The office was filled with dozens of young women who were busy writing and smoking, while many prisoners sat and waited their turn.

One of those secretaries approached the Rebbe and asked him to fill in the questionnaire that she handed him. When the Rebbe refused to do so, she volunteered to fill it in for him.

Having written down his name and address, she asked: “What is your title?”

“Citizen of Hereditary Honor,” said the Rebbe.

“For us that title is extinct,”1 said the secretary. “What is your occupation?”

“I study Torah – Divine wisdom, Chassidus – and the laws that govern Jewish religious practice.”

The young woman muttered to herself: “Religion?! Divinity?! I can’t write that!”

The senior official whom she called over and told of her problem took a long look at the Rebbe and said, “You mustn’t forget where you are. In this place people obey whatever they are commanded!”

The Rebbe responded, “What I want to know is whether in this place a promise made by one of your agents is honored.”

“Citizen, what do you mean?” asked the astonished official.

“Your agent, the one who arrested me, promised that I would be allowed to pray and to put on my tefillin,” explained the Rebbe. “I’m an observant Jew, and I want to be allowed to put on tefillin.”

“That all depends on the head of the division in which you will be imprisoned,” said the official.

With that, he instructed the secretary to write down the answers as the Rebbe gave them. When that was done, the Rebbe was given a numbered tag, a yarlik, whose number was 26818.

“If you want to pass on something to your family,” whispered the secretary, “just tell me and I’ll pass it on to them.”

Suspecting that she was somehow seeking to incriminate him, the Rebbe gave no answer. Many prisoners before him had believed that these young women in fact sympathized with them, and later discovered that their trust was manipulated against them.

The Rebbe now noticed his bundle in a corner of the office, but being occupied at that moment with other thoughts, he did not take it.

It was already 5:00 AM. The secretary took her documents and told him to accompany her.

When they had left the office, the Rebbe recalled the bundle and told the secretary that he wanted to turn back and take it.

“That,” she explained, “is forbidden. You’ll have to submit a request to be granted permission to do so. I would go and get it for you, but I’m afraid. That would be regarded as a demonstration of friendliness to a prisoner – especially to a prisoner like you, because you are accused of a serious crime. Your situation is very serious.”

The Rebbe thought to himself, “Is she simply trying to frighten me, or have human feelings awakened within her?”

She continued: “Tonight they brought twelve clerics here – Russians, Lutherans, Poles. You’re the only Jew. They brought them through that corridor” – the one through which the Rebbe had been led – “and told us only to write down their names. Those who, like you, were ordered to fill in a questionnaire, are not shot immediately. First they are interrogated.”

Finally, after passing through various chambers and corridors, they arrived at an entrance where a guard kept them waiting for the arrival of a certain senior officer.

“What do you want?” he asked the secretary.

“I was instructed to bring this prisoner to the interrogator of Division Four,” she explained.

The Rebbe’s feelings at that moment can only be imagined.

She brought the Rebbe into a room in which two men were busy at work, placed her documents in front of one of them, and said, “I’ve brought yarlik 26818.”2

“My things were left in the office,” said the Rebbe. “Can someone be sent to bring them?”

The interrogator retorted, “We don’t provide servants for prisoners. Anyway, what have you got there?”

“Religious items,” said the Rebbe. “I’ll pay whoever brings them.”

“Bourgeois practices?!” he fumed. “So we should give our prisoners servants?! And tell me, were you so sickly that you couldn’t bring them here yourself?! Besides, religious items are prohibited inside this prison. Either way the officer will confiscate them. Forget all your nonsense! Just remember that you are a prisoner!”

The Rebbe protested: “You are not allowed to offend my religious sentiments. The law permits me to demand my possessions and to pray!”

The two men looked in amazement at the prisoner who spoke such words, until one of them opened a door and ordered the Rebbe: “Go in there and wait till you’re called.”

As soon as the Rebbe entered and the door was locked behind him, he recalled the Peter Paul Fortress in which the Alter Rebbe had been imprisoned in the reign of Czar Paul I.3

The door was opened, the Rebbe was called back, and the official asked angrily, “Is this your bundle?”

“Yes,” replied the Rebbe, and added: “Allow me to put on my tefillin in the other room” – and he took the tefillin out of the bundle.

The official sprang up in a rage: “What?! You want to turn this place into a synagogue?! Hand me everything you’ve got – money, watch, everything! If they free you, it’ll all be returned to you. If they finish you off, they’ll hand it all over to your family….”

The Rebbe handed him a simple watch and 58 rubles, and at that moment a policeman walked in, with a revolver in his hand and a sword on his thigh.

“Here’s yarlik 26818,” said the official at the desk. “Take him to Division Six. Carry his bundle; he’s sick. You don’t need to be armed. He won’t run away. Him you can pulverize with one finger!”

While they spoke, the Rebbe managed to put his tefillin in his pocket. Then, as he followed the policeman through a long, dark corridor, he seized the opportunity and began to put on his tefillin. But no sooner had he got as far as putting the tefillin on his arm, than the policeman turned around and caught him in the act. Leaping at him like a beast of prey, he struck the Rebbe, tried to pull the tefillin off his arm, and struck him again so violently that he fell to the floor in a daze. He was roused by the policeman himself, who grabbed him by the back of the neck and tried to drag him along the floor. There, intensifying the pain that racked his whole body, he was pierced by a sharp piece of metal.

Not yet satisfied, the policeman cursed him and screamed at him: “Just wait! After you’ve spent a few days lying in the mud of a dark cell with mice all around you, you’ll realize that you can’t set up a synagogue in Spalerka!”

At this point the Rebbe was expected to follow the policeman up a staircase, but his pain was unbearable. As he mustered his last shred of strength and made his way up one step after another, the official who was awaiting his arrival taunted him from the top of the staircase: “You’re wasting precious time! Why are you dragging along like that? Come on, old man, get moving!”

The policeman reported to him, “Yarlik 26818.”

“Okay,” said the official, “deliver the goods. There’s lots of fun and games with these guys.”

He called out to another room, “Petia!”

In response to that summons, an unruly ruffian stepped in, looked the Rebbe up and down, and commented sourly to the official, “Look what we’ve got here! Look at the kind of stuff they’ve started bringing here – a fine parasite, a bearded Jew!”

And turning to the Rebbe, he said, “Come here, old man; we’re going to search you. We’ll clean you up and take you apart, bone by bone!”

Then, seeing that the Rebbe limped as he approached him, he said, “Why are you limping? Don’t you like the air here in Spalerka? We’ll provide you with such a stench that you’ll fall on your nose. When we make these parasites smell that kind of stuff, it lays them out for days on end! And why are you so pale? If you’re really as sick as you look, then once the search is over, you have full permission to die. It’s very quiet over here. No one will disturb you. No one at home will know. The doctor will write his thing, the man in charge will add his rubber stamp, and they’ll toss you into the pit.”

The Rebbe, contorted in agony, heard the official shout: “Petia! Where have you disappeared to? Bring yarlik 26818 here. I’m sick and tired of waiting!”

Petia brought the Rebbe to the official and remarked, “Just look what kind of stuff we’ve got here! He’s barely alive!”

The official, much amused, laughed out loud. Then, while Petia left the room, he turned his back and began to search through the Rebbe’s bundle. Seeing that he was occupied, the Rebbe put on his tefillin, said Shema, and began Shemoneh Esreh. At that moment, however, the official completed his search, turned around, and saw the Rebbe wearing his tefillin. Flushed with anger, he leaped forward, and with both hands tried to pull the tefillin from the Rebbe’s head, screaming, “Jew-face! I’ll slap you hard, hell-devil that you are!”

The Rebbe went ahead and finished davenen, while the official kept on ranting: “You’re going to die soon, anyway! With your pale face and your black lips, it’s obvious that you won’t be here for long. Tell me, what disease have you got?”

The Rebbe gave no answer, seeing that the greatest delight of his Chekist captors was to torture their prey, like African cannibals prancing wildly around their prey before roasting it. It was into the hands of these bloodthirsty beasts, with their vicious cries of Bearded Jew! and Jew-face! that their Jewish comrades of Cheka had delivered him….

Petia reappeared and offered a suggestion: “Why spend all this time and effort on him? Anyway he’s not going to last more than a day or two. Let’s just get rid of him out there: one shot, and we’ve done with him!”

“That a decision for the higher rungs,” said the official. “If we get such an order, no problem!”

With that, despite the Rebbe’s pleas, he took away his tefillin. Petia then led the Rebbe to his cell and on the way shared his favorite recollections, one more gruesome than the other – about how many bodies he had thrown into a pit, including one that wasn’t quite dead until he personally had taken care of that detail….

“You’re meant to get a separate cell,” he added, “because you’re more dead than alive.”

With that he opened both locks in the iron door of cell number 160, seized the Rebbe with both hands and threw him inside. This only increased his suffering, but once Petia locked the door and left, the Rebbe was able to feel some relief. The beast had had his fill of torture.