As the Rebbe was taken back to his cell at the end of his grueling first interrogation, Lulav’s closing declaration echoed in his ears: “In another twenty-four hours you will be shot dead!”

In response, the Rebbe calmly reminded himself: “G‑d will surely come to my help.”

And in fact, before the twenty-four hours elapsed, the Rebbe was given his tefillin and he davened. Furthermore, Lulav was unable to fulfill his drastic wish, because the central powers did not authorize him to do so. The Rebbe was also treated less harshly than the other prisoners, and was granted various concessions that somewhat eased the conditions of his incarceration. However, he was so completely cut off from the outside world that he heard not a single word of the efforts that were being made to save him. The only piece of information that he did receive was that his private secretary, R. Chaim Lieberman, had also been arrested – and that news reached him thanks to a volume of Mishnayos.

One day a few weeks earlier, when the Rebbe did not have his own copy of the Mishnayos at hand, he borrowed R. Lieberman’s copy, which belonged to exactly the same edition as his own. It so happens that before returning it to its owner, the Rebbe folded over the corner of a certain page. And when he was arrested, one of the books he took along with him was his Mishnayos. At that time, his books were immediately confiscated, together with his tefillin. Now, a few days later, when his tefillin and his books were returned to him,among them he found the copy of Mishnayos with the crease that he himself had made a few weeks earlier! How could a book belonging to his private secretary have found its way here? The only possible explanation was that he, too, had been arrested, and the men of the GPU had mistakenly returned his copy to the Rebbe.

* * *

Every day the Rebbe would share a Torah teaching with his Jewish fellow prisoners, and then write it up on the paper wrapping of cigarette butts, together with notes that recorded his current experiences and memories from his childhood. Permission to write was one of the privileges that he alone was granted. Normally, each prisoner was given a pencil and paper every day on which to write his requests to the officer in command of the prison, but they were collected at once. Likewise, the Rebbe alone was exempted from the daily roster of scrubbing the cell floor under the supervision of a guard. So, too, when he refused to drink the daily ration of hot water because he was not sure that it had been heated in a vessel that was never used for cooking anything else, he was given hot water that answered to his needs.

There was one right that all prisoners had, but that he chose to forego – the daily fifteen-minute walk. Who did not look forward to that daily ritual in the grounds of Spalerka? Its participants included prominent scientists, doctors and lawyers, businessmen and laborers, young men and old. It had no fixed time slot. All day they sat and waited restlessly for the moment they would be called out, when they could finally inhale a breath of fresh air and see new faces. Once outside they were not allowed to stand still for even a moment nor to exchange a word with anyone. The slightest infringement was immediately greeted with a slap that made the daring offender see stars. Cowed by that grim threat, the prisoners did not particularly enjoy the walk that they had so long looked forward to. Since the Rebbe chose not to participate, he left his cell only when he was taken for interrogation.

Every day, the Rebbe would write the Hebrew date – the day and the month, and the name of the weekly Torah Reading – in his copy of Tehillim. In the routine of prison life, the meaning of times, days and weeks is different from their meaning in the normal world outside.

The Rebbe’s medical condition at that time was far from satisfactory. Nevertheless, the doctor who finally visited him, after numerous requests and pleas, affirmed – whether under coercion or not – that he was strong enough to be kept in prison.

After nine days there, the Rebbe was allowed to write a few words to his family. He first assured them that he was well, and then asked them to send him his silken Shabbos clothes and his gartl, which reached him on Friday, in time for him to greet the Shabbos Queen. That evening, the walls and locks and bars of Spalerka all vanished in the heartwarming melody of Lechah Dodi.

* * *

On the 21st of Sivan the Rebbe was summoned to his second interrogation. Among the non-Jewish Russians sat Nachmanson, an educated individual who was not ignorant of Yiddishkeit. In fact, whenever he forgot his role as a Chekist, though not at this time, he related to the Rebbe in a civil and gentle manner. Lulav, by contrast, was an uncultured boor with a filthy temper who had joined the Cheka at an early age and was deeply impacted by it. At the present encounter he excelled himself in his coarseness. For the most part, it was he who conducted the interrogation, repeating all the familiar accusations.

The Rebbe, who was particularly pained by the accusation of counter-revolutionary activity, responded with passion: “Lulav, remember! You are breeding anti-Semitism by the accusations with which you brand me. You repeat the false accusation that I want to topple the Soviet regime, at a time when your words are liable to arouse hatred in the hearts of Russians who will say that a religious Jew seeks to destroy the government. Remember, Lulav! Recant! You are only heaping hatred upon Jews! You are fuelling anti-Semitism!”

Nachmanson listened in silence; Lulav listened with a smirk.

The Rebbe was taken back to his cell, where he recorded his feelings on a few cigarette papers.