As hard as it was to have spent over two years in prison not knowing exactly what I was being accused of, it was even harder to await the day when I would be put on the dock before the judges, when the whole conspiracy would at last unfold. But, as the proverb says, as long as we live, we live to see.
One day, I finally received the formal summons to appear for trial on the 25th of September. That was still over two months away, but at last, the shore was in sight. With each passing day, the end was coming closer. Another few days and it would all be over.
My mood was one of joyous optimism. I tried to envision what it would be like—the various procedures of the trial, the reading of the indictment, the questions I would be asked, my answers. All my thoughts concentrated on the approaching trial. I could not think of anything else.
About two weeks before the trial, I began to petition the authorities for permission to wear my own clothes that had been taken away from me when I was brought into jail and forced to exchange my clothes for those of a prisoner. I submitted this request because I was embarrassed to appear in such a public arena so shamefully attired.
However, I did not receive an answer to this request. Two or three days before the trial, I was again visited by my wife and brother. The tears flowed freely, of course. We expressed the hope that before too long we would be in our own home, free and unmolested.
Before she left, my wife told me that I would be permitted to wear my own clothes and that they would be issued to me that very day. The next morning, the thirteen locks of my cell began to click, signaling that the door was being opened. Usually, this process filled me with apprehension and fear. This time, it seemed to have a different sound. The clicking was more encouraging, as if bringing good news.
“Well,” said the guard. “Here are your clothes. You can dress yourself. Your trial begins today.”
I was taken into another room where I was given the suit of clothing that had been taken from me two and a half years earlier. I was only too happy to discard those ugly prisoner’s clothes and to put on my own. I was too afraid to savor the thought that I might never have to put those filthy rags back on ever again, so I just gratefully enjoyed this opportunity to be able to look like a human being.
That day, the authorities treated me with friendliness and respect. As if by magic, all their former viciousness disappeared. Some of them even helped me get dressed. I could not imagine such politeness on their part after all the suffering to which they had subjected me. When I was ready, I was handed over to the escort squad. They even behaved differently. The command was given: “Forward march!”
As we came out of the prison yard, a pleasant sight confronted me. Each time I had previously been taken to the Prosecuting Attorney, there had been no one in the yard except for a few guards. This time, the yard was packed, as if there was going to be a great military review. The regular army was there, as well as all the administrative officials. Everyone, from the lowest guard to the Warden himself, had come out to watch me leave. I was the center of attention. Some smiled under their moustaches, but the majority were stiff and serious. Besides these, several hundred Cossacks with glistening lances were stationed in the yard. Their unsheathed sabres were an indication that they had come to protect me from an “evil eye.” I was seated in a black armored prison coach, surrounded by an entire array of officials and accompanied by the army cavalry. It was in the midst of all this pomp and grandeur that I was escorted down the road to the Court of Justice.
From the window of my coach, I could see that the streets were lined with people who were not deterred by the less than propitious weather. The dark and foreboding clouds seem to imply that the heavens did not view the whole spectacle very favorably. The crowds, however, did not seem to mind. The Black Hundreds, who could be distinguished by their badges, were present in large numbers. I could see their ugly features, popping up at every turn of the road. On the pavements, in the windows and even on the roofs of the houses, I could see multitudes of people.
As I progressed along the way, I noticed the faces of Jewish men and women, some wringing their hands and wiping their tears with their handkerchiefs. I did my share of crying as well.
To insure order, and also probably to watch me, a line of Cossacks on horseback was positioned the full length of the road from the prison to the courthouse, a distance of about two miles. Passing through the cordon, we finally reached the District Court House which was surrounded by thousands of people. The gates of the courtyard swung open, and our coach drove in.
Alighting from the cab, I said to the driver with a smile, “I’ll pay you on my way back.”
The Chief of Police and a police captain who were standing nearby could not refrain from chuckling.
Once inside the courthouse, I was led into a separate room, the special place prisoners were assigned during their trials. I restlessly waited to be led into the courtroom. I had been anticipating this day for so long that, now that it was here, I could hardly believe it wasn’t all a dream.
All the months and years seemed to pass before my eyes—Kuliabko dragging me away from my family, the Okhrana, the District Attorney, the tzaddikim, the afikoman, the prison, the days of hunger, the nights of sleeplessness, the guards, the swollen feet, the operation, the surgeon cutting endlessly and mercilessly, Fenenko, Mashkevitch, the General and that lady, all those endless tortures.
My God, when was it all going to end?
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