1 PART 1: THE SEARCH

At 12:30 A.M. in the night before Wednesday, 14 Sivan, in the year 1927 (תרפ"ז; 5687), the GPU came to the home of […. Since Part 1 of this autobiographical document was written as if in the third person, a space was left here for the writer’s name and title to be inserted. ] at 22 Machavaye Street, Apartment 12.2 As is well known, the GPU is the body that searches and checks and monitors every detail. This time, however, it was only an ostensible search, less severe than their usual style, and their speech likewise was polite and respectful. They spent half an hour checking the bookcases that lined the walls of the large room where the prayers were held, and in the course of over two hours in his livingroom, they took a few books at random from its shelves. They did not even open the bookcases that held the manuscripts of our early fathers, the holy Rebbeim; they only wanted to know who wrote them. He answered them briefly about the old manuscripts in one such bookcase, such as Livnas HaSapir in the handwriting of Rabbi A. Seva, and Shemoneh She’arim in the handwriting of R. Sh[muel] Vital, and some parchment manuscripts, such as Sefer Mitzvos Gadol and various Kabbalistic classics. There were also some first editions, such as the commentary of Ralbag on the Torah, published in 1486 (רמ"ו; 5246),3 and the commentary of Ramban on the Torah, published in 1489 (רמ"ט; 5249). They were interested to know about all of these, but only in passing.

What really concerned them was the writing desk and the papers and books that lay on it. They also requested that its drawers be opened for them, and they closely examined every single paper. They originally wanted to take them, but in fact they took only a few papers that were utterly insignificant.

Then they came to the list of letters that were collected in the library of […].162 There were about 800 letters written by the Baal Shem Tov and by the tzaddikim who were his holy disciples; letters written by the Alter Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, the Rebbe Maharash, and most of all, by the father of [the present owner of that archive].4 There were 2000 letters; notes and minutes of all the meetings that had been held in the course of decades; an account of the foundation of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah;5 a detailed document about the foundation of the Toras Emes Yeshivah;6 and reports submitted by the directors of the Yeshivos. There were also documents about the foundation and conduct of the Tomchei Temimim Yeshivah in Warsaw; a report from its directors; copies of the [Rebbe Rashab’s] inspirational letters; and five extensive files of public and private letters that he wrote between 5681 (תרפ"א; 1921) and 5687 (תרפ"ז; 1927). (Only five of those seven yearly files were extant, because the 1921 file was confiscated in the summer of that year during the search in his home at 44 Bratzky St. in Rostov, and the 1923 file was burned during the search in the same home in the month of Nissan, 1924, following which he was forced to move from Rostov to Leningrad.) Some of those files comprised 300 or 400 pages, and only with great effort and with various excuses did [their present custodian] succeed in persuading the GPU not to confiscate them.

At 3:30 AM they took him to their harshest prison.

PART 2: THE FIRST NIGHT

After7 being shunted from room to room, I was entrusted to the hands of a guard – one of those destructive angels whose towering height, furious looks, uniform and weaponry were terrifying. He was to take me to the wing in which I would be incarcerated.

Before setting out, I put my Rashi’s tefillin in my pocket, and as I left the room of the last official I told the guard that it was hard for me to carry my bag and my coat. I offered him a few silver coins, which he was happy to accept, and his face grew gentler. By this time we entered a dark and narrow corridor. I asked him if there was still a long way to go.

“The way you walk,” he said, “it could take as long as half an hour or more. We still have to pass through several corridors and tunnels, and pass by the basements, as well as the dump of bones and bodies that have banked up over the last month.”

Although his appearance and his fiery eyes were fearful and I was stung by his coldblooded talk of the victims, I noted that he was talkative. So, since I was exhausted and my legs were collapsing, I offered him a cigarette and took one myself. He gave me a match to light mine first, and said that we could rest for a few moments.

“According to what I’ve heard,” he said, “you’ve been sentenced to be shot, not hanged. Nor are they going to torture you first, as they do to the others. It’s better to be shot than to be hanged, and if you’ll be sentenced to letter B, number 5, that’ll be really good.”

He went on to explain that Verdict A was a more severe possibility than Verdict B. Each of them comprised many degrees of torture, which were numbered 1-22, after which the prisoner was shot by a firing squad. Verdict B also ended with a revolver, but its degrees of torture were less extreme. The best possibility was Verdict E, whereby one guard takes the unsuspecting prisoner for a stroll and converses with him, while another guard, unseen, quietly shoots him from behind and he immediately falls dead.

“Kozminka,” my guard continued, “is a great expert. It even happened that a prisoner was shot while he was laughing and collapsed with a smile on his face!”

I was most surprised that his words affected me so little. When he fell silent, I showed him the tefillin bag and said: “Could you wait a little while so that I can place my tefillin on my arm and head, and then we’ll keep on walking?”

In an instant he turned into a wild beast. He seized the tefillin from my hand, and in a dreadful rage threw them to the floor.

I picked them up, hot tears streaming from my eyes. I was so taken aback that for a moment I felt disoriented – until he roused me with his command: “Follow me!”

As I followed him with my tefillin in hand, I considered the possibility of putting them on as I walked.

We now had to climb up three floors of iron stairs, which I found extremely difficult to do. My escort had already reached the second floor while I managed only a few steps.

He called out: “Why are you crawling like a frog?”

I told him in a weak voice that I would have to rest for a few minutes at every floor.

I decided that I would put on the tefillin when I reached the first floor. When I got there I put on the arm-tefillin without being noticed, and as I made my way up to the second floor I put on the head-tefillin. Walking on, I began to recite the first paragraph of Kerias Shema, but before I completed the verse that begins VeAhavta, while resting for a moment on the second floor, the guard – now on the third floor – turned around and saw me standing there, wearing my tefillin.

With the speed of an arrow he leaped down, slapped me three times in the face, and pushed me backwards. I rolled down the staircase like discarded garbage. My bones seemed to fall apart, and I felt a severe pain in my right hip. For a long time I have been wearing a leather and metal belt. As I fell, the metal brace broke in two, and one end perforated my abdomen, near my right hip. I was in such pain that I could not get up. I lay there, helpless.

He followed me down, kicked me a few times in my back and abdomen, and furiously ordered me to get up. He threatened that if I didn’t obey after being ordered three times, he would shoot me with the revolver that was poised in his hand.

“If you help me get up,” I said, “I’ll get up. If you don’t, I can’t. And if you want to kill me, you are able to. No one will see, only G‑d. He sees everything. He will repay you as you deserve!” And I wept.

He replaced his revolver in its pouch, and tried to help me to get onto my feet, which I couldn’t do. I had to lie there for a few minutes – and during that time I said the remaining two paragraphs of Shema.

“What are you mumbling there?” he shouted. “Lie there a bit longer, and if then you still can’t get up, I’ll go and call another guard who’ll carry you off to Department 3. The man in charge there will decide what to do with you.”

Having completed Shema, I said Shemoneh Esreh. From one moment to the next, the pain was growing more intense, and I felt a dampness there.

Ten minutes later I tried to gather strength and moved a little. With great effort, and helped by the guard, I got up. I took off my tefillin, put them in my pocket, and with extreme toil crawled on all fours from one step to the next until I finally reached the third floor.8

PART 3: IMPRISONED

Petia, [one of the jailers,] unlocked cell 160, pushed me inside angrily, and threw in my bag. Before quickly closing the door he said: “You’ll lie on the floor until we get an order to give you a bed, a jar, a bowl and a spoon.”9

Being still ignorant of the nature of this residence, I did not understand what those items signified.

There were three men there. I did not know who they were. Two of them lay on planks that were placed on wooden bases and one lay on an iron bed that was fixed to the wall. One was Jewish, two were gentiles.

The first, K.,10 had been there for six months. Nine weeks ago he was informed that he had been sentenced to death, and when his turn came he was to be given twenty-four hours’ notice. The law provided that during that time he could plead that his sentence be commuted on grounds of compassion, and his telegram or express mail had to be handed to the official in charge within two hours.

The second, Sh., was the Jewish prisoner. In the course of his two months here, he had been summoned for crossexamination only once. The officer had questioned him about business affairs, had named certain businessmen, and had demanded that he give details of their activities and movements. When he pleaded ignorance, the officer had warned him that he would remain in prison until he recalled the required information, and if that didn’t help, he believed that the atmosphere of Siberia would make him wiser. Moreover, if he wanted to go home one day and to eat normally, he would do as was demanded of him and serve as an informer.

The third prisoner was a gentile, S., a farmer who lived near the Finnish border who was suspected of spying for Finland.

When I joined them in the cell, the first to give me a place to sit was Sh. He folded over his mattress, which was a bag filled with straw, and put my belongings in order.

Realizing that the wound inflicted by my escort was bleeding, I took off my coat, soaked handkerchiefs in water, and placed them on the wound. The sight of blood and my pale appearance puzzled my cellmates and prompted them to talk to me, despite my rabbinic garb.

The Jewish prisoner, Sh., who recognized me, was so shaken by what he saw that he said aloud: “Rebbe, has the hand of the GPU landed on you, too?! For Heaven’s sake, what has come of this country? What kind of revolution is this, when every night for the last week, hundreds of people are led past our corridor, to be slaughtered? We hear their cries of anguish! For two months I’ve been sitting here, but only in the past couple of weeks have I been hearing such a fearful storm.”

All kinds of questions were coming to me from all sides: When did they arrest me? For what? How was I wounded so seriously in the abdomen and the knees, and bleeding, as if by an iron implement?

He spoke in Yiddish, while the other two prisoners, openmouthed, watched in amazement. I answered absolutely nothing, for two reasons. Firstly, I was in such pain that I couldn’t speak. Secondly, I was afraid that I had been placed among informers, because I had heard it said by seasoned prisoners that when the authorities wanted to extract information from someone, they would put him in the company of seemingly easygoing cellmates, and in the course of their time together, he would share his innermost secrets.

A voice outside announced: “Stand up! Time to stand up!”

They all stood up quickly, because if the guard looked through the peephole and saw anyone lying down, he would be punished.

After a while there was another announcement: “Get ready for bread!” Every announcement was repeated three or four or five times, and the prisoners listened intently.

From the corridor we could hear the unlocking of the peepholes or the trapdoors through which the rations were distributed.

Our trapdoor was opened, and an official, accompanied by an underling who carried the bread, called each prisoner.

“First: take your bread!” K., the first prisoner, approached the trapdoor and the official handed him a slice of bread.

“Second: take your bread!” Sh., the second prisoner, approached the trapdoor and the official handed him a slice of bread.

“Third: take your bread!” S., the third prisoner, approached the trapdoor and the official handed him a slice of bread.

“Fourth?” I was sitting in my place, with wet and bloodstained towels on my knee and stomach. “You don’t get any bread,” he continued. “When there’s an order to give it, we’ll give it.”

I said: “ I don’t need bread. Give me a pencil so that I can write a request.”

He answered: “You’ve already written three telegrams. Enough! What more do you want? You’ve already driven the administration crazy enough with your nonsense. I’m not giving you a pencil to write your reply.”

“According to the law,” I said, “you are obligated to fulfill my requests. I’m entitled to send even a hundred telegrams every day!”

I now addressed the three cellmates and the clerk who carried the bread: “Sirs, be my witnesses that Sir Superintendent here withheld from me what the law allows me!”

Now, in the USSR, the [petty-bourgeois] word “sir” must never be uttered, even out on a lone, faraway farm. How much more so, such a term of abuse must never be addressed, in the midst of the Spalerno Fortress, to the Superintendent of Prisoners in the course of his official duties!

Hearing that word, with flushing face and flashing eyes he shouted: “You see what kind of counter-revolutionary you are? People like you ought to be shot on the spot, without any… Demon! Here’s a pencil, take it!”

“I can’t get up,” I explained. “Here, please give it to this gentleman” – I pointed to K., who was sitting near the door – “and he’ll pass it on to me.”

“No,” he said, “that’s forbidden. According to the law, every prisoner must personally receive every item from the hand of the Superintendent. Get up and take it yourself!”

“I can’t,” I said. “I’m not well.”

“If so,” he said, “then no need. If we’re going according to the law, then we’ll go according to the law.”

He began to close the trapdoor, but I called out aloud: “According to the law, I demand that the officer in charge of this wing come here at once!” And the trapdoor was closed.

Hearing another announcement from the corridor, “Get ready for hot water,” each prisoner prepared his jar.

But then we suddenly heard that the cell door was being unlocked. My three cellmates sat thunderstruck, their faces white from sheer dread. I didn’t understand the cause for their fear, but I too grew unwittingly tense as the door opened.

With angry eyes and face aflame, the officer in charge stepped in and asked aloud: “Who called for me?”

“I did.”

“What do you want?” he asked irritably.

“I demand that I be given my tefillin, my siddur, and my other books. That’s what I was promised by the agents of the GPU. Another demand – that I see a doctor.”

He replied: “I’m not going to give you the tefillin or the books, and no doctor will visit you before tomorrow morning or evening. From such a little wound you won’t lose all your blood in a day or two!”

Then, catching sight of drops of blood on the floor, he raised his voice: “Wash this floor at once! The floor must be clean, and that’s the prisoners’ responsibility!”

Fuming, he turned on his heel to leave, but I said: “In the name of the law, I hereby notify you, the officer in charge of Department 6, that I am undertaking a hunger strike – until my demand for my tefillin and my books is fulfilled. Here’s my protest in writing, according to the law.”

Reading it, he flew into a rage. He stepped forward and raised his hand to intimidate me, but did nothing.

Petia, one of the jailers who accompanied him, remarked: “This prisoner should have been thrown into the dungeon. That would make him calm down and take it easy!”

“You’re right,” said the officer in charge. “I’ll pass that on to the Senior Officer. He hates pampered prisoners!”

Petia concluded: “And then this prisoner will spend the Sabbath strolling in paradise….”

The officer in charge smirked, and then turned to me: “Don’t you dare call me again and disturb my rest. For that alone I am authorized to dispatch you to an unlighted dungeon!”

He told Petia: “Let him have his hunger strike according to the law, and tomorrow or the next day I’ll send him where he has to go….”

With that they left and locked the door.

The officer’s visit left the prisoners in shock. As soon as his footsteps faded into the distance they exchanged tense whispers, which I didn’t follow because I was in such intense pain. When it abated a few hours later, I put on my tallis, davened at length, and recited chapters of Tehillim from memory. Meanwhile, the time came for the prisoners’ daily walk, but when the officer in charge saw that I was at prayer, he left me uninterrupted.

It was soon time for the evening ration of hot water, which of course I did not accept. The officer responsible for the daily walk then arrived and summoned me to join him, because the law required that even the most serious prisoners be taken out briefly every day, except that they were taken out one at a time. I refused to join him.

At that moment I was visited by the prison doctor, accompanied by the officer in charge. He gave me a bandage and asked how I had been wounded. I answered not a word, and instead demanded of the officer that I be given my tefillin and my books. He likewise saw fit to give no answer.

The day had passed, and nightfall brought the sound of the unseen announcer: “Time to sleep! Lie down and go to sleep!”

Sh., the Jewish prisoner, gave me his space and explained that he would share the space of one of the other two prisoners. He gave me a pillow, too, and advised me: “Go to sleep straight away, because in an hour we’ll start hearing heartrending groans and screams. That’s from the prisoners who are being dragged down to the basement.”

The three cellmates lay down, but when Petia the guard looked through the peephole and saw that I was still seated, he opened the trapdoor and warned me to go to sleep. I told him that only at eleven would I be able to daven Maariv, the nighttime prayer, after which I would lie down to sleep. I therefore asked him if that time had arrived.

Without answering even half a word he closed the trapdoor and went his way. I remained seated and mentally reviewed various Torah texts from memory, until some time later Petia, cruel as he was, looked through the peephole and told me that the time I had asked about had come.

While I davened Maariv, and was in the midst of the first paragraph of Shema, I heard heavy footsteps, then a nearby door being opened, then a moan of supplication, then a command in Russian: “Put your hand over his mouth and shut him up!” In the silence that followed, my hands and feet shuddered. I was about to faint – until I heard a strange scream from the courtyard, and the sound of a gunshot.

With all the tears that gushed forth, I couldn’t manage to say another word. Moreover, hearing the sound of footsteps approaching our cell, I was struck by fear. Another door was being opened, and again another man’s wailing was silenced. This time the gunshot was first followed by groans of pain, which ceased after another two shots.

With great effort I resumed my prayers. As I said the words,11 Shema koleinu – “Hear our voice!” – there was an uproar of screaming and gunshots from the courtyard that continued through the sleepless night until daybreak.

A cool breeze made its way inside through the cracks in the window; the silence of the deathly courtyard hovered over the pervading gloom; my pain subsided somewhat; my fear vanished; a spirit from Above supported me; and my thoughts became orderly and settled.

My first thought was of the verse,12 “The whole world is filled with His glory,” and that, I reminded myself, included this prison, Spalerno. In an instant, in a wakeful dream, I beheld in my mind’s eye the Peter Paul Fortress and the incarceration there of our first father, the Alter Rebbe, of sainted memory.

How powerful is the faculty of imagination! It places a man in a virtual situation, as if it had objective substance. During that time he is elevated beyond crass materiality; his eyes are not focused; and with the fanciful pictures in his mind he senses that he is scaling the heights of his soul, unencumbered by his ailing flesh.

“Get up! Time to get up!” The guard’s voice roused me, too. After all, I, too, was a prisoner in dread of the guard.

“We’re all alive,” observed prisoner K. “After a ghastly night like that, thank G‑d we’re all alive! Whenever I heard footsteps, I imagined that the end was near. Any minute they would unlock our cell and we would be ordered to follow them. Some of the time I shuddered, and some of the time I thought that the end would be better than this drawn-out expectation. But the night is over. It’s daytime, and once again I’ll be able to pray to the One Above.”

This was the first time in my life that I had been in such an environment, and in the company of such simple people who had no connection with anything intellectual of any kind. I was struck by the unsophisticated piety of prisoner K.

My twenty-five hours here had already left their imprint on me: I was getting used to the fact that I was a prisoner, and all my needs, both material and spiritual, were confined to those four cubits that housed four people. When I first entered the cell I could not understand how four people could exist together in this suffocating air. And what did these people do when they had to attend to their bodily functions?

During those twenty-five hours I came to know something I had never known before. I saw cruel and malevolent human beings who shed the blood of their brothers; I heard the anguished cries of their victims and the laughter of bloodthirsty men.

I did not know whether the men who were killed that night were Jews, nor whether they were businessmen, or intellectuals, or priests. Whoever they were, they certainly did not deserve that bitter punishment. Those people were family men, fathers to their children, sons to their parents, husbands to their wives, and breadwinners to those who depended on them. What would now be their fate?

For all anyone could know, at the very time that these men, wailing and beseeching, were dragged out to be shot, their wives and children and parents were fast asleep with hopeful dreams, innocently unaware that at that very moment their husband or father or son was being led to the slaughter.

Pity the man who in the last moments of his life is deprived of the opportunity to take leave of his family with a parting message, to glance one last time at those who are near and dear to him, and to bless his offspring!

Life in this fortress is more horrible than death.

With such thoughts I sat, crouching on the planks that the prisoner Sh. had made available for me. My pain gave me no rest. At that time I recalled that throughout the night I had felt no pain: I had forgotten that I had been wounded.

Without realizing it, I uttered a deep sigh – and at once considered that even such a sigh was better than the still silence of the bodies that had been tossed with the garbage into the dungeons that underlay this fortress.

While I was still pondering over this thought, I heard a voice announcing: “Get ready for bread!”

Identifying that voice, the faces of the other three prisoners lit up and they exchanged joyful glances.

I did not yet know that there was a daily rotation of three guards. One was Petia, a cruel man with a sour look, who had been on duty the previous day; one was a young man, a good (!) and honest person who empathized with the suffering that the prisoners were undergoing; and the third was an old man, neither particularly good nor bad.

The day on which the young man was on duty was a good day for the prisoners. He would respond to all requests: he would bring a pencil, a pipe if he was asked to, or an old newspaper, and didn’t restrict the prisoners’ cups of hot water to the exact minimum. Sometimes, when he was certain that the supervising inspector was not due to appear, he would open the peephole and converse with the prisoners and tell them about the newspaper headlines. Little wonder, then, that their faces shone when they heard his voice in the corridor.

“With this guard,” prisoner K. told me, “you can talk. You can ask him to tell the official in charge to bring you clerical clothes, and your books, too.”

Prisoner Sh. agreed: “He’s a good man. Whatever he can do he’ll do. I’ll speak with him, and I’ll ask him to get hold of a pipe, too – but there’s no money!”

When the police first visited me, they took the banknotes but left the coins with me. During the second search likewise, the official left me my bag with the coins that it contained. I now counted them and they came to seven rubles and thirty-five kopeks. My cellmates were amazed by this great sum: they explained that the law allowed a prisoner to have no more than two silver rubles.

I gave fifty kopeks to prisoner Sh. on the chance that he would be able to secure a pipe, or at least some tobacco with cigarette paper. I learned that he had another four rubles on his account, while the other two had nothing. Every week prisoner S. was brought a food parcel, but prisoner K. had nothing, because his family lived in a different town. His shirt had utterly fallen apart over a month earlier. He was a smoker, but throughout his time here he only smoked the leftovers of the other two. He also hadn’t had a haircut for four months, because he didn’t have ten kopeks to pay the barber who visited this department every ten days. I lent him a whole ruble and lent S. forty kopeks. Prisoner Sh. declined to accept anything until the guard would let him know that there was something to buy.

As we were saying, it was time for bread. The guard unlocked the trapdoor, and my cellmates stood ready to wish him a good morning and to receive their rations of bread as he called them by name one at a time. The last, prisoner S., stayed on for a few moments’ conversation with the guard, who then hurried to close the trapdoor and move on.

[The news he heard was that] 113 men were now missing from our wing, Department 6. Of those, 16 had been released, 32 had been sentenced to exile in Narim, 1 to the Slovokai Desert, 6 to Siberia, 2 to Kresty, a forced labor fortress in Leningrad, and 7 to the Ural Mountains. Nine awaited the firing squad. Also, 183 new prisoners had been brought to this cavern.

Whitefaced, prisoner Sh. heard this and said: “Who knows what will be the fate of all the prisoners? Surely it’s better to be insane and to be kicked around in a hospital than to be here!” And he added, as if speaking to himself, “Maybe those who were shot last night are better off than we are in this life of ours. They’re not around any more. They’re at rest, while we don’t yet know what fate awaits us!”

“You’ll never be too late for that,” responded prisoner K. “Even living for a while is better than being like our friends who died, because while there’s life, there’s hope. The Al-mighty’s mercy can shine down upon us, too. Besides, while a man is alive he can hope for a decent passing, amidst his family and friends – not like some animal that is preyed upon deep in the jungle and is never buried. No! G‑d created man to die and to live like a human being.”

By now it was so hot in the cell that two of my cellmates threw off their clothes and walked around wearing only their shirts, while K., who had no shirt, was left as naked as a newborn babe.

The air was stifling, and though I sat fully dressed I was, to the surprise of my cellmates, cold. I must have taken ill. I felt pressure in my heart. The last water rations of the day had already been distributed, and I had no tefillin. For over forty hours not even water had passed my lips. Those were hours of bodily pain and suffering, and even worse, hours of spiritual suffering. Tefillin, tefillin!

A voice announced: “Lie down to sleep!”

Having already davened Maariv, I too lay down – until, at the sound of approaching footsteps, we all shuddered. Keys were turning in the locks. A switch in the corridor turned on the light in our cell. We all looked at each other in terror of death. The door opened and three men armed with revolvers walked in, while their four comrades stood outside the door with drawn swords.

One of them asked: “How many here?”

One of those who were inside our cell said: “Four,” and turned to us:

- Prisoners, give your names one at a time. First?

- Kuteinik.

- Second?

- Sheftelievitch.

- Third?

- Seitin.

- Fourth?

- Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

After giving me a scornful look, one of our visitors spoke with his companions for a few minutes, but we prisoners were so terror-stricken that we did not understand a word of what was said.

One of them then turned to me and said quietly, “You will come with us.”

During all this time I was sitting on my bed. A towel soaked in cold water covered the dressing that the doctor had given me, and the clothes I wore included my tallis katan and my hat.

I stood up, removed the wet towel, and prepared to go, while they waited for me. My cellmates, Sh. and K., were weeping bitterly, while S. stood, pale and openmouthed, as motionless as a statue of white marble.

Without saying a word I went out to the corridor. At the request of one of my escorts I showed him my possessions. He looked at them from a distance, and we walked on for a few steps. One of the three walked in front, two of the sword-bearers walked in front of me and two others behind, and at the back were the two other guards who had been inside the cell.

I heard a command: “Take off your hat, and tuck in your clothes so that your fringed garment won’t be seen!”

- No, I won’t take off my hat.

- I hereby command you explicitly to take off your hat. If you don’t, you’ll come to a bitter end.

- I won’t take off my hat, and I would like to know if you know who I am.

- So who are you?

- The Lubavitcher Rebbe.

- So ... ?

- The Lubavitcher Rebbe is not intimidated by threats.

- The GPU can intimidate even people who can be tough for the first 48 hours!

Nevertheless, there was no further mention of the hat. After we had gone down one flight of stairs, the three armed guards went their separate ways in various corridors and took with them two of the sword-bearers, while the remaining two escorted me.

As we went down another staircase I walked very slowly. The pain had returned with a vengeance. I uttered a deepseated sigh and stood still, quite unable to take one more step. One of my escorts then told me that they would soon bring me to the interrogation chamber, where I would be able to rest.

Those words taught me two things. Firstly, I learned that I was being taken for crossexamination, whereas the whole act until this point had seemed to indicate that I was being taken to a firing squad. Secondly, I discovered that within even such people their hovers a human feeling that is aroused by the sigh of a prisoner.

After standing still for a few minutes, I summoned up the last vestiges of my strength to walk ahead.

Pointing with his left hand, one of my escorts said, “This is where we must wait until we get our orders,” so, finding it very difficult to stand, I leaned against a wall.

One of my escorts then said: “I don’t envy you. Tomorrow or the next day they’ll give you beans....” (That was their slang word for bullets.)

His friend protested: “Comrade, why say that? Can you know what the judges will decide? We just have to do our job, and that’s all!”

The first speaker answered: “I heard from Comrade M. that the trial will be completed and acted upon within three days at the most, before the wealthy guys manage to exert their influence on the top leaders.”

Hearing these words, I prayed from the deepest point in my heart that G‑d grant me the fortitude to speak up fearlessly at the interrogation.

These thoughts were interrupted by a door that was thrown open and by the sound of a thundering command: “Bring the prisoner here! Give me Prisoner’s Document 3/160/4 so that I can sign it, and then you can move on.”

The prisoners due to be interrogated were identified by the number of this department (3), the room number (160), and the number of the official on duty (4).

I stepped inside and was struck by horror. Each of the three men sitting opposite me had a revolver next to him; there were weapons in every corner of the room; and I was confronted by the piercing gaze of eyes bursting with rage.

I was in a room of about eight meters by five with a table and a few chairs, and one big window that was painted over so that nothing could be seen.

As I approached the table, one of the interrogators said....13