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Publisher's Foreword

The Imprisonment of 1927: Part I

The Imprisonment of 1927: Part II

The Imprisonment of 1927: Part III

[Chronicles of the First Three Generations of Chabad Chassidism]

[Recollections of the Author's Childhood Between the Ages of Six and Eleven]


A Prince in Prison
The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe's Account
of His Incarceration in Stalinist Russia in 1927
An Extract from Likkutei Dibburim
by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch

The Imprisonment of 1927: Part III

Translated by Uri Kaploun

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  The Imprisonment of 1927: Part II[Chronicles of the First Three Generations of Chabad Chassidism]  



Tractate Gehinnom, Stage Three

Entering the gateway we turned right, into a gloomy corridor lit by small lamps. Instead of merely requesting, I now literally pleaded with the guard that he should allow me to put on tefillin, and added that it was difficult for me to walk so fast. He replied that if I continued to insist he would take me straight to the dungeon.

I continued to plead: "Just five minutes; three minutes!" - and explained that I was an observant Jew who merely wanted to wear his tefillin for a few minutes.

In between puffs of his pipe he told me that he knew very well what tefillin were. He once lived in a small town near the local synagogue and knew what prayers were, too - but he would still not grant me my request.

I therefore put on my hand-tefillin as I continued to walk behind him, but before I managed to put on my head-tefillin he turned around and struck me. In doing so he pushed me down the whole of the iron staircase to my left, but I broke neither hand nor foot, thank G-d.

Laboriously and painfully I managed to climb up a few steps. Evidently the metal component of the belt that I had been wearing for some years broke as I fell; it now tore at my skin. My heart froze with pain; I felt about to faint.

"Just wait and see what a delicious dish the chief of the sixth division is going to serve you!" shouted the guard. "Then you'll forget about your requests and your prayers! After you spend three or four nights lying among the mice in the dark muck and mire, then you'll understand that Spalerno is no place to turn into a Jewish house of prayer!"

Having arrived at a wide corridor, I still had to cope with three more staircases before reaching the third floor, where the chief of the sixth division would punish me for my transgression.

I was forced to sit down to rest on one of the steps. In addition to the pain, I felt that my abdomen was bleeding from the injury. Walking was extremely difficult.

Swallowing my pain, I held on to the iron balustrade and raised myself with difficulty from step to step. The guard had already reached the third flight, while I made my cumbersome way upstairs like a broken old man.


The chief of the sixth division stood up there on the landing, waiting to receive his important visitor. He had apparently received an order of some sort from Head Office; whether it was for lenience or lashing, his stony face did not disclose.

"Yarlik no. 26818!" announced my guard, and handed him the documents.

"Fine, fine," replied the chief. "Give us your merchandise. It's boring just sitting around here with arms folded."

He peered down at me as I was still at the foot of the third flight of stairs and called out: "Old man! What's delaying you down there? My time's precious!"

I climbed up to the landing, the tefillin in my hand.

"Go and get searched," commanded the chief loudly. And, as he walked away whistling, he gave an order to someone else: "Petia! Take the merchandise from the guard, bring him to my office, and get to work!"

The man or beast called Petia emerged from one of the cells or holes at the end of the landing and approached me, looked me up and down, and muttered to himself: "Just look what rags they've started to send here! No doubt about it - a real parasite, a bearded Jew!"

Then he said to me: "Old man, go along and get searched. Don't you worry: here we'll clean you up good and proper! These guys'll dismantle your bones one by one!"

This creature Petia was one of those responsible for the storerooms which housed the belongings of the yarliks who were brought to this fortress. Though unarmed by any lethal trappings, he had the look of a destructive demon - of middle height, but with a fiery face and the voice of a lion. He always looked sideways, because he could not look directly at people as others do. This was the man who now walked ahead to show me the way to the office of the chief of the sixth division.

"Why are you limping?" he asked. "Is the air of Spalerno affecting you?! The air here is fine, isn't it! Here people are given first-class perfumes to smell. For parasites like you we have perfumes that make them fall flat on their faces on their first day here, as if they had suddenly fallen ill. They lie about for two or three days until the doctor arrives. Sometimes he comes too late, and then all he has to do is to write down the cause of death."

I was wounded and walking with difficulty; I had to stop to rest after every step; I was losing blood; my heart was stressed with pain.

"Why are you so pale?" asked Petia. "Are you sick, too? After you've been searched you can die. It's quiet over here; no one will disturb you, and at home they won't know anything either. The doctor will write up a certificate for the office; the clerk will sign it; they'll make a note of it in the office journal; they'll cancel your file; and the body will be thrown into some hole in the ground down there."

I cannot say that his words made no impression on me. I thought to myself, "What lesson can be learned from them?"

We all know the Baal Shem Tov's teaching - that every word or syllable, every sight or image, that a man hears or sees, is a directive in some area of his divine service. A man of even limited understanding can grasp that words like Petia's can very likely arouse feelings of penitence, of the awe of heaven, an awareness of Divine Providence, an experience of faith and trust. But there is also an Evil Inclination; there, too, Satan frolics; there, too, there is someone who prevents a man from being what he should be.

The pain was now so intense that I could not take one more step forward. I stood still.

"What's this act all about?" raged Petia. "Will we have to carry you on a stretcher to the official who does the search?! Enough of your pretensions, Jewface!"

"Petia!" the chief of the sixth division called out. "Where have you got lost? Where is yarlik 26818? Hurry up and get here! I'm sick and tired of waiting!"

"I'll be there in a minute," Petia reassured him. And to me he added: "Do you see? He's reached the end of his patience. Devilish dog-carcass!"

With G-d's help I made my way to the chief's office - three yards square, with an iron door and no window, lit by a candle.

"Here you are," said Petia to the chief. "The rag is all yours. Does this, too, count as merchandise?! Anyway, in an hour's time he won't be alive."

Petia's eloquence made the chief smile with glee.

"It can't be helped, brother," he commiserated. "If there's no one else, then this will do. Our comrades can't be left unemployed!"

He turned to me: "Okay, so let's get on with our search. Tell me, what have you got in your pocket?"

Having searched and found nothing, he opened my bag. There he found the tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam and Shimusha Rabba, a gartl, and my books. These he took, but I held the tefillin of Rashi in my hand.

"Go back to where you belong," he ordered Petia. "When the search is over I'll call you."


As he checked through my belongings with his back to me I sat down on a broken chair, the only one in the room. I pleaded with him to allow me to say my prayers, but he answered with a furious No. Without losing an instant I quickly put on the hand-tefillin then the head-tefillin and recited Kerias Shema. However, at the very moment that I began to say the first blessing of Shemoneh-Esreh, he completed his work, turned around, and discovered me wearing my tefillin.

His eyes opened wide in astonishment and horror. His face filled with angry blood and he turned into a wild beast.

"Jewface!" he shrieked, as he seized my head-tefillin with both hands. "I'll hurl you into the dungeon! Devil that you are, I'll smash your face!"

"Reign over us," I prayed, "You alone, O G-d, with kindness and compassion!" I had barely managed to complete this passage in Shemoneh-Esreh, when I was forced to remove my tefillin for fear that he would tear their straps.

"Petia!" he roared. And to me he said, "I feel sorry for you, old man. Even without my help you're going to die pretty soon. Your white face and black lips tell me that we won't have to deal with you for long. Tell me, what disease have you got?"

I gave no answer. It was clear that the main task of these officials was to intimidate their prisoners and alarm them. They played with their yarliks like a little boy plays with picture-cards.

Petia appeared at the door, scowled at the floor, and asked, "What's up?"

"What kind of a question is that?" said the chief. "Don't you know what you're supposed to do?"

"Do you mean to remove this junk?" asked Petia. "Has he been registered?"

"Not yet," replied the chief. "In a moment I'll register him in the big journal of the incoming prisoners, then I'll give him a number, and we'll attach a file. Everything will be done properly, just as the law requires."

"Why waste so much time on this filth?" said Petia. "Hand him over for the exit list, and that's that. Whatever happens he won't last; he'll be a gonner in a day or two."

The chief held otherwise: "No, brother, that will never do! We've got to stick to the law. We've got to fill out the file properly and give him the right number. If he's sick we'll write it down in the journal and send a report to the doctor. What's today - Wednesday? If I manage to forward it today, then on about Saturday, or on Monday at the latest, he'll be examined. Or maybe even before that they'll free him of all his ailments...."

Petia grinned: "One little pill will do the trick!"

"That's a question for the big bosses," said the chief. "If I get an order to send the merchandise on its way, I'll do just that. Come on, Petia, you know the procedure. You're an old hand at the job!"

"Am I ever!" responded Petia with relish. "I love watching them suffer for two or three hours. Sometimes, mind you, when you're taking them out there, they walk as if they were dead. But the minute you begin to rip off their clothes and they just about die of fright, that's the best part. Blood's fun, too, but then you sometimes have to wait five or six hours till it's all over."

"Okay," said the chief to Petia, "I've finished and everything's ready. Take yarlik 26818 to Room 160, no. 4."

"Your name, old man," he now said to me, "is now 'no. 160, the fourth.'"

"Petia," he ordered, "take no. 160, the fourth, and sign here that you've received him. That's that."

He smiled proudly as he watched Petia signing: "Fine! Everything's just nice!"

"Now you're mine," Petia informed me. "Off you go to your rest.... Here, take your things!"

I reached out to take the tefillin which all lay on the table in confusion, and thanked G-d that the chief had not opened up the cubes containing the little scrolls. I began to take them in order, with a distant hope that he might perhaps allow me to take them with me to my cell.

When I entreated him to let me have them, and reminded him of what I had been promised, he laughed out aloud: "Old man, forget all that! Just get it clear that you are a prisoner and forget all your nonsense. I'm not going to give you more than I have given you already - your clothes, your handkerchiefs, and that's all. If you want to ask for more, then you can address a request to the top officials. If I get an order from them, I'll do whatever I'm told to do."

"Here," I said, "you are my official; I don't need anyone higher than you. I'm asking you personally to be so kind as to give me the tefillin and the books. The clothes and the handkerchiefs and the food, I can do without."

A soft answer is so powerful that it can soften even a heart of stone. The chief changed in an instant from cruelty to humanity, and scratched his head.

"It's forbidden!" said Petia. "Get up and get out!"

"It's forbidden," echoed the chief. "Without permission I can't do it. If you want to, write a request. Here, take a sheet of paper."

Among the prison regulations that I had read on a bulletin board while waiting in this room, I had seen the following: Any prisoner who has money deposited in the office may write his requests or other information even by telegram, provided he writes that the expenses are to be deducted from his account.

Accordingly, I now told the chief that I wanted to write my demand in a telegram. Before there was any response, Petia spoke up. He argued that I could write the telegram in his room, for in a few minutes, he said, he had to go and wake up the sleepers who were stuck to their beds. With the chief's permission, however, I wrote out three identical telegrams: "I hereby request that the chief of the sixth division be ordered immediately to hand me my tefillin. Rabbi Y. Schneersohn, sixth division, room 160."

The telegrams were addressed to the Chief Prosecutor, the official in command of Spalerno, and the investigator Nachmanson.

When he had read them through, the chief commented: "He sure thinks big! Just look how he writes to the Chief Prosecutor, the official in command of Spalerno, and the investigator!" And he broke out in raucous laughter.

I knew that I had to demand a note from the chief confirming that he had received three telegrams and that I had to demand that he would send them as soon as possible.

"Finished?" asked Petia. "Now that you've calmed down, off we go."

"But where's the note confirming receipt of the telegrams?" I asked the chief.

"What note?" he retorted.

"The law," I stated calmly, "requires the official in charge to sign a note confirming that permission has been granted for the transmission of telegrams."

Subdued by my mention of the law, the chief wrote out a receipt as required and stamped it, did the same to each of the telegrams, and placed everything in the big envelope in which he evidently kept all the documents intended for Head Office.

With this I completed my stay in Tractate Gehinnom, Stage Three. As I proceeded I was accompanied by Petia, who vigorously cursed me and everyone else on the face of the earth and tried to terrorize me with the fear of death.


Instead of listening to him I marveled as to how the architect who planned Spalerno had taken into account whatever might be needed for its future prisoners - i.e., facilities suited to every kind of torment, torture and cruelty.

The fortress was built as one edifice within another, one square surrounding wall of stone being enclosed by a larger one of a hundred yards square. The outer facade of the inner wall was studded on all four sides with the iron doors of cells. Facing them across a passage about six yards wide, the inner facade of the outer wall had windows eight yards high, extending over the height of three floors. From the passage below one could climb up an iron ladder to the continuous four-foot-wide balcony which projected on all sides from the outer facade of the inner wall, giving access to its cells. From that balcony one could climb up another iron ladder to the balcony which surrounded the top floor.

Along this balcony I now walked from the chief's office in the direction of Room 160. I did not yet know where it was because I was following Petia, who did his best to horrify me with stories of how he enjoyed gazing at the blood of rich men and clerics.

"One of them," he remarked, "looked pale and heavy-set, just like you."

[Wallowing in sadism, he went on to describe in gross detail how he liked to drink tea while waiting till they finally expired, how he disposed of their remains and cleaned up the cells, and how he and his comrades were rewarded for their labors by money and vodka.]

Though his narratives did not alarm me, they sent a violent shudder through my whole body.

"They should have stuck you in solitary confinement," he explained, "because you're on the execution list. Whoever's on that list always goes to a condemned cell. But it looks like they're all full up, and that's why they sent you to 160."

Finally, taking out one heavy key for the outer iron door and another for the inner door, he announced, "Here's your lock-up. Get in there and lie down on the floor." But before I managed to enter he seized hold of me angrily for no particular reason and pushed me in violently. Having thus added pain to my pain, he locked the door and left.


The cell was about six feet by twelve and six feet high; the stone walls were two feet thick; the door was of iron. Facing the courtyard there was one window in the wall near the ceiling, two feet high and one foot wide, with vertical iron bars crossed by a horizontal bar. The window's iron frame, held in place by iron pins, left a glass pane of about four inches square. When the window was tilted open it was secured to the inside wall by one chain on either side and another above. It was obscured from the outside by an iron partition which prevented prisoners from seeing what was going on outside and precluded any contact with prisoners on the opposite side of the courtyard.

Inside the cell an iron bed and a table three feet square were fixed to the wall. There was a tap; a vessel in the corner to serve as a W.C.; an electric globe; and a hot water pipe that passed through the cell to provide heating.

Such a cell was originally designed for solitary confinement, but as the number of prisoners increased, the authorities began to fit in two or three or even four people.

The door was about four inches thick, though I could not tell whether it was solid metal or surfaced with metal on both sides. It was six feet high and three feet wide, with an inch-wide peephole covered by an iron latch in the middle for the constant use of the prison guards. A couple of feet below it there was a tiny square window, with its own iron lock, through which the prisoners were given their provisions.


The prison regulations run as follows:

  1. Officials are forbidden to converse with prisoners;

  2. all cells are to be doubly locked;

  3. prisoners must go to sleep and rise at the times prescribed;

  4. prisoners must not sleep by day;

  5. prisoners must not cover the peephole;

  6. prisoners must not look through the window (which is utterly impossible in any case);

  7. prisoners must not throw anything out of the window;

  8. prisoners must not smoke at night;

  9. prisoners must not light any candle in the cell;

  10. prisoners must not converse at night;

  11. prisoners must not ask for anything from bedtime at eleven until rising time at seven;

  12. prisoners must not break any of the items in the cell (?!);

  13. every prisoner must wash the floor of his own cell;

  14. prisoners must obey orders given by the guards;

  15. disobedience in this or in any of the above regulations will be punished at the discretion of the guard on duty by the withholding of food or hot water for one or two days, or by the submission of the guard's report to the divisional chief who will lock him in the dungeon for one or two days or even for a week.

The prison has its own daily routine:

  1. As soon as the yarliks hear a loud voice announcing that "It's time to get up" they have to get out of bed immediately, and pity help the prisoner whom a guard at the peephole catches lying in bed or on the floor at that moment.

  2. The second announcement is, "Get ready for bread!" One of the guards unlocks the little hatches in the doors, while the prisoners on the other side wait for the second lock on each hatch to be opened by a second guard, who is followed by a third guard who distributes the portions of bread.

  3. Every prisoner is given a kilo of dark bread; this lasts him for a whole day and there are usually leftovers. The opening of the hatch is a really happy moment for him: he can see a human face, no matter whose it is; he can see the outer wall opposite; and he can enjoy a breath of cool air that blows in from the balcony just for a moment, for the hatch is immediately closed by one lock.

  4. Some time later comes the next announcement: "Get ready for hot water!" On arrival, every prisoner is given a wooden spoon, a bowl, and a large aluminum jug. He now stands prepared to receive his sweet gift of hot water.

  5. The next announcement: "Get ready for lunch!" As the prisoners in multiple cells clean their utensils and wait, they exchange forecasts as to the expected menu.

  6. "Get ready for porridge!" As suppertime approaches, one prisoner tells another that he will take porridge but not eat it, another says he will take it and eat it, and another says he will not take any at all. When the hatch is opened, the waiter fills the bowls with dark porridge.

  7. "Get ready for hot water!" Twice a day every inmate is given a jugful and no more. Sometimes the guards choose to torture inmates by ordering them to hold the hot jug itself instead of its handle.

    Moreover, the regulations prescribe that every prisoner must receive his own portion personally. Since I did not want to get up and receive my allocation of hot water (because I had been fasting from [my arrival on] Wednesday until the second distribution of water on Friday, 17 Sivan), I was left without water. Only later, as will duly be explained, was water brought especially for me.

  8. "Room such-and-such, get ready for the daily walk!" This welcome sound, eagerly awaited for twenty-four hours, heralds the fifteen-minute walk under heavy guard which the law requires.


First of all, this is an opportunity to get out of the cell, even briefly - to breathe fresh air, to look at the sky, to walk a few hundred yards, to climb down the iron ladders. Furthermore, one hopes to see familiar faces among the varied thousands of respectable inmates - medical specialists and engineers, lawyers and advocates, businessmen, priests of various faiths, old and young, craftsmen of all kinds, and so on and on. This daily exercise is thus an important component of prison life, and inmates calculate in advance how they can best utilize it. Occasionally they are even fortunate enough to be able, despite the vigilant supervision, to communicate somewhat by sign language.

Whether the sight of familiar faces sends a man back to his cell downcast, or whether it raises his spirits, the daily walk acts on the heart of every prisoner. It can take place during any of the twelve daytime hours, and every room's anticipation imagines each of its pleasurable minutes as lasting an entire hour.

It follows a whole ritual. After the preparatory announcement a special guard checks at every peephole to ensure that all inmates are ready. When the door is opened soon after, a different guard receives the sleepyheads, as they are called, together with a unit of armed guards who escort them outside.

The officer in command of this unit is a burly black giant dressed in red and black and bedecked with weaponry. He looks like a destructive demon whose mere glance can swallow a hundred prisoners alive. He roars like a lion and constantly grits his teeth, as if desperate to persecute the creatures before him, to squash one of those insects.

When the door opens, this officer looks around the room, stands outside the door, and announces: "Get outside for exercise!" The prisoners all follow each other stooping, like sheep. He closes the door, and (as he phrases it) "takes the fleas out to swarm over the face of the earth." There the prisoners delight in the pure air (?!) afforded by the courtyard of this house of death, the courtyard which is bounded on all sides by the buildings which constitute the fortress of Spalerno.

From what I was told (for not even once did I participate in this daily walk), the area in which it took place was about 60 yards long. In the middle stood a wooden platform higher than a man, from which a supervisor was able to check whether the prisoners were all obeying the positive and negative precepts relating to their daily outing.

The positive precepts are as follows:

  1. Prisoners must walk only in a circle around the platform;

  2. cellmates must all walk together as a group;

  3. prisoners must walk, and neither stand nor sit.

And these are the negative precepts:

  1. It is forbidden to run, only to walk slowly;

  2. it is forbidden to talk, unless quietly;

  3. it is forbidden to walk upright, so that one will not be able to see the faces of the other prisoners;

  4. it is forbidden to look at any of the windows;

  5. it is forbidden to pick up anything from the ground;

  6. it is forbidden to throw anything on the ground;

  7. it is forbidden to wink or exchange glances;

  8. it is forbidden to make any gesture with hand or foot;

  9. it is forbidden to speak to any of the escorting guards;

  10. it is forbidden to give or receive a cigarette.

Suddenly a voice is heard: "The walk is over! Form ranks!" The inmates of each room stand shoulder to shoulder. "Quick march!" They are marched to their rooms in single file and handed over to the guards who open the doors. There, their heads drooping like wandering goats, they are returned to their enclosures.


"Lie down! It's time to sleep!"

This command at the end of the day casts terror on all sides, for if a guard at the peephole discovers that it has not yet been obeyed he is authorized to punish. This risk is severer at night, when a simple guard can administer a moderate penalty without having recourse to any superior official. The moderate penalty is usually a night spent in the noxious air of a dark and murky cellar in the company of worms and rats.

Here this is considered a mere hint that one should behave oneself, just as an adult might correct a small child by wagging a warning finger.


It is instructive to consider how a prisoner called S. describes his first day here. He speaks with plain objectivity: he is too simple-minded to lie or embellish or exaggerate or comment.

In his words: "I didn't know the prison regulations yet, so when I was told to sleep - I was the only one in the cell at the time and didn't feel like sleeping - I sat down and smoked a pipe. The guard looked in through this peephole over here and ordered me to lie down to sleep. He said it so angrily that I swore at him with a juicy three-letter Russian word. I did not even manage to finish my pipe when he stormed in and ordered me to follow him. I followed him downstairs, one ladder after another, until we reached the corridor leading to the cellar. He opened one of the doors and told me to walk in. I walked inside thinking that he was going to follow me, but then the door slammed behind me.

"After taking only one step I was already standing in mud. The air was suffocating. I struck a match and discovered that I was in a room five yards square, with long white and black worms crawling over the damp walls. I spent the night standing in this mire up to my ankles, trying to ward off the huge rats which sprang on me and terrified me with the sounds they made. I was sure that I'd already spent a whole day there. And food? In there you have no desire to eat. In there you don't even have any desire to smoke.

"After a long time I heard the door being opened. 'So they're taking me away to be shot!' I thought.

"Someone screamed: 'Come here!'

"'I can't see anything,' I said. 'Where shall I go?'

"The guard held up a lamp and I saw an iron bed, just like here - but, man alive, what an awful place!

"'Get out of here!' he ordered. So I did, quickly.

"'Go upstairs!' he said.

"'Thank G-d,' I thought, 'at least I'm not going to be shot!'

"'Now, at least,' he said, 'you'll know how to speak to an official. You're not allowed to swear at officials. You are the prisoner here, and I'm the official in charge of you. Okay, now I'm going to take you to sleep. Will you go to sleep this time?'

"'Yes, your highness,' I said, 'I'll sleep; sure I'll sleep!'

"He suddenly slapped me twice across the cheek. I was so confused: I didn't know what I had done wrong.

"'What kind of a your highness am I to you?' he roared. 'You're a rotter, a slave to the white enemies of the red Bolshevik cause! You're a spy! I'll put you in the cellar for three days, not for three hours like now!'

"I wept and pleaded: 'Mr. Official, you are my precious father! My lord, I'll obey!'

"He slapped me three times more. It hurt a lot. My teeth chattered and my nose bled. Still, I did my best to stand as respectfully as one should when facing an official.

"You see, I still remember the old-time army discipline. For four years I served my czar like a man. I served in the war against Japan. I saw generals. I know that order is order and that discipline is no child's play. You're a faithful soldier until your very last breath - not like today's youngsters who just sing and wag their tongues this way and that, all confused.

"'What kind of my lord am I to you?' he shouted. 'You must call me comrade. Nowadays there are no more lords; nowadays we are all comrades!'

"'Okay, comrade,' I said; 'I won't do it any more.'

"This time he punched me twice on the shoulder. 'What kind of comrade am I to you?' he shouted. 'That isn't how you address an official! It's time you realized that you're a prisoner, and I'm the official in charge of you. You've got to say my comrade, the official.'

"I walked on, all beaten up. I wanted to sleep, I wanted to smoke. My teeth hurt and my body was sore, but as I walked I repeated to myself over and over, my comrade, the official. I was afraid I'd forget those words and I knew exactly what would happen if I did. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if I could now just lie down on the bed in my cell!"

And with this, prisoner S. concluded his description of his first day at Spalerno.


Though writing in general is prohibited, prisoners are given a pencil and paper for an hour or two every day so that they can write requests to the highest official, the interrogator, the advocate, or the doctor.

Every Wednesday each prisoner can send clothes home to be washed and can return utensils in which food was brought. To the compulsory list of items sent he is allowed to add a word or two about his health, and overleaf he is also allowed to list the food or clothes that he needs.

These are brought to the prisoners every Friday and handed to him at the storeroom of his division after he has revisited Head Office which he remembers from the day of his admission. No sweets or treats are allowed, and no item may be sealed or whole. Even bread is cut into small pieces in case a note is hidden inside, and the seams of all clothes are checked for the same reason.


When Friday arrives, all the prisoners who have relatives wait to be called to collect their packages from the chief of their division. Going to his storeroom and bringing back their packages is good for the morale. Even though the list of items brought remains in the divisional office, every prisoner is heartened by having caught a glimpse of the handwriting of his dear ones. Some families cleverly write the list on a piece of material which they sew on to the bag or sack, so that the sender's handwriting remains in the hands of the prisoner.

Returning to his cell with his bundle, the prisoner clears the worthiest place of honor for it - his bed, of course, which he uses for almost 24 hours a day. There he sleeps at night, there he lies, there he sits, weeps, laughs, relaxes, and sleeps again even when he is not allowed to. There he now places his bundle lovingly and carefully, closely examining every stitch of the sack which contains it, and looking at it from all sides.

Slowly and deliberately he reads what is written on the piece of material which is sewn on to the sack. He takes careful note of every letter and searches for clues possibly hidden between the lines, perhaps by a missing or superfluous letter, or by differences in the sizes of the letters. As sole interrogator, he makes every letter undergo seven kinds of cross-examination. Why, he ponders, does this letter tzaddik end sharply while this otherwise identical letter does not? Why is this letter gimmel fatter than its brother? It cannot be that they were written by different hands, because he knows the handwriting. There must be a hint hidden here - but what is its message?

From there he proceeds to examine the sack. Last week, he recalls clearly, they sent his things in a sack that had been used for honeycomb; this week's sack is of flour. Does this mean that his family has found out that he is to be accused, among other things, of trading in flour?

In this manner he masterminds a million investigations and endless cross-examinations concerning every item that was sent to him. For the next few hours silence reigns, for everyone is now sitting alone and mentally constructing edifices, marshaling all the accusations and libels that could possibly await him, and all the answers and explanations that he will have to provide - in response, for example, to the interrogator's queries about his supposed dealings in flour, a commodity with which neither he nor his forebears have ever had any connection.


To resume the list of prison routines: Once in two weeks all prisoners are allowed to write a postcard to their families. Since everything is obviously censored they restrict themselves to a few words about their health.

Once in two weeks they are also allowed to receive a letter from home - unless parts of it are held to be superfluous or otherwise displeasing to the censor.

Every two weeks any prisoner who has money in his account in Head Office can buy whatever he may desire (?) in Spalerno's cooperative store. He must first specify exactly what he wants to buy on account of this money, and this request is forwarded for approval to the investigator and chief clerk at Head Office. If they grant their permission, he will receive his goods within two weeks.

These requests may be made only on the printed forms which are distributed on the first and the fifteenth of every month and collected by a special guard later in the day. The decision as to the permit is made known two weeks later.

Every two weeks prisoners are given two or three books to read, though not books of their choice. Most of the material is communist literature.

Once every three weeks a prisoner may shave or take a haircut, provided he gives a week's written notice.

Every prisoner must bathe once a month, though he may do so every two weeks if he so desires.

There is a compulsory monthly visit to the medical clinic. In addition, a prisoner may ask for a doctor's visit if this is called for, by means of a request addressed to the chief of his division. He forwards it to Head Office, and when the permit is received, the patient is escorted to the doctor or the doctor is dispatched to the patient. Experience teaches that this procedure takes no less than three days.

Once a prisoner is familiar with all these regulations and routines, and with the work habits and individual style of the various officials, he may be reckoned a seasoned inmate.


Since the cells, as mentioned above, have no clocks, it is only the routine announcements that give a rough notion of the time. In summer prisoners are wakened between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m., bread is distributed at 7:30, hot water from 8:30 on, lunch from 1:00 p.m., porridge from 5:00, hot water again between 6:00 and 7:00, and lights go off at 10:30 p.m.


The Midrash teaches: "From where did Moshe Rabbeinu know[2] when it was day and when it was night? - When he heard the ministering angels saying Kadosh... - 'Holy[3] [ the G-d of Hosts],' he knew that it was day, and when he heard them saying Baruch... - 'Blessed[4] [be the glory of G-d...],'* he knew that it was night."


Before leaving the little office of the chief of the sixth division I asked him for the time. He was generous enough to allow me to read from the watch on his left hand that it was five to six.



  1. (Back to text) Part III: This Part was first published by the Rebbe in 5714 (1954), in anticipation of Yud-Beis-Yud-Gimmel Tammuz, the anniversary of the liberation of the Rebbe Rayatz in 1927. On this occasion the Rebbe opened his Publisher's Foreword by proposing that in the course of those two days chassidim study the hemshech beginning with the words, R. Chanina ben Dosa Omer. (This series of maamarim, first delivered by the Rebbe Rayatz, appears in the issue of HaKeriah VehaKedushah dated Tammuz, 5704 [1944], and in subsequent issues, as well as in Sefer HaMaamarim - Yiddish, p. 165ff.) The continuation of the Rebbe's Publisher's Foreword to Part III of Reshimas HaMaasar: The Imprisonment of 1927 is similar to that which introduced Part I above and which is likewise dated Gimmel Tammuz.

  2. (Back to text) From where did Moshe Rabbeinu know: Cf. Midrash Tehillim 19:7.

  3. (Back to text) Holy... [is the G-d of Hosts]: Isa. 6:3; cf. Siddur, p. 44.

  4. (Back to text) Blessed [be the glory of G-d...]: Ezek. 3:12; cf. Siddur, p. 44.

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