The curtain parted and Sokolov came out and took his bow and waited for the ovation to stop. He started to speak but did not keep his word. He started to talk in Polish. We were astonished and started to yell "Yiddish, Yiddish". He made a motion for silence and started in with an explanation that he would be very happy to speak in Yiddish or Hebrew but because of the official theme , he was required to speak in Polish. We were satisfied and the lecture continued without any more disturbances even though he had not kept his word. His statement made a big impression in town and we at least had a partial victory.
Our fight for use of the Yiddish language grew stronger. Even the Poli-Zionists began to accept the idea, but when it came to a vote they still sided with the Zionists. But as time went on we saw that our position was getting stronger at a rapid rate. We needed our own library. We began to send out letters requesting assistance for our library. The Zionists tried to undermine our efforts but we accused them of taking library funds and using them for Zionist purposes. They could not submit their records to an independent audit and they were also getting tired of having us as partners.
In the beginning of 1912 we had an opportunity. We met a man by the name of Pomerantz. He had a private house where he painted and sold pictures. In addition he was a very educated person. He was married but they did not have any children and were anxious to make a little bit of extra money. Kalman and I went over to see them with a plan we had. He was to apply for a permit for a private library, it being too difficult to get a permit for a study hall. Together with the pictures that he sold, he would get an income from the books that he would rent out. When he received permission to open the library, he would the rent a larger house on the main street which would be his studio, living quarters, sales office and library. This location would be a better place for him to conduct his business. We would than rent his old house from him. With these changes we felt that his income would increase considerably. The idea appealed to the Pomerantz's and they applied for the needed permits which were granted after a suitable wait. For us it was a tremendous advantage and a great holiday. We helped find him a house and even helped get him set up with the sales office and library. It was a joy to build the shelves for his lending library. We cleaned and set up his old house and started to take our books out of the Zionist's library. This was more difficult than expected and we did not get all of the books that we had contributed and paid for, but in the end we were satisfied
with what we did get. We spent whole evenings rearranging the library and adding to our collection. We ended up with one of the best organized libraries outside of Warsaw and Lodz. To compete with the Zionist library we began to take in some Polish and Russian books. The membership increased as the number of books in our library increased. About this time our connection with Warsaw was broken. It seems that we were the only Bund that had several small groups in the towns surrounding ours. We established several small libraries, completely illegal of course. These consisted of 25 books that remained in one place and about 25 that rotated. In that way we had several hundred books in various towns. One of the comrades from each town would come once a month, bringing books and taking others. We again tried to establish contact with the Central Committee of the Bund but were not successful.
Once, during the summer of 1910, we held a meeting in the woods on a Saturday afternoon. We had posted lookouts and there were usually about 40 or 50 of us at these gatherings. We read and discussed articles from the papers or books and sang revolutionary songs. One of the lookouts came over and said that there was a young man who was asking for me in particular. He looked like a student, and spoke a poor Yiddish. He was waiting at the first "outpost". I went to him and introduced myself. I remember his name as being "Nathan". He had just come from outside the country and had been given my name and address. He had gone to my house and spoken to my father but as it was Saturday, and speaking Russian, my father would not answer him. As he was ready to leave, my mother asked him in Polish why he wanted to see me. He made up a story that we had gone to school together he and had then been sent away to another school. Since he had come back for a short while he wanted to see me again. She told him that I had probably gone for a walk in the woods. So that is how he came there. When he saw that there were lookouts around, he knew that he had come to the right place. He had a piece of paper from the Bund in Warsaw. I called Kalman over and the three of us went from there to a café. We sat until dark, drinking coffee with raisin bread and talking. The Bund had sent him to find me and to put me in contact with them. From here he was going on to Russia. He had to contact me because soon there were going to be some important events taking place. We would play a large part and had to prepare for these events. The illegal press of the Bund had a lot of trouble operating where it was, within the country. therefore it was being moved outside the country and our function was to arrange to smuggle the printed leaflets past the German and Russian border patrols and to forward it to various cities in Russia. We were very pleased that we were being called upon to do this important work but did not have the slightest idea of how to accomplish it. But of course we would do whatever we could. The plan was formulated that money and letters were to come to us from outside the country that would have a special code within the letter. They were ostensibly from parents to their children. The envelope would be left open in one area. If it were completely sealed than we would know that it had been opened by the "Black Cabinet". This was the name of the Russian censor. And we were to do the same with our mail to them. The Russian censors opened the mail and made copies of the letters that looked suspicious. They then put the originals back in the original envelopes and sent them on. In this way the paths of communication were not closed. When they were ready to make an arrest, they would then have all
the evidence. We kept the comrade company until it was time for him to take the train out of town. The few hours had made us feel like brothers and as though we had known each other for many years. We went home with our heads in the clouds but also with thoughts on how we would accomplish all that was required of us. We had very little sleep that night and the next day, instead of going to work, Kalman was standing in front of my house waiting for me. We had decided that one of us would have to go to Alexandrovitch, the border town with Germany and there meet with the local Bund. With them we hoped to be able to figure out what to do.
The following Saturday I went to Alexandrovitch to meet with one of the dedicated comrades. His parents were very religious and when I came in and asked where he was, I was surveyed from head to toe. They could see that I had just come from the train and that meant that I had been riding on the Sabbath. The mother's reply to my question was why didn't I come yesterday to ask about her son. I understood the situation and left the house. In the street I met with a friend, a Poli-Zionist, and asked him what he was doing in this town. But I was afraid to tell him what I was doing and in that way I spent several hours walking about the area. By coincidence I met the man I was looking for in the park. I explained that I wanted a contact person from Turin, (the town opposite in Germany) who would help smuggle the packages of leaflets across the border. The packages would weigh about 5 pounds. After thinking about the problem he mentioned a young man who had done a little bit of smuggling in the past. He was always interested in earning some extra money. I was to wait at a certain corner and if the man was interested in the proposition he would meet me there. My friend would not be there as three would make it look like a crowd. Within a half hour a young man in a long coat approached and said that my friend had sent him to see me about some business. I told him that there would be a package twice a month that he could pickup in a restaurant in Turin and that he would bring it across the border and mail it to us in Wloclawek. He was willing to bring it into Alexandrovitch, but we would have to pick it up from there. This service would cost me 10 ruble a trip. I agreed to this and told him that I would let him know when we were ready to start. He would meet us at a prearranged spot and there exchange money for the package. I returned and told Kalman all that had transpired and we sent a letter off to France to let them know that arrangements had been made. We received, by return mail word that the package was already at the pickup point. One of our comrades went to Alexandrovitch in the morning and the next evening we had the first package of leaflets. Everything had gone according to plan. It was a bundle of literature that the Russian Bund had printed up on special thin paper. We split the package up into four units, three of which were sent out as instructed and the fourth we kept for ourselves. Three bundles were successfully smuggled out but the fourth was not picked up by our comrade as planned. While waiting in Alexandrovitch we heard that the young man had been caught by the police , so we returned home empty handed. Several days later we heard from the smuggler that he had our package. He had put it into a package pickup room and sent me the receipt to pick it up and to send him the money he had coming. We talked it over and decided that we would not go get it. The possibility of a trap was too strong. About a week later the young man showed up and explained what had happened. Some of the other smugglers were mad at him and had reported him to the
police after he had picked up our packet. As he was crossing the border he noticed that there were many more police about than usual. He threw the package and two revolvers that he was also bringing over into some bushes and continued across. Naturally when he was stopped and searched nothing was found on him. The police had beaten him up a little to have him confess what he had done with the material but he did not tell them where the packages were. They took his passport away and he would not now be able to cross the border for some time. Several nights later he had gone across to retrieve the contraband and had then put it into the package room as there was no one to pick it up. I told him that we could not recover it from there and that he would have to bring it to us. He pleaded that we pay him as he didn't have any money at all. We paid him off and told him that the package would be our responsibility. At that point we decide that the best thing to do was destroy the stub and forget about the package altogether. Our comrades in Alexandrovitch had warned us about this smuggler. The police had returned his passport and he was again in business. Several weeks passed and then one day we received a letter from the Bund Committee where the flap had been completely sealed. We passed the news back to them and they let us know that two of my letters had also been tampered with. We went around like "chickens without a head". I went to my room and made sure that everything was "kosher", that there was no illegal material about. I had several copies of the Bund leaflets and a revolver in my locked closet. I took them into the woods to hide. We felt that we had been compromised and would be searched. But several weeks went by, nothing happened and we had almost forgotten about it. We decided to have a small celebration. We would get some food and drinks together and meet at a comrades house and figure out how to renew our smuggling operation. The next morning, a Sunday when I left the house to go to work, I noticed that there was a policeman standing opposite the house. I did not think anything special about it as police were often patrolling the areas. But two days later I again noticed that there was a man standing opposite our yard. I continued on to work and felt as though someone was following me. He did follow me to the shop, staying well behind and now I was certain that something was up. At lunch-time when I went home, he again trailed me and I understood that someone was assigned to watch me. I sent a message to Kalman through one of the workers in the shop, that I was being watched and that no one was to approach or talk to me. I was not to be greeted or noticed when in the street, and no one was to come over to my house. In this way about two weeks passed. How strange it felt to have someone watch me all the time. During the first few days I did not feel like going out of the house at all. I did not want to meet the policeman and know that he was covering my every move. But after several days I began to look for him if I didn't see him right away as I left the house. Sometimes I would play a trick on him. One of the windows in the house overlooked the street used by the soldiers for exercise and parades. I went out that window and using the side streets went to work. Later in the morning , while cutting material near the window, I noticed him outside and he seemed relieved that he had found me. We became so used to each other that occasionally we would smile at each other when our eyes met. Meanwhile we began to delve into the reason for this surveillance and what the police were after. Besides the policeman, there were two men in plain clothes whom I noticed quite often on my daily trips out. According to our understanding of the situation everything was known. We found out that the smuggler had again been caught and had told
them where the literature had been left and that the police now had the package. For them it was a big catch and since he had also told them that I had made all the arrangements, they felt that there was indeed a very large fish in the net. It was felt that I should secretly escape to another city and get a false passport. But I felt that this would be an open admission of guilt on my part and that I probably would never be able to get home again. I decided not to leave and to fight it out in court if arrested. After several weeks I noticed that I was no longer being followed. After a suitable wait we again began to meet, to go to the library and to have political meetings and in general go back to our former political activities. About this time I received notice that there was a package for me in the post- office from Minsk. I did not feel that this could be political as it was known that my address was "hot". On the way I realized that everyone outside the country knew about my problem but that there were probably many within Russia who did not know. But taking my heart in my hands, I went. Before picking up the package I looked around and there didn't seem to be anybody about that seemed suspicious. I claimed the package, which was a wooden box labeled "chocolates". Knowing that no-one was sending me an item like this I did not take the package home but rather to the shop. When I opened the case I saw that it was the "Kinder Shtimme" (Children's Voice). There were almost 300 copies of this illegal paper. I had one of the workers take it over to Kalman as I was still afraid to bring items like this into the house. One of the other comrades received a letter a few days later, telling us to send the "chocolates" to someone in Lodz, but we were to keep some for our own distribution. We did as requested and were very pleased that all went well without incident. And we therefore continued on with the work that had so much meaning to us.
When Rosh Hashanah came, we used the time to further the political activities. We held several meetings, worked to increase our membership, reestablished our strong contact with the Bund in Warsaw. The library was going very well with great increases in both readers and books.
Even though I did not want it, books began to accumulate in my house. I tried as much as possible to see that illegal books were not there, but I was not always successful at this resolve. One day I received a large package of books from Vilna for the library and we were supposed to open it and take it over there, but something came up and we left it for another time. The Saturday after Rosh Hashanah I was walking with my friend Kalman and we were discussing how lucky we had been in overcoming the troubles of the last few weeks. He left me at my house and we agreed to meet the next day at the library. But this night did not pass without its problems. My mother had been very disturbed and asked why I had so many books in the house and what did I need with them all here. Also why did all the books always have to come to our house. I should see to it that others took on some of the responsibilities. Also that I was almost ready to go into the army and that I was not taking good care of myself. I spoke to her and tried to calm her down , telling her that everything was going to be all right and would work out well and that she would have a lot of "nachas" from me yet. And with that we went to sleep. We went to sleep without any difficulty and without any warning of what was to happen. About an hour or so after we went to bed I awoke with an uneasy feeling. It was dark outside and late and yet I seemed to hear voices outside my window and in the yard. We soon
heard a tapping on the door and my father went over to find out who it was. The "strudze"(superintendent) of the building answered that we had company. My brother-in-law Michael would sometimes come to us late at night to stay over when he came to town to buy goods for the store that he had in Lipno. Muttering "Could this be Michael?" and putting on a robe and turning up the light a little, he opened the door. In a moment the house was invaded and there were two soldiers standing at my bedside, one with a rifle in his hands pointed at me. They grabbed me and pulled me from my bed and started to search it, tossing the covers aside and upsetting the straw mattress. In the house the rest of the family, my mother, sisters and brothers sat in their beds as though they were made of stone. My father stood as if this was all a nightmare. I was not afraid, for although I did not expect the raid at this time, I had often thought about what could happen and how I should act under the circumstances. I went along with the police as they searched the house, as I knew that it was possible for them to "find" some evidence, like a revolver or illegal proclamations. In those days it happened quite often.
Each room had a group of soldiers standing with bayonets fixed on their rifles . As I went through the house with them, I tried calming my family, telling them that it was all a "bilbel" ( a false accusation) and that they would not find anything. That all we really had to do was see that nothing was "planted". One of the officers warned me not to speak in Yiddish, so I repeated everything I had said into Russian. I then heard a voice in back of me saying that if what I said was true , I had nothing to worry about . They were interested in finding out the truth and not in creating a story. If all was in order, then they would soon leave. I turned around and saw an officer of the police with a very sympathetic face, who was not from this town. He introduced himself but I do not remember his name. He wanted to shake hands with me but at that time I was not in the mood to reciprocate. Amongst the books that were still in the house from the last shipment from Vilna were some English and American magazines from which the stamp of the Russian censor was missing. This was an illegal thing in Russia. All the books and magazines were put aside and as this was being done, I tried to mix some of my fathers "legal" books amongst them, so that the whole pile might become "Kosher", but that tactic did not work. Every time that the officer opened a book and looked at the fly-leaf and did not see the censors stamp, he gave me a weak smile and put the book aside. The inspection seemed to take a long time and when it was over, he told me in not an unkind voice, to get dressed as I was to go with him. As I was getting dressed he wrote out a description of the material that had been found and had the super sign the statement as a witness. Then he asked me to sign as well. I asked if I might read it first and this he allowed me to do. It contained the statement of the inspection and a list of all the material that had been found, that no arms had been found and that the literature was not especially anti-government, but that the censors stamps were missing. Several of the books would have to be read to be certain of the content. They made a package of all the materials and I went outside with him. I again tried to calm my family and embrace my mother , but the soldiers would not allow this any more. The family was so stricken with fright that not a word was said. I did get some words out that I expected to be home soon.
When I went outside it was just getting light and I saw that the whole yard was full of soldiers, all with fixed bayonets on the rifles, as though it was in the middle of a battle. There were six policemen outside too. It seemed that they had expected a tremendous amount of opposition or a small revolution. Why did they need so much force for one young man like me? After all, this took place in September of 1910. As soon as we got out of the house and the door was closed, I was grabbed by two of the police and they started to drag me off. The soldiers were starting to go out of the yard and I managed to call out to the officer in charge that I would give my word that I would not try to escape, since I was really innocent. I would go where they wanted me to and I did not have to be dragged through the streets. He looked at me and told four of his men to accompany me to the prison. And so with two soldiers in front and two in back, we went through the quiet streets to the prison on Genza street. Now as I walked, I first began to think of the "pogrom" that they had left in the house with their inspection. The white, frightened faces of my family and the upsetting of the entire household routines. I also began to think of what would happen to me in the next few days and to plan on how I should and would conduct myself under the questioning that would soon start. As we went along, I heard the soldiers discussing that there were other raids that night and they wondered if any one else had been "caught". Now I was very anxious to know more, as during the entire time, the only address that had been used for the mailing of the books and other correspondence had been mine. It was possible that during the time that I had been under surveillance, they had seen some of the comrades approach me and also had their addresses. I started to speak to the soldiers and to ask them about where the other raids had occurred , but they would not talk to me and thus we came to the prison gates. They rang the bell and a small door opened and the guard inside let me in and the others left. I was led down a long, narrow corridor. A small door was opened and I was thrown into the cell and the door slammed shut in back of me. I could hear the key turning to lock me in and I was left in this dark, quiet cell. It was total darkness that I found myself in, there not a crack of light coming from anywhere. I started to move around and find out exactly what I had been put into and soon hit my head on something. As I worked my way around I soon realized that this was a very small cell, used for solitary confinement. It was so small that there was hardly room to turn around. A fat person would not have been able to even fit into it. The guard heard my mumbling as I talked to myself, to have a little company and he opened the door and told me that if I were not quiet, he would come back and beat me up, and again the door was slammed shut and the key turned to lock me in. I stood there stunned without a thought in my mind. At a time when I should be thinking about what I should do and how to act, my mind was a complete blank. I soon decided that I had to occupy myself and continued to explore the room. I took another step and walked into something soft. It turned out that there was someone in here with me. I quietly asked who it was and we exchanged names. He had been awakened about midnight by a raid and even though they had not found anything in his house, he had been taken away to prison. I asked if he belonged to one of the parties and he answered that he had belonged to the P.P.S during the period of 1905-1906 but that when the strong measures were taken against the party and the people involved, he had left. But he felt that his name was on some kind of list and whenever there was any trouble in town, his house was raided and sometimes he was left at home and at other times he was taken to prison. He was not
worried, as he was certain that he would be released in the morning when the doors were opened. I asked him about the conditions in the prison and how long we would be kept in this confinement and where the political prisoners were usually kept and treated. He laughed and said that most obviously this was the first time that I had been arrested. He said that all those that were arrested during the night were put into these cells and that during the day we would be transferred, after we were interrogated. The walls of these cells had openings near the ceiling that were covered with steel bars, I later found out. But meanwhile I heard a voice that sounded very familiar. I called out softly if this was Hiller and the voice replied "yes". It turned out that this was the comrade Shlomo Hiller that had been in Wloclawek since 1906. He realized that I was very nervous and assured me that things would work out well. It was most unusual for this many raids to occur during one night and probably some big shot was coming to town and the authorities did not want any demonstrations or protests to take place. So all those that were under any kind of suspicion were being arrested and held. When the big-shot left town , then we would all probably be released. This helped to calm me but my mind soon started to work again on my situation. That might be the reason that the others had been picked up, but I felt that I knew why I was being held. The two weeks of their spying on my movements had come to fruition. I knew that they had intercepted some of the correspondence of mine with the Central Committee of the Bund and that had brought on the raid and the arrest.
In the morning, when the routine of the prison got started, we were taken to a large cell and four more men were brought in. Shlomo Hiller and three men from the P.P.S. This party was almost out of existence and these were older men. This cell was on the ground floor and soon we heard from outside someone calling, "Hiller, Hiller". We recognized the voice as belonging to one Bruno. He had once belonged to the P.P.S. but we knew that he was now an informer for the police. He threw several packs of cigarettes into the cell through the open window. It was not allowed to smoke in the cell except with cigarettes that one purchased from the guards. So some of us stood at the hole by the door and looked out for the guards. This Bruno had been in jail and had seen us being transferred from one cell to the other and even though he was not in sympathy with us wanted to do something for old times sake. Several days later he saw me in the hall of the prison and was able to smuggle another pack to me. I did not smoke and used them to improve my conditions in the cell where I was. About 10:00 o'clock in the morning, they started calling those that were with us out for questioning. The prisoners left individually but did not return to this cell any more. They were either released or put someplace else. I was the last one to be called.
I was taken to a large well lit room with fine furniture and with fresh flowers on the tables. Present was the officer that had arrested me, the head of the prison, the man that had followed me around for the two weeks and also two guards at the door. As I came in, the officer got up from his seat and greeted me with an outstretched arm, took me to a chair and introduced me to the head of the prison. I don't remember his name either but I do recall that he was a tall, very heavy set man and that he had a reputation of being a good person. I resisted sitting down as I thought that there might be an
advantage to my standing. But the officer felt that I was afraid to sit with the others present and he asked that they all leave. He asked that some tea and snacks be brought in. I sat opposite him and he started to apologize for having gotten me up in the middle of the night, disturbing my fine family and then having had me brought to the prison. He hoped that everything would soon be cleared up and that I would be able to go home for lunch. Really everything depended on me. He also mentioned that 12 people had been picked up last night and that all had already been released and that I was the last one to be questioned. Meanwhile the food was brought in and the officer started to eat and also told me that I was to share the tea and snacks with him. As a newly arrested person without any experience in these matters I was afraid to take anything into my mouth. I felt that they might have put something into it that would affect my mind and thereby my resolve and also that might confuse me. So I declined everything even as my stomach growled. But I would not give in to it . I told him that because I had not slept, I had no appetite. He told me to suit myself and then started to read out loud the statement that had been signed at the house. I told him that I remembered it all but he replied that he would soon come to several new items and that he hoped that I would remember them also. He asked whether I belonged to the P.P.S.? No. Did I ever read illegal proclamations? Yes, that some time ago I had found something in the street and read it but had thrown it away. I even remembered when it had been as it was such an unusual thing. It had been the year that the chief of the police had been shot in town. I had been walking with Kalman that summer evening and when we got to the New Market we thought that we heard three shots. People started running in all directions and of course we wanted to see what had happened. When we came near the market place, we saw that the chief was laying on the ground, face down and that there was blood all around him. That was enough for us and we left quickly. He had been shot by some of the members of the P.P.S. who had been assigned the job from Warsaw. I was asked if I knew who had shot him, but I answered that if the P.P.S. was involved how would I know anything about it? The P.P.S. had plastered proclamations about the deed all over town and it was impossible to have lived here and not have know all about the event. They had even boasted that the police officer had been shot because he had been treating the prisoners so poorly. He had those that had been arrested beaten and tortured . Everything that I was saying was being noted and written down by the officer that was questioning me and I tried to be very careful of every word that I said. Did I belong to the Bund? Yes I answered, that was in 1906 when I was 16 years old and all the workers had belonged then and I was dragged along by them to the meetings. Since the organization did not exist any more there was nothing for me to belong to. And so the questioning went on for some time. Finally he said that I would have to go back. I asked if he meant to my home, but he answered no. There were some other points that he wanted to discuss with me and that I would go back to the cell and rest a while and that we would talk some more later. I was led back to the cell and this time I did have this large room all to myself. Truly, all the others had been released and I was to be the real big fish in this net. I realized that they were now building a case against me and that I would have to be more careful than I had been in the past on choosing the words in reply to the questioning. That these words were all being measured and weighed and that my freedom hung on their magnitude.
In a few hours I was taken back to the room where the questioning was taking place. The officer was sitting at the largest table and it was covered with piles of papers. The door was locked behind me and I was told to sit at the table opposite him. He asked if I had eaten and I told him that I had, even though nothing had passed my lips since the previous night. He started to question me in a stern voice asking if I knew anyone outside of the country and I replied that I did. There were cousins in Paris, and aunts, uncles and cousins in America. He only wanted to know about friends, not about any relatives and there I said that I did not have any. Didn't I correspond with people out of the country, especially from France? I realized that the censor had intercepted some of the letters, but I did not waver and again repeated the no. He started to read parts of the letters that I had sent but I decided that I would not confess to anything unless I was shown the original letters. Since this was the days before the copy machines, they could not produce them. If they had kept the last letter than of course all would be lost and there would be nothing for me to do. He was getting angry as he realized that I would not confess and that we both knew that I was lying. He brought out a copy of the Bund paper and I knew that this was one of those from the package that the police had caught previously. I was very disturbed about this and made a fist under the table to hide my emotions. Again I was asked and again I denied all knowledge about it or about having seen or read the paper. In all innocence I asked if this were a daily and where it was printed. He gave me a sarcastic smile but did not answer. Then started a different track of questions. "I was in the house when the raid took place and I looked about me. I saw that you were not wealthy, that your father was past middle age and that your mother was sickly. Did you help out in the house with money?" "of course" I replied. " Just imagine what would happen if you were put into prison for a long period of time. How would the family manage without your income?. You yourself would be an old and broken person by the time you were released." I agreed with him and told him that he was the one that had done the arresting and that he was the one that could free me now. The decision was his. If it was up to me I would leave now. No, he replied, he knew of my Socialist feelings and activities and once, during his student days had also held some Socialist thoughts and knew how I felt about confessing my actions and telling about my work and friends. He had decided that this was not the right way and had started to work with the government forces and it had led to a very good life for him and his family as it would for me, too. He said that the Russian government was very strong and would last for hundreds of years and that the activities of the small groups would not be able to bring it down. That these were simply minor bothersome activities that the population in general would be better off without. Therefore it would be so much better for all if I would relate some of the activities that I knew about the Bund and the people involved. I would not be brought into the picture later and only from time to time, would I be asked to relate some other stories. It would be much better for me to go along with him now than to take the path that would lead to grief and sorrow for all connected with me. I told him again that I did not have anything to confess and he told me not to give him a final answer yet. He had one more piece of evidence that he was going to show me and then I would be convinced that the government had all the evidence that was needed and that I would be willing to talk with him on a different basis. He called out to the guard ,who opened the door and I turned to stone. They led in the smuggler that we had hired and who had performed so badly. It seemed as if he was still wearing
the same filthy long coat, was not shaved and in general looked very unsavory. I was asked if I knew this man and I answered that I did not. The same question was asked of the smuggler and he answered with a yes , that my name was Alter and that I had hired him to smuggle some newspapers into the country from Turin at 10 rubles a trip .I was able to ask if he possibly wasn't making a great mistake, that I did not know him, that I did not know why he was in prison and that these false statements would not help him in the long run. He was ready to attack me and the guard held him back. I appealed to the officer to have him removed from the room saying that how could anyone believe such a filthy liar. I had never seen such a person and would not associate with someone like that, so how could I have done the things that I was being accused of by him? The man wanted to throw himself at me again but the guard grabbed him and gave him a few slaps. The smuggler was removed from the room and my questioning began anew.
Several weeks ago there had been a sensation in the papers regarding the unmasking of the betrayals of one of the Russian provocateur, Azaov, who had been one of the leaders of the Socialist-Revolutionary party. He had the reputation throughout Russia as the greatest agitator in the land and had been discovered and arrested in Warsaw by the secret police sometime previously. He escaped to Germany and was supposed to have committed suicide after that. Now it had been revealed that for many of the years that he was known as a revolutionary, he was actually working for the Russian secret police. There was now again a resurgence of the Revolutionary and Socialist Parties agitating for the downfall of the Russian Tsarist government. So the Russian government was taking steps to suppress these movements. One of the means that they used was to have known Socialists become spies for them and to continue in the movement but betraying their friends. The kindest means were used to accomplish these ends and it is no wonder that many did fall for these inducements and went on these slippery roads. The officer began to probe my readiness to do these things for him, reviewing the poverty of the house, that I would soon have to go into military service, probably for several years and that the family could get no support from me then and that it was a pity on me and my family. He had the means to help me change all that and improve the lot of all of us. At first I did not really understand what he was driving at and what he was talking about. He felt that his calm fatherly manner after the stormy confrontation that I had with the smuggler, would leave me in a very receptive mood. He asked if I knew about the revolutionary by the name of Azaov, who had been serving the Russian government for years? Yes, I had heard about him. Well I could be like him, that I would immediately be freed from prison, be freed from serving in the Army and would get a steady salary from them that was more than I was earning now and would still be able to work at whatever I wanted to. I asked if he meant that I would join the "Akrana"? Yes he replied, I would be taken to Germany to learn a little about life outside Russia and that otherwise I would really not have to change my lifestyle at all. I could have the same friends and acquaintances and maintain my same activities. Only from time to time I would tell him all about the activities that the Russian government was interested in learning about. All I had to do was to tell him a little about what I knew now. I made as though I was seriously thinking about this and then told him that this was not the kind of work that I was suited for. He asked if I didn't want to be like Azaov with his
wealth and rich living and I asked how I could be compared with him. He was an engineer and I was simply a poor worker that has barely finished two terms in the high school (gymnasia). He said that the government had given him the opportunity to become an engineer and that they could do the same for me. I still declined and he then proposed that I send him letters, once a month with the details that he was interested in. That no one would find out about it and that I could still receive a small income on a regular basis. I would receive 50 rubles and if I did not have any news for them each month it would still be fine. He said that all those that had been arrested last night had signed up and that is why they had been released so soon. He saw that I did not believe him and showed me several of the signed documents.
I was extremely shocked to see that Shlomo Hiller had been one of those that had signed. I was told that if I was willing to undertake this project for him, that I would be released now. I sat there and told him that I could not lie about these things, that I would promise now but that there was nothing that I could say that he wanted to hear and that I did not travel in the circles that were of interest to him and that I could not take his money for nothing. It was a shame to be a liar and that I would not be able to keep up the stories that he wanted to hear.
I pleaded that I had been brought up in a good home and that he should free me now for the sake of my poor parents and family and God would bless him for this kind act. He arose and said that he could not do this. That he was representative of the government and knew exactly what my position in the party was and that he had done all that he could for me. I had refused his help and now I would sit in prison for an unknown length of time and eventually be brought to trial and found guilty with all the evidence against me and that the sentence would be a very long one. We could play around because we both knew that I was involved and that my charade had not worked. I reminded him that I was supposed to report for military service in a month and he replied that after I had served my ten years in prison, I could then go into the army, if I was such a hero. Well this time it looked like I landed on a hot plate. But I asked that he do me a favor and see that I be examined and allowed to serve in the army freely for Russia and the Tsar Nicholai. He promised that the next morning he would turn over all the papers that needed translation to the correct departments and that if my answers met with the approval of the review board that was convened, I would have an answer soon and my request to serve might well be granted. Right now I was under heavy suspicion. We said good bye after the more that 4 hour interrogation and I was completely exhausted.
I was brought to a cell on the first floor and the trustees who were walking around already knew that I was a political prisoner and they shouted after me, "politics is what you wanted and look at what it got you. We will get even with you". I did not understand what they were shouting about but it did not take long to find out. The crooks hated the revolutionaries because of the actions during and after the 1906 revolt. Then the criminals were used and paid by the Russian government to help in the fight against the revolution. The revolutionists went into the dens of the criminals and beat them up so that they were inactive from that time on. Now that the reaction was changing and the
revolutionists were not as strong the criminals were taking revenge. At every opportunity that they could, they tried something against the prisoners that were political. In the room were I was now brought there were eight beds and one straw mattress on the floor. The walls were covered with a tar like substance and there was one "eye" as well as two small windows near the ceiling. The furniture consisted of three benches and the room was made up with the beds folded against the walls, so that they should not be used. A covered pot in the corner was to be used as the toilet. There were already eight people in the cell and as soon as the door closed they surrounded me and asked why I had been imprisoned and to frisk me for any money or cigarettes. With great anger I pushed them away, because I knew that amongst these crooks one could not show any weakness. One of the men I pushed so hard, tripped over his own feet and fell with his head against the wall and his nose started to bleed. For a moment I wanted to go over and help him, but one of the men clapped me on the shoulder and said "You did good, you are one of us". They then wanted to know if I was a thief or maybe even a murderer. I did not know which one it was better to be here. The door opened and the guard brought in a paper with the charges against me and all that I was accused of having done. All the "crimes" were listed and concluded with the paragraph that I was to be tried under the Article # 120. I did not know what this meant but the others soon told me. If found innocent, I would be set free, but if found guilty then I would serve 8 years. I did not expect to be found innocent so it certainly meant the other. This did not make me feel at my best, but I did not want to show the others that I was demoralized spiritually, so I just put the paper into my pocket as if it were not that important. The others still wanted to know why I had been arrested and I told them that I was neither a thief or a murderer, but the innocent victim. that last night my house had been raided and that I did not know why I was arrested. One of the men accused me then of being "political" but the man that had said that I did a good job, came to my defense, gave the other a punch and told him to be quiet. For some reason I appealed to this prisoner and he always defended me against the others. He sat down with me on a bench that he grabbed from the others and explained that I had to "buy" my way into the cell. I explained that all I owned, had been taken from me after the last questioning, but when I would have a chance to write and be able to receive packages, then of course I would be more than willing to share with all. Cigarettes they could have as I did not smoke. He was pleased that I understood the conditions and then introduced himself. He was the head of the cell and had been appointed by the others. He had been there the longest and was a thief. There was one murderer in the cell, but all the others were thieves. The murderer was imprisoned because of a "crime of passion". True, he was also a thief but also a very nice person and not violent. Since there were already eight people in the cell and I made the ninth, he decided that the murderer would be the one to sleep on the straw mattress on the floor. I protested that this was not fair, that I was the last one in and should therefore be the one to use it. I hoped in this way not to make the murderer angry with me. But the cell-head got angry and said that he controlled the cell and that I was not to interfere with his decisions. If he wanted me to sleep on a bed , that is where I would sleep. So in that mood, I agreed with him and did not say anything more. Soon supper was brought in. I had nothing to eat or drink during the day and by now I was famished. But supper consisted of a piece of bread and a cup of tea without sugar. Sugar was a commodity that was purchased from the guards. I was so hungry
that it did not matter and I wolfed down the dark bread and the tea. In a little while the door opened again and the cups were collected and the night inspection got under way. We stood in two lines in the cell and the head of the prison came in with two guards and made the count. I thought that he winked at me, for not having given in under the questioning, but maybe I just imagined it. The door was again closed and bolted and we could hear the parade continue down the hall to the other cells. All the officials were leaving for the night and this was their routine, to see that everyone was where they were supposed to be. Only a few of the guards would stay with us for the night. The prison got very still and by 8:00 o'clock the lights were turned out. The beds had been lowered and we got into them. They were hard as boards and I think that I would have been better off on the straw mattress. The slats were made of iron with sackcloth covering and when I got in I stiffened up. I put my shoes on the floor and used my clothes as a pillow. I now found out that there was a custom, since it was only 8:00 o'clock and no one was really tired, that someone had to tell a story. It did not matter if the tale was true or not , only that the story be told. Since I was the new man in, it became my turn to show what I could do. I tried to get out of this for this night as I was truly tired after the day's efforts and not used to the prison routines. But they would not listen to any excuses and I started a story.
At that time there was a scandal that
was being reported in the papers, about a priest from the Chenstechove Church. It involved the disappearance of the diamond eye of the Holy Mary statue and it was believed to have been stolen by the priest Matzek. There was also the murder of a young girl and the same priest was thought to have been involved. Everyone was talking about these happenings, Jews and Christians alike. So I got the idea of making this into a story and to tell it. I told them that this was a true story and that I was not responsible for the characters involved. That I was reporting it as it had happened and was not out to shame or insult the Church. The head of the cell cried out "Don't worry. We know that you are the only Jew amongst us but we are all prisoners and therefore we are all equal." And so I started the story, adding many details so that it would take a long time. The longer the story the better the teller as well as the tale. I don't' know how long I took but I did not stop until I heard snoring from all sides. I was exhausted and turned on all sides until I could finally fall asleep on the uncomfortable bed. At 6 o'clock in the morning, the blanket was pulled off me as a cry went up that it was time to get up and to put the beds up for the day. I started to get dressed and could not find my shoes. I grabbed the cell head and told him what had happened. He said that I should have taken my shoes into bed as I had my clothes. Only after a lot of pleading, arguing and the promise that I would pay 2 rubles as soon as I was able to get some money, were the shoes returned to me. We washed up a little and swept and washed the floor. Each person was responsible for a small section and in a few minutes we were ready for breakfast. The meal was the same as the night before, bread and tea. I could not finish the bread and gave the remainder to the cell head. This man could always eat a lot more than was brought in for each of us. In this way I also was able to work my way into his good graces. Sitting around with nothing else to do, the others began to remind themselves and discuss the story that I had told the night before, for none had heard the end and I had to tell most of it over. They were interested in every little detail and development as it went along. I myself did not know that much as I had not been too interested in the story that was being reported and had only read the main points. But I made up enough that they were all satisfied. And so it came to the main meal, in the afternoon. I received a package of food from the family and my father had included a talus for me to pray in. He knew that I did not pray when I was in the house but figured that now that I was in so much trouble , that I would want to. I figured that this would be a good time to get a letter out and took some of the paper that the food had been wrapped in and wrote to my parents and my brothers and sisters, to reassure them and also to let them know that I needed a little bit of money. I put this into the bag that held the talus and when I was finished with the meal, had it returned with the dishes that had come in. The next day the talus was again brought with the noon meal and figured that I already had an answer to yesterdays note. But no, when I looked into the talus bag I found that my original letter was still there. When the guard came to take the dishes away, I told him to tell my family that I could not use the talus as it was torn. When they would open the bag they would see my note. The next day I had a reply. In this way the talus bag went back and forth several times until the guards felt that something funny was going on and would not allow it any more. On the third day that I was in the cell I was allowed to join the others in the "walk". In the prison yard there was a path of bare earth that had been trodden down with the many prisoners that had gone this way before. It was in the shape of a large circle and about 20 men were allowed to go out and walk around this circle at one time. We went two by two around and around for about 10 minutes. This was the daily exercise routine. There were many guards about to see that we did not stray from the path and also to see that we did not talk at that time. During one of these walks we heard the bell ring to the door of the prison and through the bars that separated the two sections, I could see that my sister Rasia was coming in. I got out of line so that she could see me and one of the guards grabbed me and with a few good knocks, took me back inside. So my exercise was cut short by a few minutes that day. I told the guard that my sister had come in to bring me my food and that I had wanted her to see me and that I was not trying to escape from the prison and that was why I had left the path. He did not want to believe me and wanted to report the incident to the head guard. The best that I could expect would be to lose the privilege of my daily outdoor exercise for a week. This was a terrible punishment because the appreciation of the clean fresh outdoor air can only truly come to one who has been deprived of it and made to live in a dank, musty room with terrible odors. But I ended up by not losing this privilege, either because the guard did not want to bother to make a report or whether he realized that there was no way that I could have escaped. But they did watch me more carefully after that and one guard always walked alongside of me as we went around the path.
Because of other activities, I have put off writing this manuscript for four weeks. I am having a little bit of aggravation about this writing. Even though I can remember the smallest details of my former life when I concentrate on it, I sometimes have difficulty remembering whether I have written about it or not. So I may possibly repeat myself and do a lot of writing that is not necessary.
Life in prison was very lonely for me, even though I was in a small room with eight others. Possibly if I had been with a group of politically active people it would have been a lot different and better.
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