Though the Rebbe had listened intently to the Russian prisoner’s story, he kept his spirits high by writing down his Torah teachings. He had a pen, but no paper, so he recorded his teachings, thoughts and impressions on the butts of over a hundred cigarettes that he had with him.

While he was writing, the door burst open. The warden sprang upon him like a wild beast, punched him, pelted him with his grossest Russian curses, and screamed: “What kind of private work are you doing here? No one’s allowed to keep a pen in his cell!”

And with that he grabbed the pen and left in a fury.

Whenever food was brought to the cell, the Rebbe refused to accept it and declared: “I’m on strike, and I’ll continue to fast until my tefillin are returned to me!”

And indeed, throughout all of Wednesday and Thursday, not even a drop of water passed his lips. On Thursday night he was summoned for his first interrogation, and after several hours he was returned to his cell, distraught, still without his tefillin. He was still fasting when on Friday afternoon they were finally brought to him – by a Jewish officer of the GPU.

The Rebbe told him: “I can’t eat prison food; I can only eat food that is brought to me from home. Hot water I can accept from the prison, provided I know that it was heated in a samovar that is used for water alone.”

The Chekist flew into a rage: “Are you planning to give a hechsher to the prison’s kitchen?!”

“I’m not a rabbi,” said the Rebbe, “and I don’t dispense hechsherim.”

As soon as he was left alone, the Rebbe put on his tefillin.

Soon after, the warden brought him three challos for lechem mishneh, in honor of Shabbos. Though they had been brought from his home, they reached him whole. This was exceptional, because all food that prisoners received from home was first cut up by the wardens into little pieces, for fear that something was being smuggled inside. That exceptional gesture was the first sign of the warden’s increasingly lenient attitude to the Rebbe.

The Rebbe’s first Shabbos meal consisted of a little challah and some cold water from the tap, but despite the grim setting, his HaMotzi and Kiddush were accompanied by their traditional melodies.

The warden’s improved attitude found expression in a number of ways. For example, although there was no clock to be seen, prisoners could guess the approximate hour from one regular mealtime to the next. However, on a late summer’s night in Leningrad, there was no way to know whether the time for Maariv had arrived. The warden therefore agreed to knock on the door at that time. Likewise, on the Rebbe’s first Motzaei Shabbos in Spalerka, the same warden gave him two matches so that he could make the berachah of Borei me’orei ha’esh.

By this time the Rebbe had been informed of the sentence that hung over him: the guns of the Chekists were already poised and viciously aimed at his heart. Nevertheless, after Havdalah, as he read aloud VeYiten Lecha, with its prophetic verses of hope and trust, that heart beat serenely to the tranquil rhythm of a well-loved Lubavitcher niggun.