Since it was impossible for me to remain in the same cell with my sullen peasant friend, I was transferred to another room. Only twelve men lived there, most of whom were petty officials, like policemen and such, who had been guilty of minor offenses. They all regarded me suspiciously. However, one of them, a man by the name of Kozatchenko, was a little more amicable than the others.
After a few days, the warden summoned me into the hall and wanted to know how I was being treated in my new quarters. When I told him things were better here, he left.
I learned that one of the guards in my new room would take letters from the prisoners, deliver them to people on the outside and then bring back the replies. He would do all of this for the price of a few kopeks. Since I hadn’t received any correspondence from my family, and since Kozatchenko was still behaving congenially, I remarked to him I would like to send them a note.
I wrote the letter to my family and, as a precaution, filled in all the empty spaces so that no one else could add to my words. In the letter, I asked about everyone’s welfare. I also wanted to know the reason for their silence and inactivity. Why weren’t they doing something to help me? They knew I was innocent. I had not heard anything from anyone, so it seemed as if no one had taken any interest in me. I wrote that I didn’t know if I could bear remaining in prison too much longer. I also mentioned that the bearer of this letter should be paid fifty kopeks and given a reply to be returned to me.
I gave my letter to the guard, and he brought me an answer. I read it and then tore it up carefully so that no evidence would remain. A few days later, the guard asked whether I wanted to send another letter. I told him I did not.
Kozatchenko’s trial was going to take place shortly, so he began preparing to leave. He came over to me whispering.
“Listen to me, Beilis. The whole world knows you are innocent. When I’m released, I’ll do what I can for you. The prisoners here have given me some information about the real murderers.”
He had his trial and was acquitted, and he subsequently returned to the prison for the night. The next morning, when he was about to be released, I also gave him a letter to give to my wife. I wrote to her that the person who was delivering this letter would tell her news about me.
This happened on a Wednesday. On Friday evening, I was ordered to the prison office. With a terrible sense of foreboding, I entered the office and was met by two prison officials, an inspector and someone else. The inspector spoke first.
“You wrote letters to your family?” he asked bluntly.
At first, I didn’t know what to say. Even though I realized that someone must have turned me in, I didn’t know who it was. I didn’t know if the officials were aware of both of the letters or just one. My immediate thought was that Kozatchenko was the villain, because I had been suspicious of him from the start. I decided he must have been the one who turned the letter over to the officials, perhaps hoping to get into their good graces. I didn’t suspect the guard of treachery, especially since he had brought back a reply. I decided not to mention the letter that I had given to the guard since I didn’t want to unnecessarily implicate him.
“I sent a letter with Kozatchenko,” I finally responded to the inspector.
He then read to me both of the letters, including the one that I had sent via the guard. I now realized a trap had been set for me from the very beginning. The guard had wanted to get the letters from me so he could deliver them to the officials. Nothing else was said, and I was returned to my cell.
That evening was a Friday night, and all I could think about was the contrast between my misery in that dungeon and the Sabbath that was being enjoyed by pious Jews all over the world who were sitting down to beautiful meals and singing zemiros. My melancholy musing instantly ended when the door to my room was flung open and a guard ordered me to get my things and come with him.
I gathered my belongings and was taken into a small, bitterly cold room where the temperature was at the freezing point. It took only one glance to see that the room was totally bare. I began begging the guard to at least give me a mattress.
“I’ll see about it tomorrow,” he answered. “For now, it doesn’t matter, because tonight you’ll surely die.” He left and locked the door.
Trembling from both the cold and fear, I sat down on the icy, wet floor in a state of indescribable suffering. All I could do was wait for the morning to come and hope to survive. I could not get the thought of those letters out of my head. I feared that since the letters had fallen into the hands of the officials, they might also have arrested my wife. In the morning, the deputy warden came to check on me. I pleaded with him to do one of two things. He could either order the stove to be heated so that the room would be warm, or have me shot and put an end to my tortures.
“I don’t have the authority to do anything myself,” he explained, “but I’ll ask for instructions. Wait an hour.” In an hour he had me transferred to a small, but warm room.
I waited for Sunday to come. When it finally arrived, no one brought me a package of food. I felt certain that my poor family must have been arrested and thrown into jail. Was it my imagination that the children’s voices coming from the prison yard sounded like those of my own little ones? I worried that there was now no one in the whole world who was free and would be able to care for me.
On Monday, the warden himself appeared. I asked him if the letters were the reason why I had not received my food parcel on Sunday. He confirmed that I was being held in strict confinement because of the letters.
“You know,” he added, “it is forbidden to do such things. As for your package of food, that isn’t our fault. Something must have happened at your home. I’ll try to get some information for you.”
I took the opportunity to ask him to move another man into the room with me who would be a decent companion. I felt I would go mad from the solitude. He promised to grant my request and departed.
An hour later, two young men were brought into my cell. Each had chains on his hands and feet. They both looked so savage I was sure they were murderers. I would gladly have foregone the pleasure of their company, but I had to put on a pleasant face and conceal my true sentiments.
Another few days passed. One morning, I was given a letter from my wife. She wrote she wasn’t well and couldn’t come herself. But she did send some money. This cheered me up considerably, and I thanked God they were all home. But why was I still imprisoned? I could only speculate about how long my unjust, undeserved tortures would last. When would there be an end to my misfortunes?
These questions tormented me day and night. I would walk around half out of my mind, wondering whether anyone was willing to take up my cause. Why wasn’t anything being done to set me free?
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