Spring had arrived, yet I was deprived of the opportunity to witness the awakening of nature that was granted to all God’s other creatures. All were merry and free. All that is, except me.
It was the third year of my confinement in that dark cell where I could not even move about. For over two years, I had barely seen my family. I had to wallow in filth and breathe the sordid, damp air of the jail, scarcely ever seeing the sun that shines upon the righteous and sinners alike. The rays of light could hardly penetrate my prison window. However, I still felt a little better, for during springtime it was not so cold in my room, and the mild breeze coming through the gratings refreshed me.
On one of these days, I received a visit from Mr. Grigorovich-Barsky. After we exchanged the usual pleasantries, he told me that he had a request.
I wondered what it could be. I asked. “What could you possibly want from me?”
“I want you to do something. It will be hard, but you must do it.”
“What is it?”
“You must stop receiving food from home.”
“If you say so,” was my answer. “I will do whatever you tell me. I guess you know what you’re doing, but could you at least tell me why?”
“Yes, of course,” he responded. “I’m asking you to do this because the Black Hundreds have been writing in the newspapers lately that the Jews are attempting to poison you. They are spreading the story that the Jews are afraid you might slip up and say a wrong word and confess your guilt. Because of this, we are afraid that the Black Hundreds might arrange your poisoning so that the case will not be tried and they won’t have to fear losing face in front of the whole world. If you die now without a chance for us to defend the Jewish people, they think people will still believe that their accusations are true. That must be their intention.
“Therefore, we have decided that the best thing you can do is not accept any more food packages from home. That is the only way to stop these hooligans and their insinuations. If you do not receive any food from outside the prison, they will not be able to claim that the Jews are trying to poison you. And it will deny them an opportunity to poison you and blame it on the Jews. We know it will be very hard for you, but there is no other way.”
Of course, I promised him I would do as he asked. Later, as I was thinking the matter over, I felt that if the Black Hundreds wanted me poisoned they could just do it themselves. It would be so easy for them to get one of the prison guards to do it. Therefore, I petitioned the warden to permit me to get my food myself from the common kettle. The usual procedure was for a prison guard to bring my food to me in my cell. When I was first imprisoned and sharing a room with a large number of men, enough food for ten or twelve people was put in one large bowl. I was not afraid that they would put poison in such a large bowl, for then they would have had to poison the whole crowd in order to get rid of me. But now that I was all alone in a cell by myself and they passed me my food through an opening in the door, I did not feel so safe.
At first, my petition was refused. The official response was, “If you want to eat, eat what you are given. If not, you can starve. There will be no special privileges for you. Don’t worry. We shall not poison you. It is your Jews that you should fear. They are not satisfied with using our blood and are inventing additional lies to make us appear ridiculous.”
I had good reason to be stubborn. So I declared a hunger strike. Three days had elapsed. Whenever a prisoner doesn’t eat for a few days, the Prosecutor is summoned to investigate. The Prosecutor finally appeared. I told him I wanted to get my food myself from the kettle and not to have it brought into my room.
His reply was that it could not be permitted. “You must not leave your cell. You are supposed to be under strict confinement. The other prisoners and guards are not even allowed to look at you.”
“Well,” I answered, “then let them turn away when I draw my ration.”
Somewhat to my surprise, after considerable bickering and arguing, I was allowed to get my food from the common kettle. I was again reduced to subsisting on that starvation diet, since I was no longer receiving any food from home and the prison broth was unfit to eat.
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