The room was 2.5 archin wide, five archin long and 2.5 urchin high. The walls were of stone and one archin in thickness. The door was of iron. High on the wall close to the ceiling and facing the courtyard was an opening for a window. This opening was one archin in length by half an archin in width, covered by vertical iron bars and one horizontal iron bar, forming an intersecting barrier. The window was imbedded in an iron frame; the glass itself was only a handbreadth by a handbreadth.

Three thick iron chains, one on each side and the third in the middle extending from above, made it possible to open the window by suspending it on these iron chains. On the outside, an extended iron railing blocked the prisoners' view of the outside and prevented them from communicating with prisoners in the cells across the courtyard.

The room contained an iron bed fastened to the wall and an iron table, approximately three feet square, also fastened to the wall, and a water faucet. In a corner of the room there was a hollow vessel for the hygiene needs of the prisoner, an electric light, and a hot water pipe passing through the cell to provide warmth. This cell was normally for one prisoner, but with the increased number of prisoners, two, three, and even four prisoners were placed in such rooms.

The thickness of the cell door was approximately the size of a handbreadth, but I could not discern if the door was totally made of iron or merely iron-plated on both sides. The door was approximately six feet high and and three feet wide. There was a small opening the size of an egg in the middle of the door with an iron cover, to enable the guard to scrutinize and supervise the actions of the prisoners in the cell at any time. Approximately ten inches below this opening, there was a small square window through which the prisoners received food and drink. This window in the iron door was shut, locked with a latch.

There were three men in the room whose identity I did not know. Two of them reclined on boards supported by wooden frames, and one reclined on the metal bed attached to the wall. One of them was a Jew and the other two were gentiles.

The first one, K, had been here for six months, and it was already nine weeks since he had been informed of his death penalty verdict. When his time would arrive, he would be given twenty-four hours notice.

This one-day advance knowledge was the law. He could use this period of time to request clemency and mercy through either a telegram or an express letter (which must be delivered within two hours) to be submitted to the superior official-or he could agree to be an informer or worker on behalf of the G.P.U. to purchase his life.

The second man was a Jew, Sh, who had been there for two months and had been called for interrogation only once.

He had been asked many questions about his business and about a number of specific business people. To the answer that he had no knowledge of them, the interrogator stated that he would sit in prison until he remembered. And if he found remembering difficult, the cold air of Siberia would refresh his memory. All he needed to be allowed to return home and eat his fill of bread was to agree to be an informer.

The third man was a gentile, S, a farmer on the Finland border, who it was decided, was a Finnish spy.

When I entered the room, the first man to give me a place to sit was S. He folded over his mattress (a sack of straw) and arranged my possessions.

I felt a flow of blood caused by the blow from the guard's ruthless push. I removed my garment, took wet handkerchiefs, and placed them upon my wound. The flow of blood, along with my pale white face, was an enigma to my fellow prisoners, and they questioned me although my clothing indicated that I was a Rabbi.

The Jew Sh. recognized me. Trembling, he cried out, "Rebbe, has the hand of the G.P.U. touched you also? In Heaven's name, what has happened to this country. Has there been a revolution? It is already more than a week now that hundreds of prisoners are led down the corridor outside our cell to their death, and we hear their groans and outcries." He said that he had been here over two months and it was only recently that such upheaval had set in.

He questioned me about the time and reason for my arrest. How had I received such serious wounds on my stomach and knees which appeared to have been caused by an iron bar, a wound from which the blood continued to ooze?

He spoke to me in Yiddish, as K. and S. stared open-mouthed. I did not reply for two reasons. Firstly, the pain was so excruciating that I was unable to speak. I also feared I had been placed among informers who would make false accusations. I had heard from experts on these prisons that when the prison authorities wished to elicit confidential information, they would place the prisoner with seemingly congenial and friendly cell-mates, and as time passed he would be lured into revealing his secrets.

Suddenly an announcement was heard, "Awaken, its time to get up."

At the sound of this announcement the prisoners hastened to get out of their beds, for the guard peering through the peephole would punish those who still lay down.

A short while passed, and then the announcement was made: "Prepare to receive bread." Each call was repeated three, four or five times with an intense effect on the prisoners. A clatter was heard in the outer corridor, for the locks on the cell door windows were being opened to give the food to the prisoners.

The same occurred in our cell: A guard accompanied by an attendant bearing bread called out to the prisoners:

"Prisoner one, take bread!" K. approached the opening and it was handed to him." Prisoner two, take bread!" Prisoner Sh. also came close to receive his bread. "Prisoner three, take bread!" and prisoner S. repeated the ritual.

"Prisoner four," he addressed himself to me. "I sat in my place with the wet, bloodstained cloth upon my knees and stomach. For you there is no bread. When we receive the order, we will provide it for you."

I responded, "I do not need bread. Give me a pencil so that I can write a request."

The official answered, "You have already sent three telegrams. Enough. What more do you want? You have generated enough headaches for the administration with your foolishness. I will not provide a pencil for your message."

"In accordance with the law, you are obligated to fulfill my request. This is my privilege. If I so wish, I can dispatch a hundred telegrams every day."

I spoke to the prisoners and to the bread-bearing attendant: "Gentlemen, you are witnesses that this official has denied me that which the law allows."

Upon hearing the honorary title Gospoda — Gentlemen (a pre-revolutionary term of respect which was now forbidden to be uttered even in the gardens and parks in the U.S.S.R., to the extent that it was now used as a derisive term for the prison orderly while he fulfilled his tasks), his eyes flashed, his face reddened, and he said trembling: "Do you see this counter-revolutionary! He should be shot on the spot& without any& demon! Here is a pencil! Hurry, take it!"

I replied, "I am unable to stand. Give it to this gentleman" (and I pointed toward K, who was sitting by the door) "and he will hand it to me."

"No," answered the prison official, "That is forbidden according to the law. Every prisoner must personally receive the object given to him by the prison official. Stand and accept it."

"I cannot. I am ill."

"If so, then never mind. If you want to follow the law, then let's follow the law."

He attempted to close the opening in the door, and I cried out: "According to the law, I demand to see the section head immediately." And he closed the window.

An announcement was sounded: "Prepare to receive hot water!" and each prisoner prepared his container.

Suddenly, we heard the door locks being opened. Terrorizing fear fell upon the three prisoners. They all remained seated in their places, their faces white as chalk. I did not understand the reason for their fright. I didn't know why, but I was also shaken. The door opened and the division head entered. His eyes fierce, his face livid, he called out, "Who asked for me?"

"I did," I replied.

"What is your wish?" he asked angrily.

"I want you to give me my tefillin, my prayer book, and my religious books as assured by the agents of the G.P.U. I also wish to be seen by a doctor."

"I will give you neither the tefillin nor the religious books. A doctor will arrive no sooner than tomorrow, morning or evening. You will not lose all your blood in the course of one or two days from so minor a wound."

Seeing that drops of blood were falling to the ground, he shouted to hasten and clean the cell because the cleanliness and sanitary condition of the cell was the responsibility of the prisoners. He turned to leave in a fury.

I said: "In the name of the law, I am addressing myself to you, the director of the sixth section, to inform you that I am commencing a hunger strike until my request for my tefillin and my religious books is fulfilled. Here is my protest written in accordance with the law."

Upon reading my protest, he became enraged. He approached me and raised his hand to frighten me, but did not touch me. Petia, who was also present, said that I should be taken down to the chambers, and there I would find peace from my distress.

"Yes," said the division head, "I will tell the upper administrator who hates overly-sensitive prisoners." Petia commented that I would then stroll on the Sabbath in Paradise.

The division head was pleased by this and then warned me that I should not presume to call him again and disturb him from his rest, for he had the authority to penalize me harshly. As for my hunger strike, he would adhere to the law and forward my request to its destination either tomorrow or the next day. And they closed the door behind them.

The official's appearance in the cell made an intense impression on the prisoners. When his footsteps could no longer be heard, they began to whisper to each other; and because of my great pain I could not make out what they were saying.

A few hours passed, my pain diminished, and I wrapped myself in my talit and prayed at length. I also recited Psalms by heart. During the course of my prayers the time arrived for the daily outdoor walk. However, when the official saw that I was praying, he did not disturb me.

The time arrived for the hot water served at night to the prisoners. I obviously took no water. A short while passed and the officer supervising the outdoor walk came to the cell. He called me to go outdoors, for it was a prison regulation that even those guilty of the most severe crimes had to briefly participate, although they would walk alone under guard. However, I declined to go.

At this time the doctor arrived accompanied by the division head. He examined me and gave me a dressing for my wound, inquiring as to its cause. I did not reply but addressed myself to the official, requesting my tefillin and religious books. He ignored my inquiry.

The day passed, night cast its wings; a call was heard: "It is now time for bed; lay down and go to sleep." The Jewish prisoner Sh. gave me his place, saying he would sleep with either S. or K. He also gave me a pillow and urged me to hurry and go to sleep, for in another hour the clamor of those being led to the dungeons would begin, and the shrieks and outcries agitated and frightened all who heard.

The prisoners were already asleep in their places, yet I still sat. Petia the guard peered in through the door opening, and seeing that I was still awake, admonished me to sleep. I answered that I was waiting to say my evening prayers at 11 o'clock and then I would sleep. I asked him if that time had already arrived.

He did not reply at all, but closed the viewing crevice and left. I remained seated and repeated those texts that I knew by heart. A short while later, Petia once again peered through the hole and informed me it was already 11 o'clock.

I prayed the evening prayers. As I was yet in the midst of the Shema, the sound of heavy footsteps could be heard, and then the opening of a door not distant from our cell.

Suddenly the cry of a man begging for mercy was heard, and then an officer's voice in Russian, commanding," Place your hands on his mouth to silence him." Then a heavy silence. My hands and knees trembled. In a moment I would faint. From the courtyard I suddenly heard a bizarre cry "Ay, Ay!" and the sound of rifle shots.

A wellspring of tears flowed from my eyes. I felt incapable of uttering a single word. Fear gripped me upon hearing footsteps approaching our room. Once again a door opened. For a brief instant, a shriek could be heard, and then it was abruptly stifled. This was immediately followed by rifle shots and the scream of a human being crying out in intense pain. There was a second and third rifle shot. And it was silent once again.

I fortified myself and prayed, and when I was reciting "Hear our voice," a great tumult could be heard from the other side of the courtyard, the sustained screams of the slain and volleys of gunfire. This lasted until dawn — I obviously could not sleep.

A cool breeze wafted in through the window. The oppressive silence of death prevailed in that place of wanton murder. My pain had diminished somewhat, fear passed from me, an exalted spirit steadied me, and my thoughts merged into meaningful order.

My first thought was "It is written, 'the world abounds with G‑d's glory,' and this includes Spalerno also." The image of thePetropavlovskaya Krepostj and the imprisonment of my grandfather the Alter Rebbe, our first father, of blessed memory stood before my eyes. I beheld this vision while fully awake.

How powerful is the faculty of thought and the quality of imagination, enabling man to envision mental imagery as if it were authentic experience. At such a time one can entirely transcend the wasteland of the physical and the material. The eyes blur, onethoughts surge as though ascending within the realm of soul and spirit, man's pain-ridden flesh is alien and distant from him.

The sound of "Awaken, its time to get up roused me from my sleep." For I, too, was a prisoner and the fear of the guard affected me, too.

"We are all alive," Prisoner K. said, "after so fearful a night, thank G‑d that we are all alive."

He continued, "Every time I heard the approaching footsteps, I thought the end was near. In a moment they would open the door for me to follow them. There were moments when I trembled and instances when I actually thought that it was far better to perish than to endure the pain of agonizing uncertainty for so long. But when night passes and day arrives, it is possible, once again, to pour out your heart to the Almighty."

This was the first time in my life that I had been in such an environment, among such simple people who were removed from any kind of intellectual concern. The simplicity and sincerity of K. made a profound impression on me.

The twenty-five hours of my imprisonment had already stamped upon me the identity of a prisoner. I had to become accustomed to these circumstances, because I was a prisoner. All of my material and spiritual needs were within the narrow confines of this cell containing four men.

Initially, I could not comprehend how four people could coexist in this room with its stifling rancid air. How could they function and cope with simple bodily needs?

In these twenty five hours I experienced things of which I had never known. I saw ruthless people, callous, capable of shedding human blood. I heard the screams of the dying and the derisive laughter of bloodthirsty sadists.

I will never know the identity of those slain this night, whether Jews or non-Jews, businessmen, intellectuals, or clergymen. But one thing was clear: that those slain were totally undeserving of the bitter penalty imposed upon them. They were family people, fathers to children, sons to parents, husbands to their wives, breadwinners providing food and clothing for those dependent upon them. Who will care for their survivors?

"Who knows," I reflected," if at that very moment, as these individuals are being taken to be slain, shrieking and pleading, at the very same time, their wives, sons and parents are in deep slumber with visions of hope, unknowing that at this very instant their husbands, fathers, or sons are being led to slaughter.

"How tragically unfortunate is the man who in his last moments is denied the opportunity to express his last requests to his survivors-to have a last glance of those dear to him, his beloved and his friends, to bless his children.

"Life in this prison is dreadful. Even more terrifying is death itself."

Possessed by such thoughts, I sat bent upon the boards vacated for me by prisoner Sh. I could find no rest from my pain. At that instant, I realized that I had been oblivious to my pain the entire night. Spontaneously, I let out a deep groan. At the same time I thought that such a groan was still far better than the lot of the people whose blood-drenched bodies were strewn in mounds in the subterranean chambers of this massive fortress.

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the announcement "Prepare to receive bread!"

Hearing this call, the faces of the prisoners lit up. They looked at each other with joy and beaming expectation.

I had not yet been apprised that the orderlies were changed daily and that there were three different ones. The first was Petia, with his usual expression of rage constantly on his face. The second individual was young, a good (!) man, ethical and concerned about the welfare of the prisoners. The third man was elderly, neither good nor bad. The shift of the young guard was a good twenty-four hour period. He responded to all questions, providing pencils and cigarettes for those requesting them. Sometimes he would even bring old newspapers, and he was not begrudging in distributing the daily portion of hot water. Sometimes he would open the viewing hole in the door (when he was certain that the supervisory control would not pass) and chat with the prisoners, telling them of what was occurring in the outside world.

Thus, it was quite understandable that an upbeat mood prevailed in the cell when his voice was heard.

"You can talk to this guard," said prisoner K, "you can ask of him to request that the prison administrator provide your religious garments and your holy books."

"Indeed," said prisoner Sh, "he is a fine person; he will do for you whatever is possible. I will speak to him and ask him for a cigarette, but I do not have money."

During the search they took the currency that I had in bills, but not my coins. The section head in his later search also permitted me to retain my bag, which also held some coins. I counted them and found the sum total to be seven rubles and thirty-five kopeks.

This large sum astonished my cellmates, for according to the official regulation one could have no more than two rubles in coins.

I gave fifty kopeks to prisoner Sh. on the possibility that he could acquire a cigarette or at least some tobacco with cigarette paper.

I then learned that prisoner Sh. had four rubles, also on account, whereas K. and S. had nothing at all, although prisoner S. received a food package every week. Prisoner K's relatives, moreover, were in another city; so he truly had nothing, and his garment had withered away more than a month ago. He was a habitual smoker, but during his entire stay in the prison, he only could smoke from the remnants from prisoners Sh. and S. His hair had grown long during these four months, for he did not have the ten kopeks necessary to pay the barber who came once every ten days to this section of the prison.

I loaned K. a complete ruble and to S. forty kopeks. Prisoner Sh. declined the coins, saying he would accept them only if something was available for purchase.

The time for bread distribution arrived. The guard opened the slot in the door and my cell-mates stood ready to say good morning to the guard and to receive their daily rations.

The crevice opened. The guard addressed the prisoners by their first names, first prisoner K, then Sh, and finally S. S. stood for a few moments in conversation with the guard, who abruptly ended the conversation, closed the opening, and moved on.

One hundred thirteen prisoners had been taken from the sixth section last night. Some of the judgments were as follows: sixteen had been freed, thirty-two were transferred to Narim, one to Solovaki, six to Siberia, two to Kresty (a hard-labor prison in Leningrad), seven to Ural, nine were shot to death. Also, one hundred eighty-three new prisoners had been brought in last night.

Prisoner Sh. was white as chalk. "Who knows," he speculated, "what will be the end of all the prisoners. It would be far better to go insane, to be confined in a mental institution, than to be here." He added reflectively to himself,"Perhaps the fate of those slain last night is far better than our present existence. They no longer live. They are at rest and we face an uncertain fate."

Prisoner K. protested this train of thought. He said that this brief respite was still far better than death because there was still hope for survival. "It is quite possible that the mercies of He Who is Above all things will shine upon us. A living person can hope to pass away with dignity amongst relatives and friends, and not like a beast or animal savagely torn apart in the depths of a forest, never to receive proper burial. No! G­-d has created man that he should live and die with dignity."

The cell became very hot, and the prisoners all took off their clothing and went undressed. Sh. and S. were in their underwear, while K, who had no underwear, walked about as though on the day of his birth.

The air was suffocating and I sat fully clothed, actually experiencing cold. My cell-mates looked at me in amazement. I was obviously ill.

My heart intensely gripped me. The last distribution of hot water for the day had taken place and I still had not received my tefillin. It was already forty hours into my fast-not even a single drop of water had entered my mouth. Hours of physical pain and torture, but above all, torture of the soul: tefillin, tefillin.

The announcement was heard, "Lay down to sleep." I had already recited the evening prayers and was lying in my bed.

We suddenly heard footsteps approaching. We were gripped by fear. A few seconds passed. The locks were opened. The ray of a flashlight shone into the cell. We looked at each other with astonishment, confusion, and the very fear of death.

The door opened, three people entered, all of them with rifles; four stood outside with drawn swords.

Someone asked," How many people are here?" "Four," answered one of the officials.

"Prisoners! What are your names? Answer in order."








"Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn," I answered.

One of the officials stared at me with an expression of contempt. They conversed for a few moments. We were so overwhelmed with fear that we did not comprehend what was being said.

One of them spoke in a low voice to me, "You, come with us."

All during this time I sat on my bed and a piece of wet cloth rested on the wound dressing provided by the doctor. I wore my tzitzit and my Rabbinical hat. I arose from my bed, removed the cloth, and prepared to go with them.

They awaited me and I could see that my cell-mates Sh. and K. were crying, tears streaming from their eyes. S. stood openmouthed like a marble statue, white as lime.

Without saying a word, I walked out into the corridor. One of them turned to me and asked that I show my belongings. I pointed them out and he looked at them from afar.

I proceeded a few steps behind them. One of the three led the group. Two of the sword-bearing soldiers walked in front of me and two of them behind me, and two of those who bore rifles and who had entered my cell were behind this retinue.

"Remove your hat and button up your clothing so that your fringed garment cannot be seen."

"No, I will not remove my hat," I answered.

"I hereby order you to remove your hat, and if you refuse you will have a bitter end."

"I will not remove my hat, and I want to know if you know who I am."

"Who are you?"

"I am the Lubavitcher Rebbe."

He asked, "So?"

I replied, "The Lubavitcher Rebbe is not frightened nor taken aback by your attempts to intimidate him."

He commented that the G.P.U. could overwhelm even the most obstinate person during the first forty-eight hours of his imprisonment. But he no longer insisted that I remove my hat.

Upon descending one ladder, the group of three dispersed to different corridors, taking with them two of the officials with swords, and now only two individuals with swords accompanied me.

Once again we descended a ladder and I proceeded slowly because the pain had returned with even greater intensity. I let out a deep groan and stood because I could not advance any further. Then one of my escorts told me that I would soon be in the interrogation room and I could rest there.

This had a twofold effect upon me: I now knew that I was being taken for questioning (the entire procession had given the impression that I was being led to the firing squad-may G‑d protect us). I also sensed that even here, amongst such callous individuals, there could be awakened the fleeting emotion of human compassion in response to the groan of a prisoner.

I stood for a few moments and summoned up my remaining strength to go further.

"Here!" said one of my escorts, gesturing with his left hand. "We must wait here until we receive a command."

Since standing without support was difficult for me, I leaned on the wall to brace myself.

Seeing my frail condition, the second escort commented, "I do not envy you. Within a day or two they'll give you beans" (a Slavic expression for the bullets of the firing squad).

"Comrade," responded the other person, "why say such things? Can you really anticipate the verdict of the judges? We must perform our duties and not go beyond that."

The first one answered, "I heard Comrade M. saying that the decision would be rendered within three days, well before the wealthy people can possibly influence our national leaders."

These words affected me profoundly, and I prayed from the depths of my heart that G‑d should endow me with the fortitude to speak during the interrogation session without succumbing to fear.

While I yet reflected on these thoughts, the door opened and a resonant, authoritative voice called out assertively, "Bring the prisoner here. Give me the document of prisoner 3/160/4" (these identifying numbers indicated the number of the section-311, the room number-160, and the number of the prisoner in that room-4) "to sign and you can leave."

Upon entering the room, I was gripped by a sense of deep apprehension. Three men were sitting, a gun resting in front of each. Clusters of weapons were arranged in all corners of the room. Their faces all had an expression of rage, and their eyes glimmered with animosity and anger.

The room was about 24 feet long and 15 feet wide. There was a table and a number of chairs. The room had a large broad window whose panes were painted over so as to prevent any viewing.

As I approached the table one of them spoke ...