Schneour Zalman Schneersohn

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Schneour Zalman Schneersohn[1][2] (1898 – 1980) was a Lubavitch Hasidic Chief Rabbi who was very active in France during World War II, before moving in his late years to the United States.

During the Nazi occupation, he was very involved in rescuing and supporting Jews, especially children. He ran homes for children who had been separated from their families, providing them with food, shelter, and a Jewish education. Later, as the situation in France worsened for the Jews, he smuggled to safety and hid most of those children.

The exact number of children he saved is not confirmed, but by some estimates is well over one hundred.

From Russia to France[edit]

Schneour Zalman Schneersohn was born in Gomel, Russian Empire (currently in Belarus) in 1898.[3] He belonged to the Lubavitch hassidic dynasty, and was at one time approached about taking the job to be the seventh Rebbe[4] (that post would instead fall to his cousin, Menachem Mendel Schneerson).

Schneersohn was descended on both sides from very prestigious Hasidic families. He was the son of Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, grandson of Levi Yitzchak Schneersohn, great grandson of Baruch Shalom Schneersohn, the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek (Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the third Rebbe of the Lubavitch dynasty). His mother, Liba Leah, was the granddaughter of Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, one of the main disciples of Dov Ber of Mezeritch, himself one of the main disciples and successor of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism.[5]

While he was in Russia, Schneersohn was very active in the Jewish religious resistance in the USSR, distributing funds and prayer books with the help of the Political Red Cross, and contributing tremendously to Jewish education in the region.[3]

In 1935, after receiving his semikhah from the Lubavitch yeshiva in Russia, Schneour Zalman immigrated to Palestine. He only stayed a few months, however, before leaving for France with the intention to go to the United States. A change in plans on the way resulted in his deciding to stay in France.[6]

In 1936, he created the Association des Israélites Pratiquants (AIP) (also Kehillat Haharedim), an association of Orthodox Jews organized to conduct religious and educational activities throughout France.[7][8] The organization "provided material relief to needy Jewish refugees...founded Hebrew schools and synagogues, set up kosher soup kitchens and distributed clothing and money."[9]

He activities, however, were initially met with a lack of understanding, and even antagonism, by the French consistorial authorities. As Léon Poliakov, a French historian who was close with Rabbi Schneersohn, described it:

His orthodoxy, of an absolute intransigence, or his working methods, as flexible as they were, were disconcerting, not to mention his manners and his dress which did not appeal to his French colleagues. As far as he was concerned, he gave to the terms "French rabbi" a quite particular resonance.[3]

Thus he was forced to work with a select committee, and focus his attention on the teaching of children, opening up eight Talmud Torah schools regularly attended by several hundreds of children, despite the dearth of available resources.

The Résistance and the homes for children[edit]

When the Nazis invaded France in May 1940, Rabbi Schneersohn was forced to leave Paris. But the same concern for children and their education that he had shown in Paris continued to guide him and he focused himself on taking care of orphaned and abandoned Jewish children. Wherever he went, he relocated the AIP with him, and from February 1940 to March 1944, he opened up a series of homes for children, in cooperation with the AIP and the OSE (Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants)

He first went to Chateau des Morelles in Brout-Vernet. There he opened his first home for children.

In 1941, the rabbi arrived in Marseilles, where he would remain for a year with his organization, the AIP. In the wooded and hilly east of the city, in a large house called la Maison de Beaupin, he rented a home to care for children abandoned by their parents following their arrests. Moreover, in his apartment located in a very nice district of Marseille, he set up a workshop for foreigners, thus saving them.

After the arrest of several children in Marseilles on August 12, 1942, Schneersohn implemented his contingency plan, moving all the children as well as a few adults to a property in far-away Dému, in the department of Gers, in the French south-west.

In 1943, however, the Germans expanded their territory in France. As the situation intensified, Schneersohn once again was forced to move the children. This time they went to Voiron, near Saint-Etienne-de-Crosse, in the Italian-occupied zone of l'Isere.

On September 6, 1943, the decision was made to move the children to Nice, thinking it would be safer since the Italians had changed sides to the Allies. But the Germans were waiting and on September 10, invaded, rounding up and deporting 6,000 people. The children were immediately smuggled back to Isère. Two members of the party, however, were caught and the rabbi and his family were forced into hiding.

That winter, after the unfortunate series of events in Nice, the children who remained in the home were dispersed and hidden in five locations in the general area. On the fateful night of March 22, one of these, La Martelliere, was raided. Sixteen boys and one woman, the mother of two brothers in the group, were arrested and deported. Only one of the boys survived the war. The same afternoon of 22 March, Sara Schneerson, the rabbi's wife, was arrested in La Manche, close to Voiron, where the rabbi and some of his students had found a hiding place. She was taken to the French Millice headquarters, interrogated and tortured, but she maintained that the rabbi had escaped to Switzerland, not giving away his true hiding place. After her release, she walked around for miles instead of going straight to her husband's hideaway in order to mislead her torturers. Her ploy worked and the hiding place was not discovered.

As Chana Arnon-Benninga describes, "From then on, until the liberation of Grenoble, on August 22, 1944, the children, the rabbi, his wife and the young adults, were hidden at different places in the Voiron area, some not seeing the light of day for weeks on end. At liberation, the Schneerson family returned to Paris, taking some of the survivors with them; others went back to La Manoir to take care of some of the orphans helped by students who wanted to stay on. In September 1946, the youth home closed its doors definitely, the last members relocating to Boissy-Saint-Leger, in the Paris area."[6]

Much of what is known about Rabbi Schneersohn is thanks to the historian Léon Poliakov, who was the rabbi's personal secretary, and became secretary of the AIP in 1943.[10][11][12] Poliakov would tell in 1997[13] that he became acquainted with of Chief Rabbi Schneersohn when he was looking for a rabbi to officiate at his father's funeral. Later, on the Canebière in Marseille, he met Chief Rabbi Schneersohn who offers him the position of secretary. Their collaboration lasted several months until Poliakov gave up following ideological differences – he opposed the idea to contact Joseph Goebbels[14] – and religious differences. Poliakov later went on to found, together with Rabbi Schneersohn's cousin, Isaac Schneersohn, the Shoah Memorial, Center of Contemporary Jewish Documentation.

Timeline of locations used by Rabbi Schneersohn[edit]

  • February 1940 – January 1941:
  • April 1942:
    • Villa Beaupin, in the Vieille Chapelle district of Marseilles
  • November 1942:
  • 1942–1944: successively :
    • Grenoble.
    • Château du Manoir, hameau de L'Étang-Dauphin, Saint-Étienne-de-Crossey (Isère),[15] Beginning in March 1943.
    • pension Cavalier and Hôtel Rivoli, at Nice. 1943 (...-October 1943).
    • Château du Manoir (return) from October 1943 to December 1943, then dispersal of the children in three hamlets close to Voiron (Isère):
      • La Manche, hameau de Saint-Jean-de-Moirans (Isère), in December 1943.
      • La Martellière, Voiron (Isère),[16][17][18][19][20] also in December 1943. 16 children, aged 7 to 21, and two adults are arrested there by the milice during the night of 23 March to March 1944, following a denunciation. The children are deported in the Convoi 71[21] of 13 April 1944[22][23] and the Convoi n° 73 of 15 May 1944.[24][25][26][27]
      • hameau de Chirens (Isère) and Saint-Étienne-de-Crossey (a room), starting in October 1943.

Descriptions of Rabbi Schneersohn and his work[edit]

In his book on Jewish Résistance in France, Lucien Lazare[28] thus describes the role and the approach of Chief Rabbi Schneersohn:

Having moved to Vichy, then to Marseille, the AIP had gathered together a community of sixty or so persons, composed of a Synagogue, a welfare office, a Yeshiva, a home for children and a workshop for vocational placement.[29] Chneerson intended his services to Orthodox Judaism. Placed in the marginality of the Jewish organizations, the AIP was the expression of a particular category of the Jewish identity. Very popular before the war in Central Europe and Eastern Europe as well as in Palestine, Hasidism counted fervent followers within the community of the Jewish immigrants in Paris. Rejecting at once emancipation, Zionism and Socialism, Chneerson only conceived Jewish existence in the jealous observance of rites and put up an impenetrable barrier against the influence of the environment and modernity. His experience of secular persecutions had taught him to respond by establishing a community with unfailing cohesion, devoting itself to the study of sacred texts and the observance of the Mitzvot in the enthusiastic atmosphere of the hassidic tradition. It is in this framework that he himself and his follower felt safe, leaving it to Providence. Chneerson had not discerned the novel and fatal character of the nazi threat, and the AIP was particularly vulnerable to the deportations.

In "L'Auberge des musiciens",[30] Léon Poliakov describes Schneour Zalman Schneersohn ("red beard, limping slightly in his caftan according to the Polish custom") and his activities at Marseille:

About a hundred or so persons prayed in the oratory of the rue Sylvabelle in a rich-looking building in of the most beautiful neighborhoods at Marseille [...] [There] two large rooms and a hall in the first floor, a kitchen and two rooms in the mezzanine [...]. The rabbi taking refuge with his family on the first floor. The kitchen doesn’t stay empty either: furtive shadows appeared in the evening and vanished in the morning; these are escapees of the internment camps of Vichy to whom the rabbi gives refuge. One of the rooms of the first floor serves as an office and as a function room – a never-ending stream of Jewish miseries -, the other, the office of the rabbi, is at the same time a synagogue and a classroom; there weddings are celebrated and divorces are settled and even financial disputes.

In his private diary, Raymond-Raoul Lambert, who headed the UGIF-Sud, the Vichy government's Union of French Jews, writes on 17 August 1943:

The 28 (28 July 1943) I go, with Simone and the children, to visit a home for children close to Voiron, headed by an orthodox rabbin who resembles Rasputin. In such a milieu I feel Christian and Latin.[31]

The Israeli historian Richard Cohen thus explains[32] Lambert's reaction:

It's about rabbi Isaac Chneerson [sic][33] who was responsible of an ultra-orthodox charitable organization (Association des Israélites pratiquants de France, Kehillath Haharedim), affiliated to the 3e Direction de l'UGIF (Santé). The "assimilated" response by RRL [Raymond-Raoul Lambert] is not surprising, considering the content of the letter by the latter (2 August 1943, YIVO: RG 340, dossier 3) which deals into the details of his fantastic project to establish a Jewish State based on strictly orthodox principles.

In a recent book entitled Les enfants de la Martellière, Delphine Deroo reconstitues the life of this institution.[34] She doesn’t hide her admiration for the work of Chief Rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneersohn:

To each threat corresponds a defense. To the wish of physical and spiritual elimination of the "Jewish Race", these men and women opposed themselves as Jews, assuming with pride their endangered Jewishness. And this moral resistance, that on my part I encounter in the insistence of rabbi Chneerson [Schneour Zalman Schneersohn] to strictly observe the religious laws – showing for him the very essence of his directly threatened Judaism -, strikes me and dazzles me by its strength and by its heroism.

After the war[edit]

After the war, Rabbi Schneersohn contributed to the blossoming of the non-consistorial Orthodox Judaism at Paris, from his operation base at 10 rue Dieu, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris near Place de la République. He continued to direct the AIP, organizing religious services and Jewish schools. He also dedicated himself to locating and rehabilitating children hidden in Christian homes during the war.

Several personalities would later assert the influence of his teaching, including Olga Katunal,[35] according to whom Zalman Schneurson was her greatest teacher,[36] and Henri Atlan who, at the end of his book Entre le cristal et la fumée (1979) quotes Rabbi Schneersohn, albeit without naming him.[citation needed]

In the 1960s, Schneour Zalman Schneersohn immigrated to the United States, and continued his life's passion as a teacher in Brooklyn, New York. The Yeshiva that he headed there offered a training program in computer science, to give a trade to his students, which placed him, at the time, among the avant-garde.[citation needed]

He died at New York, on 2 July 1980 (18 Tammuz 5740), at the age of 82.

Interactions with other members of the Schneerson dynasty[edit]

The arrival in France of Menachem Mendel Schneerson and of Chaya Mushka Schneerson (1933)[edit]

In their 2010 book, Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman state[37] that it is plausible that what made the future Rebbe of Lubavitch Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his wife Chaya Mushka Schneerson decide to go settle at Paris in 1933 was the presence there of cousins: Schneour Zalman Schneersohn, Isaac Schneersohn and Édmée Schneerson. In the 1960s, it would be Schneour Zalman Schneersohn's turn to go settle in New York, where his cousin, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was the Rebbe of Lubavitch.

The reunion of Chana Schneerson and Menachem Mendel Schneerson by Schneour Zalman Schneersohn (1947)[edit]

During the winter of 1947, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson arrived in Paris. She had not seen her oldest son, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the future seventh and last Rebbe of Lubavitch, since his departure from Leningrad to go to Riga twenty years earlier where he had gone to rejoin his future father-in-law, rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Lubavitch Hasidim went to welcome Menachem Mendel at the airport, but his flight was delayed by four hours. They decided to wait for him at the residence of Rabbi Schneour Zalman Schneersohn, Menachem Mendel's cousin. When he finally arrived, a farbrengen was arranged, at which Menachem Mendel recalled that Joseph didn’t see his father Jacob for twenty-two years.

For the next three months, from the month of Adar until the Festival of Shavuot, while Menachem Mendel was in Paris, Rebbetzin Chana stayed by Schneour Zalman. During these three months, he paid a visit to his mother twice daily, in the morning and in the evening. On the Shabbat days and on the days of Festivals, he walked from his hotel to be with his mother, where they then shared their meals.[38]

On the eve of the departure of Menachem Mendel Schneerson and of his mother Chana Schneerson for New York, Schneour Zalman Schneersohn arranged a big farbrengen in his house.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The name is also spelled Schneerson (Nathan, 2008), and according to the daughter of the rabbi, Hadassa Carlebach (ibid.) he was called Chneerson during World War II.
  2. ^ Zuccotti (1993, p. 341, note 14) gives another version of the name. She writes: "The AIP was founded in Paris in 1936 by Grand Rabbi Zalman Chneersohn".
  3. ^ a b c Le rav Schneor Zalman Schneerson en France (1936-19470 (extrait), un article de Kountrass Online, Iyar 5763 / Mai 2003.
  4. ^ Friedlander, 1990, p. 173-174
  5. ^ genealogical inscriptions on his tomb (Kevarim of Tzadikim in North America. Photo of the tomb of Schneour Zalman Schneersohn, with its biographical data.), The Tsemah Tzedek Family Tree.
  6. ^ a b Arnon-Benninga, Chana (September 2010). "SCHNEERSON, SCHNEUR ZALMAN 1898-1980" (PDF). World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants.
  7. ^ Lazare, 1987, p. 139.
  8. ^ "Kehillat Haharedim". Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  9. ^
  10. ^ According to Lazare, 1987, p. 357, note 38, Poliakov was secretary of the AIP from November 1941 to August 1942.
  11. ^ Lazare, ibid., underlines that "A voluminous collection of archives of the AIP was entrusted by Z. Chneerson to YIVO – collection 340."
  12. ^ According to Poznansky, 1994, p. 203 : "All the Jewish organizations employed Jews who, before the war, hardly knew the existence of Jewish institutions. The most surprising example is may be the one of Léon Poliakov, an agnostic if there was one, who ended up, overnight, secretary of the Association des Israélites Pratiquants – an ultra-orthodox organization – headed at Marseille by the rabbi Zalman Chneerson."
  13. ^ "Léon Poliakov, l'un des premiers historiens de la Shoah". Le Monde, 26 September 2005 — interview given to 'Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation', 28 April 1997 in Massy.
  14. ^ Chief Rabbi Schneersohn doesn't grasp then that the separation of the Jews from the remainder of the population advocated by the Nazis is in fact the prelude to their extermination, the "Final Solution". He had known the communist regime and its limitations to the practice of religion. Mankind had not known yet a systematic genocide, country after country, this "Final Solution".
  15. ^ Lazare, 1987, p. 227, writes: "There is on the other hand the refusal by Schneerson of the AIP to scatter individually, under cover of a full "aryanisation", the wards of the home of Saint-Étienne-de-Crossey." Note in passing, that in the index of his book (p.419), Lazare mixes up the names of the two cousins: Isaac Schneersohn and Schneour Zalman Schneersohn.
  16. ^ Voiron dans la Shoah. Voiron en ligne. Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ Benoit, Floriane (25 August 1997) "Rafle des enfants juifs: Voiron retourne son passé". L'Humanité
  18. ^ Deroo, Delphine Les enfants de la Martellière. Chapitre premier. Chronique de recherches Archived 24 December 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ Duchêne, Laurence (Vacarme 04/05/actualités). Vous reprendrez bien quelques juifs.
  20. ^ Bakour, Manon (30 March 2009). "Hommage poignant hier à Voiron". Culture.
  21. ^ This Convoi 71 includes Simone Jacob, aged 16 ans, who will be known later as Simone Veil. Serge Klarsfeld, 1978.
  22. ^ "rafle de seize enfants juifs", L'Humanité, 23 August 1997
  23. ^ See, L'histoire. Erwin Uhr, unique survivant de la rafle de Voiron, en 1944. Libération, 15 September 1997.
  24. ^ See,Eve Line Blum-Cherchevsky. Convoi 73. Abraham Rosenzweig.
  25. ^ Zuccotti, 1993, p. 193, talks about 18 children ; in reality, there are 16 children and two adults—cf. "La ville de Voiron découvre la rafle de seize enfants juifs", L'Humanité, 23 August 1997
  26. ^ "L'histoire". Erwin Uhr, unique survivant de la rafle de Voiron, en 1944. Libération, 15 September 1997.
  27. ^ See, Eve Line Blum-Cherchevsky. Convoi 73. Abraham Rosenzweig.
  28. ^ Lazare 1987, pp. 139–140.
  29. ^ Regarding the activities of Schneour Zalman Schneersohn at Marseille, Renée Dray-Bensousan writes: "Furthermore workshops had been created by the ORT and the Association des Israélites Pratiquants (AIP) within the second department of the UGIF. The impetuous rabbi Zalman Chneerson [sic] had put up a vocational school at the headquarters of his association, meaning in the cellar of his apartment, rue Sylvabelle; it transformed into a «workers company» when Vichy decided to incorporate in it the foreign Juifs. He had integrated there for a while Joseph Bass, the future head of the Réseau Bass, as a teacher of draughtsmanship next to secretary Léon Poliakov. A course in electricity and radio was given there to forty two students by Dr Radzowitz, a famous Viennese physicist."
  30. ^ Dray-Bensousan, Renée "L'éducation juive à Marseille sous Vichy (1940–1943): Une renaissance circonstancielle." Jewish Archives, vol.35, 2002/2, p. 49-59.
  31. ^ See, Lambert, 1985, p. 236.
  32. ^ See, Lambert, 1985, p. 289, note 207.
  33. ^ Cohen mixes up the two cousins: ‘’’Isaac Schneersohn’’’ and Schneour Zalman Schneersohn.
  34. ^ See, Delphine Deroo, 1999, Chapitre premier.Chronique de recherches.
  35. ^ On Olga Katunal, see Haddad, 2007. Jacques Lacan climbed the seven floors without elevator of her building in the 9th arrondissement of Paris to consult the books on Kabbalah that she owned. Olga Katunal introduces Oscar Goldberg (one of those saved by Varian Fry) to Chief Rabbi Schneersohn.
  36. ^ See, Friedlander, 1990, p. 173-174: "The greatest teacher she ever had, she claimed was Zalman Schneurson, a man many expected to inherit the position of chief rabbi of the Lubavitcher Hassidim, but he never did. A formidable scholar, Schneurson attracted a large following of intellectual Jews in Paris during the early postwar years.".
  37. ^ See, p. 115-116.
  38. ^ See, "A Mother in Israel", 2006, p.156.
  39. ^ See, "A Mother in Israel", 2006, p.160


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