I was arrested on June 14 and immediately sent to a Soviet camp. The occupiers first beheaded Latvian Jewry, and then went after the rest of the body, even reaching the minor organs—Dubin’s staff.

This is probably the appropriate place for me to speak a little bit about my own ordeals in the Soviet torture chambers, and describe some of the more vivid events on my journey through the camps. After Yuli Margolin,1 Solzhenytzin,2 and many others, I’m not going to describe all the horrors of camp life, because for the most part the situation was the same throughout. But I ended up there coming from a completely different life, having previously never lived under Soviet rule, and even more so because in those savage circumstances I attempted to sustain the foundations of a Jewish life, keeping kosher and Shabbos.

Immediately after my arrest I was sent to a camp outside of Moscow, and at the war’s beginning I found myself in Usolag (Solikamsk),3 where exactly seven months later the investigation finished its “painstaking” work. To follow the twisted legal logic which determined 15 years of my life, it’s best to cite directly from my arrest file, a copy of which I was able to obtain in the 1990s when I was already in Israel. Here are a few lines from the indictment (the style of the original document is preserved throughout):

The investigation carried out in this case has established that GODIN, A. E., from the years 1930-1940, i.e. until the establishment of Soviet authority in Latvia, served as the personal secretary of the now-arrested DUBIN—leader of the counterrevolutionary party “Union of Israel,” to which GODIN belonged and establishment he supported.

From 1934 until 1940 GODIN worked at the print organ of this party, “Haynt,” in which he contributed his anti-Soviet articles, propagandizing extreme nationalism and religious chauvinism.

From 1933 to 1940 GODIN was an active member of the nationalist-chauvinist Jewish organization “Folksheim” in Riga, in which he served as a member of its board, deputy chairman, and secretary of this organization.

After the establishment of Soviet power in Latvia GODIN conducted anti-Soviet agitation in his surroundings on the subject of the activities of the government of the Latvian SSR.

Then further, slightly differently:

… [Godin] carried out anti-Soviet fabrications regarding the activities of the government of the Latvian SSR.

As a measure of punishment for defendant GODIN, A.E., it is considered appropriate to recommend imprisonment for 10 years of CLC4 and confiscation of personal property towards income of the state.

And here is the final line of the accusation:

There is no material evidence for this case.

As a result, on April 18, 1942, I was convicted at a so-called “Special Meeting,” meaning without trial, and condemned to 10 years in Correctional Labor Camps.

Interestingly, this is how the resolution of another “Special Meeting” held regarding my case reads. This one is dated May 8, 1945, (a pretty famous day!)5:

GODIN is convicted of taking part in a counterrevolutionary Zionist organization.

Meanwhile, my 1942 indictment did not mention Zionism at all. The later document continued:

After the establishment of Soviet authority in Latvia GODIN expressed in his surroundings his anti-Soviet judgement of the activities of the Soviet government in Latvia.

During the investigation GODIN acknowledged his guilt and on the basis of this information he was sentenced.

In his filed application dated 3.1.1945 and addressed to the People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs of the USSR, the convicted GODIN requests his release from custody, motivated by the claim that he was not a member of a Zionist organization, but was a member of the Jewish religious organization “Folksheim.” However, GODIN provides no reasons that could serve as basis for review of the case, limiting himself to a bare statement of his non-participation in the Zionist movement in the former bourgeoisie Latvia, whereas the material in the preliminary investigation is sufficient to expose it.

The statement of the condemned GODIN, Abraham Leib Zalmanovicha, is unsatisfactory, of which he will be informed through the Special Department of the NKVD of the USSR.

But now we’ll return to 1942, when, having just been convicted for “anti-Soviet fabrications,” I found myself one of numerous Zeks6 in Usolag. The doctor in the camp was a former Rigan, a Latvian, from whom I received permission to skip work on Shabbos and Jewish holidays. From the very beginning of my incarceration I tried to keep kosher, selling all of my remaining personal effects in order to buy bread. But I found the Solikamsk climate difficult to bear and soon fell ill with scurvy. In the fall of 1943 I was transferred together with other “weak” inmates to the Kraslag camp near Krasnoyarsk. There I was placed in a half-station, meaning I was brought to work but not required to fulfill the normal quota. In that way I managed to avoid doing work on Shabbos. That lasted about half a year, after which I was offered light work, to boil tea for the workers. I had to carry water from a well and heat it in a large cauldron, from which the orderlies took the boiling water.

Here appeared a new problem which we didn’t know of at Usolag, which was stukatche, informers. One time the camp mechanic, who worked in the women’s camp as well, brought me a letter. Some woman there had been transferred from a camp in Omsk where she had met my sister, and was now supposedly passing on a letter from her filled with anti-Soviet statements.

I sent a back a brief reply: “If we’ll be alive, G‑d willing—we’ll meet.”

Somebody did not like my extra-cautious reply, and a few days later the camp sanitation inspector came and poked around for a long time in the cauldron with a big scoop. He left, however, with nothing.

Suspecting there was something wrong, I poured all of the water out of the cauldron and found an old work glove inside. Had the sanitation inspector found it, without a doubt more time would have been added to my prison term; as soon as I could, I managed to rid myself of this dangerous work.

For internal transport in the camp there was horse-drawn transport, yet there were no horses, so the camp directors came up with a solution: Three zeks dragged these heavy sleds across the entire territory of the camp. I became one of these men, and worked together with the brother of Rabbi [Dovid] Chanzin (the rabbi of Petach Tikva),7 and a Chinese prisoner. Soon enough I was back doing general work in the forest.

I realized that my life could not continue very long in this way, as I felt myself losing all strength. My salvation came unexpectedly. At the end of the war many sick prisoners began to arrive and the camp medical staff couldn’t handle the load. As someone with a university education, I was sent to take a medical course after which I became a male nurse. Among the doctors was a German from Konigsberg named Dr. Zeiger who knew very little Russian, so I accompanied him on his rounds. At this job I received hospital food, which was bread, kasha without meat, a portion of sugar, and milk, and the hunger lessened.

Our surgeon was Dr. Kotzetkov, and once he offered for me to study dissection and work at autopsy in the camp. This work ended up saving me from big trouble. In July, 1950, by order of Beria,8 political prisoners began to be moved to special camps. I too was supposed to leave Kraslag and be sent to a camp with a much stricter regime, but the head of the medical unit held me back so that I could train my replacement. By then, the end of 1950, my camp sentence had come to an end, although now I had to remain indefinitely exiled in the Krasnoyarsk region. According to Soviet justice, I was to live out my days in that area. Big changes took effect in the country soon thereafter, and in July of 1955 the assistant to the head of the Military Tribunals Division of the Soviet Army signed an opinion connected to my case from which I’ll quote a few lines in order to compare with my initial indictment:

After the establishment of Soviet authority in Latvia GODIN expressed dissatisfaction with the prohibition of teaching religion in schools, and also condemned Soviet authorities for closing the bourgeoisie community. There was no other anti-Soviet activity.

On the 27 of September 1954 GODIN wrote to the General Prosecutor of the USSR asking to cancel his exile, the reason being that he never was a member of a Zionist organization and was only a member of the religious organization “Folksheim.”

Analysis of the material contained in the criminal case concludes that GODIN has served his sentence for belonging to a bourgeoisie-nationalist organization, while there are no other materials that denounce him in anti-Soviet activity.

Recommendation: GODIN should be freed from exile in the settlements.

I was finally freed in 1956 and left Siberia immediately and returned to Latvia. At first I was banned from living in Riga, but in October of that year the deputy prosecutor of the Latvian SSR signed a supervisory appeal, from which I’ll quote the last lines of my case file:

The material of the investigation established only that GODIN was indeed a member of the Jewish nationalist organization “Folksheim,” and worked at the “Haynt” newspaper. At the same time no practical counterrevolutionary or anti-Soviet activity on the part of GODIN was found in the material available in the case.

On the basis of the above and guidance from Article 16 of the judiciary law of the USSR, united and autonomous republics, and by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 19.8.1955-

It is requested:

That the resolution of the Special Meeting of the NKVD of the USSR of 18.4.1942 pertaining to GODIN, Abraham Leib Zalmanovich, be dismissed and that the case against him, for lack of evidence to support the accusations, cease.

Illustration photo of Perm 36, a camp in the Soviet Gulag system used for political prisoners from 1946-1987. Courtesy: Gulag Museum at Perm 36.
Illustration photo of Perm 36, a camp in the Soviet Gulag system used for political prisoners from 1946-1987. Courtesy: Gulag Museum at Perm 36.

From the first day of my arrest thoughts of Dubin gave me no rest. What tormented me most was the complete uncertainty of his fate, which continued until Sept. 1943. At that time I found myself at the central transfer point of the Usolag camp system in Solikamsk, waiting to be sent further into Siberia. Every day train cars filled with more prisoners arrived, amongst whom, obviously, there were Jews as well. The first thing I did was ask each new arrival if they might have heard anything at all regarding Mordechai Dubin from Riga. And so one fine day I happened to meet Elchonon Sorotzkin, the son of the Lutsker Rav [Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin], who later became head of the Vaad Hayeshivos in Jerusalem. From him I finally received news of Dubin’s whereabouts, and when I got to my camp I wrote a letter to my former boss, who I was told was then living in Kuybyshev.9 He responded to me, and I understood from his letters that he would not leave Russia until he discovered what had happened to his wife, son and daughter-in-law.

As it turned out, Dubin had been held in Riga’s Central Prison until the end of June, 1941, when Nazi troops began making their approach to the city. He and his fellow political prisoners were then evacuated into the depths of the country. In Dec. 1941 he was told he was free to go, but that his papers had all been lost in transit. The truth was, as became clear later, Jewish organizations from around the world had appealed to the Soviets with the request that Dubin be freed, and at the time the Soviet Union wished to appear decent in world opinion—their allies in the anti-fascist coalition—and they therefore freed Dubin and offered him to settle in Kuybyshev. Yet he remained under the ceaseless watch of Soviet authorities, who figured they might need to arrest him again and wanted him near at hand.

Even under these trying circumstances Dubin did not change his ways in the least bit. In Kuybyshev he received help from abroad, which he generously shared with others in need, himself surviving on the minimum. Kuybyshev’s synagogue turned into a center of aid for refugees, and thousands of Jews who ended up in the city went there for help, to Dubin.

In 1944 Dubin left for Moscow, where he was overtaken by the terrible news of the murder of his entire family. His son had died in a Nazi concentration camp, and his wife and daughter-in-law in Riga’s ghetto.

After the war, in 1946, Dubin visited a Riga lying in ashes. The Jews who had miraculously survived the conflagration were elated to see Dubin alive on the one hand, and poured out their grief to him on the other. But Dubin could not remain in Riga. The local press launched poisonous attacks on him, and he was forced to return to Moscow.

After Dubin’s trip to Riga our correspondence began to fade little-by-little; as a camp prisoner I only had the rights to two letters a year. At the end of 1947 I still received a package of products from Dubin, and although it was sent under a different name, I understood right away that it came from Mordechai Dubin.

A cell at Perm 36. Courtesy: Gulag Museum at Perm 36.
A cell at Perm 36. Courtesy: Gulag Museum at Perm 36.

The Second Arrest

In 1948 I received a letter from Moscow asking whether by any chance I had met Mordechai Dubin, and it immediately dawned on me that Dubin had once again been arrested. Officially none of his colleagues or acquaintances were informed of his whereabouts, but authorities did accept packages on his behalf—after all, they knew quite well where he was languishing.

Mordechai Dubin passed away in 1957, and the Jews of Tula [where Soviet authorities had forcibly committed him to a psychiatric asylum] buried him. Thirty years later his remains were reinterred in the Jewish cemetery in Malakhovka, a suburb of Moscow, and a gravestone erected.

Moscow's Lubyanka prison (far right) can be seen in this 1961 photo. Dubin spent at least two months in the Lubyanka during his first arrest. He may have been incarcerated there again during his second and final arrest. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
Moscow's Lubyanka prison (far right) can be seen in this 1961 photo. Dubin spent at least two months in the Lubyanka during his first arrest. He may have been incarcerated there again during his second and final arrest. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.


In 1959 Shmuel Shabbat’s Hebrew-language memoir In the Northern Camps: The Life of a Prisoner of Zion Behind the Iron Curtain was released by Reuven Mass Publishing House. In it, on page 452, the author recalls ending up in a cell with a number of Nazis, former agents of the SS. The attitude of goodwill of one of these Nazis towards the author, Shabbat, was very different from the others. During the war this Nazi had been one of the directors of German intelligence in Poland. Shabbat tells how this German, whom the author does not name, recounted that after the war he found himself in an MGB10 prison in Moscow, in the same cell as a well-known Jewish communal figure, one of the leaders of the Agudas Yisroel party in Latvia who had been a member of the Latvian parliament for many years, a man known as Rabbi Dubin. (He also reported that Dubin had been arrested after the war for helping to organize the illegal emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union.) Acquaintance and conversation with Dubin completely changed this Nazi’s view of Jews.

Samara (Kuybyshev) Choral synagogue.
Samara (Kuybyshev) Choral synagogue.

Once Dubin came over to him in their cell and told him: “You should be aware that I feel no hatred towards you or towards the German people, although your fellow tribesmen destroyed my entire family. I understand that this was predestined from above and you only fulfilled His will.”

Hearing these words the German turned red with shame; he could not even look at the gray-bearded patriarch. He suddenly understood how great a crime the perpetrators of the Holocaust had committed.

This German told of how Dubin acted in prison, as if he were in his own home, not allowing the slightest concessions in religious matters. As soon as he was led into the cell Dubin announced to his imprisoners that he would not eat non-kosher food, and they were forced to provide him with raw fish which he prepared for himself in the cell. One time he received a package from the Moscow Jewish community, but by prison regulations the prisoner must sign for the package. The package had arrived on Shabbat, when a Jew is forbidden from writing. The Chekists, impatient people that they were, kept coming into his cell every half-an-hour asking him whether he was able to write yet, and him replying in the negative. The jailers finally lost their temper, threatening that they would split the parcel among themselves and place Dubin in a punishment cell for making a mockery out of them. To this Dubin replied with all possible humility that he was ready for any possible torment, but he would not break Shabbat. And when night finally came into its own, Dubin said the evening prayers, recited havdala (over boiled water, since he obviously had no wine), and only then did he sign where they demanded him to.

“Imagine,” the German added, “he still got his package intact, and then split it up between the prisoners. All their threats were in vain.”

Once Dubin was overtaken by an extreme melancholy, and he poured out all of his bitterness in front of his fellow prisoners. He said he knew why the Creator was punishing him so cruelly. He told the Germans that for the Jewish people, respect for ones parents is equal to all other virtues, and he hadn’t respected his mother’s wish that he remain with her following the death of his father. Knowing that every day at least 150 people waited for his help in his office reception area, he had chosen communal affairs over his mother’s wishes, and was now paying for it.

It was acquaintance with M. Dubin that turned over this former Nazi’s soul and filled him with repentance.

Avraham Godin in his later years.
Avraham Godin in his later years.


I returned to Riga in 1956. As I walked the streets of that city I saw the image of Mordechai Dubin everywhere. He appeared before me among the congregants praying at the first minyan in the synagogue. He sat at the table in the home of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He attended sessions of the budgetary committee of the Saeima…

Only later, while living in Israel, was I able to begin unraveling the tangle of my memories. Little by little did I free myself of the nightmares of those days. Let these memoirs serve as a yahrtzeit candle for that legend of a man, Mordechai Dubin, and a kaddish prayer for his bright soul.

 Dubin's final resting place, in the Jewish cemetery in Malakhovka, Russia, where he was reburied in 1986. Photo: Dovid Margolin.
Dubin's final resting place, in the Jewish cemetery in Malakhovka, Russia, where he was reburied in 1986. Photo: Dovid Margolin.