She was, in her own words, “not a writer, nor the daughter of a writer,” but the recently-discovered second volume of handwritten recollections of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, of righteous memory, provide a moving portrayal of some of the most gut-wrenching persecutions to befall one of the most illustrious scholars of previous generations.

As wife of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, and mother to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Rebbetzin Chana was a witness to the self-sacrifice displayed by her husband – a noted Talmudic scholar and Kabbalist who served as chief rabbi of what is today Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine – and son, who at the age of 9 jumped into the frigid waters of the Black Sea to save the life of a boy who had fallen from the deck of a moored ship.

But prior to the discovery five months ago of a new volume of her highly-detailed prose – written in a combination of Yiddish, Russian and Hebrew – some of the only sources available to historians and adherents of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement were previously published excerpts and articles by the journalist Nissen Gordon that appeared in the journal Di Yiddishe Heim.

Gordon based his articles on interviews with Rebbetzin Chana, who began her diary shortly after arriving in the United States in 1947.

According to Rabbi Chaim Shaul Brook, director of Lahak Publications and supervisor of the team that will release, week by week, the complete memoirs in Yiddish, alongside authoritative translations in English, Hebrew, Russian, French and Spanish, the discovery of this second notebook shines a light on some of the more personal details of the Rebbe’s life and those of his family members.

As valuable, he explains, are the private thoughts Rebbetzin Chana recorded. Throughout, it’s clear that she’s trying to shield her son from the pain of what she and his father went through.

“I took the notebook in hand, and I was undecided,” she writes in the late summer of 1958. “Should I tear up what I wrote earlier? If my son, may he be well, will read it at some point, why should he be hurt? But nevertheless, I didn’t do it.”

(Beginning today, the 47th anniversary of Rebbetzin Chana’s passing on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei, each installment of the memoirs can be viewed online at the Judaism website

“For 16 years, she relived all the details of both happy moments from her children’s childhoods and the pain of her husband’s imprisonment in 1939 at the hands of Soviet authorities and later exile, in the harshest of conditions, to Kazakhstan,” says Brook. “The pages of the diary, though, can move quickly from day to day, while at other times, she went as much as half a year without writing.”

Begun on the Fast of Gedalyah on Sept. 17, 1947, the diary opens with Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s arrest and imprisonment in the days before Passover in 1939. The chief rabbi had spent the previous months securing local government cooperation in ignoring previously-established flour quotas so that he could preside over a local communal effort to produce the unleavened bread known as matzah. Produced to the strictest of kosher standards, the matzah’s mere existence challenged Soviet authorities’ own release of a Russian government matzah that was kosher in name only.

In the weeks leading up to her husband’s arrest, Rebbetzin Chana began to notice men loitering in their Dnepropetrovsk courtyard late in the night. She concluded later, as the NKVD agents rummaged through Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s papers, priceless manuscripts and scholarly volumes that the men she saw must have been spies.

“At first I dismissed my fears as speculative,” she writes, “but a month later I understood all too well what they had been doing.”

The night of his arrest, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was able to secure permission to carry two kilograms of his matzah to prison. Throughout the holiday, he lived solely on the dry, circular matzah and water. Although she called the local prosecutor twice a day and each morning went to the prison to obtain information about her husband, Rebbetzin Chana spent five months not knowing his fate.

“I would go to the prison to bring him food or a change of clothing, but they would always tell me that he was not there, although the prosecutor would tell me that he was,” she recalls.

She later joined her husband in Kazakhstan, where he passed away in 1944. Throughout his ordeal, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak continued writing glosses on scholarly Jewish works, using ink that Rebbetzin Chana home-manufactured from grasses and roots she gathered in the fields.

Happiness and Pain

From his office in Brooklyn, N.Y., Brook recalls the day that he first set eyes on the previously-unknown second volume of Rebbetzin Chana’s memoirs.

“I didn’t believe my eyes,” he says. “Many hours I sat with this notebook, not knowing what to do.”

He would eventually go to the Old Montefiore Cemetery in nearby Cambria Heights to visit the resting places of the Rebbe and his mother. There, he expressed his gratitude to the Almighty for the discovery, and after consultation with his colleagues, set out to publish the complete memoirs under the aegis of the Kehot Publication Society.

“This second volume contains new stories about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, as well as previously unknown stories about their home and children,” says Brook. “There are also accounts of the Rebbe’s Chasidic gatherings in New York. In a word, these pages are priceless.”

Brook is quick to point out that the five months of work that went into the printing and translating, a job that is far from over, couldn’t have happened without the financial support of Benyomin and Rochel Federman, Yossi and Nechama Dina Katz, Uri and Bassie Laber, and Sholom and Esther Laine. He also highlights the many hours spent toiling over the manuscript by Rabbis Aharon Leib Raskin, Yosef B. Friedman, Menachem Mendel Kaplan, and Yisroel Shimon Kalmenson as key to the project’s success.

Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, director of Jewish Educational Media and co-author of The Rebbe’s Early Years, serves as an advisor to the project. He sees in the complete memoirs both a confirmation of details from the Rebbe’s life and new insights into his parents’ leadership under duress that would ultimately provide a model for his own shepherding of a modern worldwide revolution in Jewish life and outreach.

“While we previously knew these stories to be true, as they were published in her name and during her lifetime by a journalist she granted access to, here you have it in her own handwriting,” he explains. “And there are things there that had not previously been known, such as a very descriptive account of a Passover Seder in her home with her three boys sitting around the table.

“This provides a new layer of detail,” continues Shmotkin. “Anybody who is interested in history can now get their hands on this new documentation and appreciate the nuances and specifics,” continues Shmotkin. “It provides a new layer of detail.”

The Kehot Publication Society, which is releasing the diary entries week by week in pamphlet form, will publish bound volumes of the diary at the conclusion of the project.