leave Russia. Our Bubbe Sara was an activist and very much involved in helping Jews leave Russia when a window of opportunity arose at the conclusion of WWII. She now took it upon herself to help Rebbetzin Chana leave Russia. She would have to devise a plan for her to leave without anyone knowing who she really was.
When Bubbe Sara came to her apartment she heard voices. She stepped inside and found the two sisters, Hadassah (Perman) and Yocheved (Zalmanov) trying to convince the Rebbetzin to leave Russia. However, the Rebbetzin refused to go unless the passport had her correct family name on it!
Bubbe Sara begged the Rebbetzin to go with her immediately because time was of the essence. Every minute the Rebbetzin remained in Russia was very dangerous for her.
The Rebbetzin told our Bubbe that in her life she never told a lie, and she does not plan to tell a lie now!
Bubbe told her that she does not need to tell a lie, but also not to tell the truth! She asked her just to be quiet and let Bubbe speak. The Rebbetzin looked at the two young ladies and said: “If these two young girls want to escort me, then I will go.”
When they came to the train station that would take her to the next train traveling to safety, Bubbe Sara purchased tickets in first class. She sat the Rebbetzin on a bench near the window. She placed a large babushka (scarf) around her head and suggested that she go to sleep and not say a word.
Bubbe Sara sat down at a table nearby where people played dominoes or checkers. Three men were already there, and she sat on the empty chair offering to play with them. They played for real money until the conductor came by demanding to see their tickets. Bubbe showed her train ticket and the Rebbetzin’s ticket. The conductor walked over to the Rebbetzin and demanded to know her name. Bubbe jumped out of her seat and yelled to the conductor, “Leave the old lady alone! She is sick and tired; can’t you see she is sleeping?!”
Meanwhile, the three men were getting agitated because they were in the middle of a serious game and the conductor interrupted them. The guys started to yell at the conductor, “Don’t you see that we are playing a game for keeps. You are mixing us up! Leave the old lady alone! You have her ticket already!! Let us get back to playing!”
Miraculously, the conductor continued on without bothering the Rebbetzin anymore.
Many years later when my father was in New York, he went to visit the Rebbetzin. That’s when he heard this story. The Rebbetzin told him that she thought that his mother, Bubbe Sara went nuts. She did not understand how she could sit with three drunks and play dominoes?!
“The players were three rough Russian peasants and were pretty drunk,” she shared. “But now it’s clear that she actually saved my life!”
Had the conductor persisted, she would have told him her real name was Chana Schneerson!
In Communist Russia, anyone with the name Schneerson or connected to the Schneersons in any which way was considered a ‘traitor of progressive communism’ and was either sent to Siberia or, G-d forbid, worse.
Rebbetzin Chana made it to the train which went to Lvov, Poland. She left Russia with my parents and family and, thank G-d, made it to Poking, Germany to a DP camp. From there she went to Paris, France, where her illustrious eldest son, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, later to become the Rebbe, met her. After spending a few months in Paris, he escorted his mother to the United States, where she spent her last years as ‘the Mother of Royalty!”
Adapted from Henya Laine.