On the day following my trial they allowed me to see my beloved Irina. Our first meeting!
A dozen prisoners were sitting at a long table, their wives and mothers standing in a crowd by a narrow door. I spotted Irina. She was standing on tiptoes and jumping up to see me above the heads of the people in front of her. At last they were admitted to the meeting room. We were sitting face to face separated by a glass wall, speaking by telephone. But we were seeing each other, smiling at each other, exchanging greetings. Irina told me about Izya Kogan, Lev Furman, Pinchas Astrakhan and Mikhail Elman saying their prayers before the trial:
"Judge me, o G-d, and stand up between me and wrong people.
Defend me from the deceitful and malignant man."
Izya chose Psalm 43 because I was forty-three. When chanting the Psalm he realized how appropriate his prayer was to the situation. I was affected by that too and repeated the prayer.
Izya Kogan was one of the most respected religious Jews in Leningrad. That big forty-year-old Jew radiated composure and dignity. People liked him. He was ready to listen patiently to anybody, to help people with his advice or actions, or to relate an ancient Hebrew legend relevant to the situation.
Izya was a reliable person in all respects. In 1979, the KGB sent Ida Nudel to exile in Mordovia. They made her live in a hostel for male criminals and oppressed her. It was Izya Kogan, carrying a huge rucksack with food on his shoulders, with Lev Furman for company, who went to that distant land to help Ida.
I had heard a lot of good things about Izya, though we did not meet very often. I remember Purim-Spiels Izya used to arrange, with his beautiful 15-year-old daughter Chana playing the part of Esther.
Izya worked as a shokhet in Leningrad. In the summer time he lived with his children in a dacha not far from our home. A minyan often gathered there. It was to Izya that the Jews came for light and heat, not to the ignorant official Rabbi in the Leningrad Synagogue.
Shortly before my trial, Izya decided to bring the Torah scroll back to his apartment in the city. Unexpectedly, he made a wrong turn at a crossroads. He could not make a U-turn after that because the street had a solid white line in the middle, so he had to drive some distance before returning to his regular route.
Izya was surprised because he knew the road quite well and had never made a wrong turn before. But this time he was carrying the Torah scroll. Suddenly he realized that he had circled my house with the Torah scroll.
I grew up in an almost totally assimilated family so what connection did I have with these miracles? However, I felt a helping hand was present during this seemingly hopeless period.
- Speak only about your home and family, or I will terminate the meeting, - I heard the repugnant voice of a woman tsirik on the telephone.
- O.K. By the way, why did my father or mother not come here to see me?, - I asked Irina. Through the glass divider, Irina showed me my mother's application: “I ask to be allowed to see my son, prisoner... ” In the top left corner there was the judge’s decision: “To permit the meeting”.
- Then what is the problem?
- The problem is that there is somebody higher than the judge who cancelled the scheduled meeting.
It pained me to look at the application lines written in my mother’s trembling hand. How strong her pain must have been to change her handwriting so dramatically!
The woman tsirik interrupted us again:
- I warn you for the last time!
Irina told me about our son, daughter and my parents. We were staring at each other, our eyes full of love.
The hour we were given flew like one happy second. I felt I had wings on my back when I returned to the cell. Prison did not seem so terrible anymore.
“Long live the Soviet court of law - the most humane court in the world! ” The renowned actor Georgy Vitzin proclaims that ironic phrase like a line in a comic movie.
And I was being held in a cell in the Kresty prison, where the situation was far from comical. I was thinking about the humanitarianism of the Soviet penitentiary system, which consisted of four types of punishment:
- Exile: The sentenced were removed to distant places where they could have only limited contact with the outside world.
- Chemiya (chemistry) : The sentenced were forced to work in national economy construction projects, often in chemical enterprises, which accounted for the nickname chemic. Chemics were allowed to receive letters, parcels and even visits from their relatives.
- Zone: The sentenced were forced to work in locked camps.
- Prison: The sentenced were held in custody in cells.
Everybody knows about Academician Sakharov’s exile in the closed city Gorki. He lived there under surveillance of the KGB. Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak ,and Victor Brailovsky were punished with exile respectively to Mordovia, Siberia and Kazakhstan.
I was sentenced to chemiya - punishment of the second degree of severity. Then why was I still being held in prison?
My fellow-prisoner Gavrilov smashed a policeman over the head with a bottle and was sentenced to a year of chemiya. I was sentenced to two years for allegedly hitting a policeman, and the blow did not affect his health. Gavrilov was released from custody immediately after the trial and the bodies responsible for carrying out the sentence sent him to the Kommunar settlement only 20 miles from Leningrad. Could I be that lucky, too? Yes, I could! They explained to me that they would send me to Kommunar the very next day if... I change my plea. Otherwise there would be a tortuous journey to Siberia. The explanation was that the Court of Law took the prisoner’s PERSONALITY into account. That is the humanitarianism of the Soviet court. Gavrilov was socially close to the Soviet society: he had made a mistake and repented. Well, what is my PERSONALITY? Who am I?
Days followed days. They still kept me in a cell awaiting new tortures, while a communist song blasted daily on the radio: “What a pleasure it is to live in our Soviet country! ”
After the trial I was brought back to the Kresty prison, but this time to a section for convicts. Again, the mocking routine of welcoming a newcomer to the cell, and again sleeping on the floor. But now I waited not for the charges, but for the order to begin my sentence.
According to the Procedural Code, a prisoner must receive the text of his sentence not later than three days after the judge pronounces the verdict. However, Soviet law enforcement bodies routinely ignored any legal norms. They only handed me the text of my sentence twenty two days after the trial. Thus, my prison term was deliberately extended.
Well, I had more than enough time to realize what kind of a person I was - alien to Communist Society, stubbornly refusing to correct my behavior, hence deserving of no mercy.
I was not going to beg the communist executioners for mercy. I decided to compile an official legal document about all the violations in my case, and started preparing an appeal. The challenge was complicated because I had no supply of paper and because, thus far, the protocol of my trial had been deliberately withheld from me. The deadline for submitting the appeal was seven days after receiving the details of my sentence. A guard brought me some paper only after my persistent protests to the prison supervisor. Then I wanted to see the trial protocol. I submitted my request to the court three times. I insisted on seeing the protocol of my trial.
Finally they let me see that document but only after more abuse. Again they sent me down to the dog shack where a tsirik incited two balandyors to rough me up. They gave me a hard time and cut my beard short in the best of anti-Semitic traditions. I resisted as best I could because they were balandyors - prisoners, not tsiriks - guards. The beating itself was bad enough, but even worse was the anticipation of a beating. To lie on the cell floor vividly living with one's imagination - that was real torture. In the event, the fight occurred, everything happened very quickly and I was able to fight back. It was far worse to be beaten by the guards - since one could not return their blows.
At last they pushed me to the autozek. The convoy soldiers were angry at the long delay when the balandyors were sorting me out while the ‘autozek’, full of prisoners, was waiting near the prison gates. I was brought to the court building and pushed into an iron cage. It was only then that they showed me a few pages but not the whole file. As I expected, this was just an abridged record of the court session. The testimonies of the witnesses had been modified in favor of the prosecution. During that biased trial, I could only defend myself with my last speech, which had been reduced to one paragraph. All the facts proving my innocence had been deleted from the protocol.
I returned to my cell in the Kresty late in the evening completely exhausted.
Defense lawyer Denisov appeared the next day as if out of thin air, but it became clear that his purpose was to dissuade me from sending my comments on the protocol to the higher court:
- Your Judge is on vacation now, so you will spend an extra month in the Kresty. And don’t forget, you will again be denied mail privileges. No matter what, your sentence will not be canceled - they did not put you here for that, - he told me.
Although his assessment was accurate, he did not take into account my ultimate goal of making a legal record of the violations perpetrated by the Soviet law enforcement bodies. By that time Western lawyers had already had several meetings with Justice Minister Smirnov, and each time the discussion was reduced to the irreproachable Soviet Penal and Procedural Code. The actual practice of the Soviet courts of law could not be criticized in the absence of any documented facts to which the Courts could refer.
I submitted my comments on the distortion of the trial protocol as a supplement to my appeal. I also demanded to be present at the next court session in order to defend myself.
The session on my appeal took place in my absence on October 22, 1981. They upheld the sentence of the previous court, two years of ‘chemiya’. But I had achieved my main goal: Irina received the complete text of my appeal from the court and sent it to Western lawyers. My protests were not only a voice in the wilderness, as human rights organizations eventually came to my defense. At that moment, however, my desperate protests seemed quite insane. I continued on this path because that was my nature. Sir Martin Gilbert wrote in his book Jews of Hope: “He [Lein] is a man for whom adversity acts as a spur”. Indeed, I was struggling for human dignity without any real hope of a happy end. Only now can I compare my fate with the fates of those who surrendered to circumstances and followed the kind advice to keep a low profile Years later, I met Shmuel E. He had been arrested in that same year 1981 under that same Article of Resisting the authorities. Unfortunately, his wife was not as devoted as my Irina, and his parents did not dare to protest openly. As a result, Shmuel was harshly sentenced to three years in prison camps. After his term was over in 1984, an additional eighteen months were added to his sentence. Thus he was rewarded for keeping a low profile.
The verdict of the People’s Court, “Evgeny Lein is found guilty and sentenced to two years” was assumed by the Judge to be a suspended sentence, as was usual in such cases. However, this conditional punishment was very conditional in my case: the KGB did not rush to release me from custody.
A week passed, then another, then one more, and I was still held in the cell, totally ignorant of where I would be sent for corrective labor. However, after the trial I had the privilege of sending and receiving mail.
I was happy to receive a message from Irina. She wrote:
- My dear Zheka, I love you, I miss you, I am waiting for you, I kiss you. It is early morning now. I have not yet received any letters from you but we are expecting them and we are sending letters to you. You are with us all the time, everywhere. I cannot wait for our meeting. I send you kisses.
Together with Irina’s letter, messages came from my grown-up daughter, my 10-year-old son, and my parents. My father quoted Ilya Ehrenburg, “...They found the sense of their life in an unusual sensitivity and closeness to each other. That was their way of surviving. They were shielding each other from the chilly winds of that time”. These words precisely reflected the relations in our family.
I read and reread these messages from the outside world, and I wrote letters to my dear ones every day.
“Irina my dear, don’t worry about me. I am behind stone walls here. The interior here resembles the monastery on Valaam Island, though the library there has more to offer. I am strong enough. Activity and clear headedness - that is my motto. And I want you to stay calm, too...”
“...You are clever. You have managed to do a lot, far more than could be expected. Openness is our weapon! Only that can help us. That was why I wrote my appeals. The most reasonable decision for them would be to let me go, and my lawyer told me about an amnesty being prepared. But they are unpredictable. I expected them to release me after holding me in the preliminary isolation cell for the first three days. That would have been reasonable, but... alas! Now I think it likely that the punishment will become more severe. But don't be afraid! Keep a stiff upper lip! The support we were given was so strong that now we can withstand worse things...”
“...I want very much for our son to participate in athletic activities. It is important that your home life be as normal as possible. I would be happier knowing that you went to the theater without me rather than fasting on my behalf...”
"Hello, my beloved darlings! Yesterday I sent a letter to you and another one to my mother, and today I received your letters. That was a relief for me. I love you all very much and I will see you, no matter how long I have to wait for that moment. I feel your love and constant support of our friends all the time... "
The letters were censored. I didn’t know how many letters were lost. Nevertheless there was a flood of letters during those three last weeks I spent in the Kresty prison, from my relatives and friends; from people I knew and from some I didn't know personally. My cellmates were amazed by such expressions of solidarity, which were so strange to them. With deepest respect, they kept repeating, "That is only possible among the Jews". I used to read the letters I received aloud, and soon it became a habit that all my cellmates shouted in the morning:
- Guard, bring Lein’s letters here!
These were happy moments. But for some reason I had none of the meetings to which I was entitled by law.
An officer threw Irina's application for a meeting back in her face. She protested, and he barked:
- Well, you may complain to Shchyolokov! (Shchyolokov was the Interior Minister in charge of the police and prisons).
Before spurting out these remarks, the silly officer did not realize that he was dealing not with the wife of a frightened petty criminal but with my Irina. That was unfortunate for the officer. Without any hesitation Irina sent a cable of protest to Shchyolokov. The prison administration was startled. A cable to Shchyolokov! There had never been anything of that kind before.
The chief asked Irina:
- Who told you to send your cable?
- That officer.
It seemed to me that the officer experienced certain problems after that incident. And Irina was awarded another hour-long meeting with me. They even let my daughter in to see me. What a joy it was to see their smiles and to hear their tender voices. But how thin Irina had become. My G-d! How much she had suffered!
Irina blew her kisses through the glass that separated us. She believed in the inevitable happy ending.
On that evening I wrote: “My darlings, I wish I could kiss and caress you! Your smiles told me so much! You inspired me. I have returned to the cell and I am still smiling. My neighbor looked at me and said grimly that he wanted to howl at the moon. But I don’t give a damn now”.
At the same time, Irina wrote in her letter to me: “My dear! My heart stands still when I think that you will be with me soon. I see your face and your eyes all the time. As often as possible, look at me as you did during our meeting - then I will be myself again, not what I am like now under these circumstances. I want to whisper tender words to you and listen to you, or just close my eyes and feel you near me. I need you badly, my clever, strong and tender love! Your words, I admire you, I worry for you and I bless you, give me so much strength.
Please write to me. I remember you every moment and everywhere, no matter what I am doing. I kiss you passionately as many times as you want. Your Irina”.
That was the last letter I received in the Kresty prison. The KGB had something else up their sleeves - the torturous 45-day journey to Eastern Siberia. Who knows whether I would have been able to survive that miserable journey if not for my beloved, devoted wife, Irina.
The texts of Soviet laws are humanitarian, extremely humanitarian. Indeed, one article of the Penal Code sounds like a sweet song: “Those sentenced for the first time serve their terms, as a rule, not far from home, so that the positive influence of their relatives will help the prisoners’ rehabilitation”. Alas, in my case this law was disregarded.
According to the Penal Code, I had to be sent to chemiya within ten days after the appeal court adjudged. After twice that amount of time, I was still held in the cell knowing nothing about what was going on, anticipating my gloomy future and listening to criminals ironically singing: “I think the best book is our Soviet Penal Code”.
The prisoners were excitedly anticipating the transport. They waited hopefully for Mondays and Thursdays. On these days vehicles were sent to Kommunar, Kingisepp, Sabsk - settlements in the Leningrad Region. They started worrying when Wednesday came - transport to Sverdlovsk and even the more remote Siberia left on Wednesdays.
My gloomy foreboding was proved right - they threw me out on Wednesday, October 14, 1981. I was brought to the dog shack, given 3 loaves of bread, 6 herrings, and then escorted to the frisking room. On that occasion it was not the prison guards but soldiers of special army troops who methodically did the frisking. They searched us thoroughly - stripped us, checked every seam in our clothes, tore away heels from shoes, cut open the lining of our hats.
Late at night, to avoid attracting the attention of Leningrad citizens, we were loaded on autozeks and brought to the cargo railway terminal. They unloaded us into the backyard and ordered us to squat down. There, surrounded by soldiers with submachine rifles and German shepherd dogs, we heard a threatening speech delivered by the convoy commander, a young warrant officer: “The convoy uses weapons without warning! ”
Loading prisoners into the special railroad cars began. Traditionally, railroad cars for carrying prisoners were named stolypin in honor of Mr.Stolypin, who was a minister in the government during the reign of Czar Nikolai II. At first glance a stolypin appeared to be a normal railroad car, but it had windows only along one side, and the windows were very dim. The interior of the car was divided into caged compartments. Unlike typical railroad compartments, the top shelves in stolypin were not separate. There was just one long top shelf. The cages were separated from the corridor by iron bars.
Soldiers of the convoy were mainly of Asiatic origin - big, strong and dumb. When a zek entered the car, a soldier had to touch him slightly and to call out his number. But these guys were too energetic. They found it necessary to push each prisoner with all their might. Cursing and kicking, they pushed us, 14 chemics, into one cage-like compartment. It is hard to believe, but later I saw that 14 was not the maximum. The loaded stolypin was labeled outside as a mail car and hooked to a slow third-class passenger train. In the morning we started to move. The zeks asked to be escorted to the toilet but the soldiers just laughed at us mockingly. Soon the prisoners started to shout their vulgar demands. The soldiers threatened to pull out the most stubborn ones and to beat their kidneys out. The zeks expressed their protest by rocking the car. It seemed as if the car would turn upside down at any moment. Although the soldiers became frightened, the warrant officer did not allow them to escort the prisoners to the toilet. Some prisoners could not stand it any longer and resorted to using their Sapog - Russian high boots as toilets. Afterwards, they held their boots in their hands. Finally, the convoy soldiers began escorting the prisoners to the toilet one by one. They hurried everyone. One prisoner was deemed too slow and was pulled off the toilet seat. There was no opportunity to wash one's hands because it is common practice not to fill stolypin tanks with water. The zeks, however, paid little attention and immediately started to eat their herring with bread. Very soon they got thirsty. After more humiliation, yelling, begging, and insisting, the soldiers started to carry a bucket with water from compartment to compartment. There were no cups and the zeks sucked in turns from a tap at the base of the bucket. Again they needed to go to the toilet and once again they were prevented from doing so.
Reducing a human being to a beast was one of the stages of correcting “anti-social persons” in the “Society of Peace and Progress” which the Communists had created.
I had been warned about this mockery in advance. That was why I neither ate my herring nor drank any water. As a result, I withstood the three-day-long journey to Sverdlovsk comparatively well.
In the Sverdlovsk transit prison they put me into a big cell, with no less than two hundred other chemics There were huge two-storey beds with heaps of people on them. There were neither mattresses, sheets nor pillows but bare boards polished by generations of zeks. I saw no room on these beds for me. Instead of fighting for a place to lie down I walked along the narrow passage around the beds. Soon somebody prompted me, “They threw someone out of that corner”. So I found a place to rest, but some others were not so lucky. Throughout the night they squatted in the passage. I lay down on the lower bed and bedbugs descended on me from above. That was when I appreciated the iron beds in the Kresty prison. However, I somehow managed to sleep without pointlessly fighting the armies of bedbugs. Other people suffered worse: their bodies were swollen from being bitten by these repulsive insects.
Furthermore, Sverdlovsk prison differed from other prisons in not giving the prisoners cups and spoons. So we supped balanda from our tureens like dogs. There was straw in the bread there. Even the tsiriks considered that bread unique.
The bath there had its peculiarities too. I almost fainted from the smell of carbon monoxide, and some big prisoners actually passed out. This was a common occurrence with each party of prisoners that arrived but in the Communist authorities’ opinion, baths of this kind were considered suitable for Soviet prisoners.
The walking area in Sverdlovsk prison was not a yard, but consisted merely of wooden shacks made of rough boards. Guards had truncheons made of flexible steel pipes with which they randomly struck prisoners. Another form of entertainment for them was to jab a prisoner with a big cell-door key.
To make a long story short, I have only to say that the Sverdlovsk prison was no health resort. However, I was lucky there too. I made the acquaintance of several Jews - prisoners who were being transported from the Ukraine. They had sentences of 10 to 12 years for so called “economic crimes”. They had already served half of their terms in labor camps, followed by several years in exile in the Carpathians. Suddenly, they were gathered together and transported to Siberia. They were sticking together as a team. They had some food with them because they were being transported from exile, not from prison. These Jews fed me and protected me from attacks by the baklans.
Meanwhile there were always conflicts in the cell, which turned rapidly into massive fights. The prisoners argued for tobacco, or balanda, or for who would be first to use the toilet, or just out of pent-up nervous strain. Besides, the prison administration provoked conflicts amongst the prisoners. According to the law, the administration had to provide prisoners with winter clothes before they were transported. Prison administration in Sverdlovsk abided by the law - the guards mingled the chemics, who were to be transported to labor areas, and the zeks, who were going to the zone - locked camps, together in one cell. Clothes changed owners there on a compulsory-volunteer basis. The strong and bold stripped the weak and timid. Some clothes, like blue jeans or bright sweaters, were not available in the zone. The criminals took them in trade for tea in their bargaining with a tsirik in prison or with a soldier in a stolypin car. The day before we were transported out of Sverdlovsk, our group was thrown together three times with real criminals. We spent the night in a small cell with benches along its side. It was impossible for us all to sit there at the same time. The floor was concrete; the window was covered with an iron grid and had no glass. It was late October. The temperature was below zero centigrade and the water froze to ice. It was bitterly cold there but I still had some warm clothes because of Jewish solidarity. I spent the night in conversation with these Jewish ex-businessmen.
The administration violated Article 56 of the Penal Code, which states: “A prisoner should be provided with living conditions according to hygienic and sanitary regulations... with bed linen and a living area of no less than 2.5 square meters (about 30 square feet) ”. We survived these violations and were loaded into a stolypin car again.
The cell in Achinsk was my next prison. A captain there was puzzled as he could not understand why I was there. Usually, the chemics were transported from Leningrad to Chernogorsk in six days by specialized transport, whereas I had been dragged from one transit prison to another for too long. The captain was clever enough to understand that there was some reason for that.
- Now tell me what is going on in Leningrad, - he said.
They held me in the Achinsk transit prison for a whole month, though according to Article 67 of the Soviet Penal Code “it is permitted to hold a prisoner in a transit prison for a period of up to 10 days”.
The day before being transported further, I was put into a basement overcrowded with human beings who had lost their humanity. Guards held me there for a day and at last brought me out to be frisked. It was cold: -25°C/-13°F. The tsiriks who were escorting us had drunk a big bottle of vodka each to warm themselves up. Their coats were flung open, their faces were red. They were walking along the ranks straightening us out. One zek scratched himself and immediately got hit on his side. Another said something to his neighbor and was hit on his neck. I was the third. I was standing still but the tsirik saw my beard and roared. The prisoners were already being loaded on the autozek but that anti-Semitic tsirik managed to cut away half my beard. To the accompaniment of his cursing, they pressed me into the autozek with their boots. I was half-standing, half-lying there in a contorted position thinking that if the truck stopped suddenly my legs would be broken. But my fate was not so bad.
In Leningrad they had loaded us onto a stolypin during the night so that other people could not see us. In Achinsk it was different. The public at the railway station saw ranks of squatting zeks divided into pairs linked by handcuffs, and a major who histrionically raised his hand with a submachine rifle. Everybody there saw the drunk tsiriks and the warrant officer commanding the convoy. The officer pulled his pistol out of the holster, aimed it at the zeks, cocking off the safety lever and saying:
- That is for amateur sprinters.
Nobody tried to escape, and the zeks were pressed into caged compartments. There were 22 (twenty two! ) prisoners in our compartment. The soldiers counted us three times, so this was a fact, with no exaggeration. We were sitting on one another’s knees or lying on the top shelves: we could not move.
They were transporting us to Abakan. The Oper in Achinsk told me that an autozek would transport me from Abakan to a prison in Minusinsk and only from there to the special commandant's office in Chernogorsk.
I could not help but ask:
- My destination point Chernogorsk is much closer to Abakan than to Minusinsk. Why not transport me directly to Chernogorsk?
- Don’t ask stupid questions, - the Oper answered, - “You will travel for one month more, and then you will arrive at your destination by New Year’s eve.
My G-d, another month! I was too weak for such an extended journey.
And G-d heard my groan. Something unexpected happened in Abakan. Our transport arrived there on November 28, 1981, but there was no autozek from Minusinsk. Even the convoy commander could not hold the train at the station for very long. Cursing, he called the nearest special commandant’s office and told them to send their autozeks to pick us up. An autozek from the Chernogorsk special commandant's office, my destination, was among these trucks. Thus I was brought to Chernogorsk earlier than the KGB planned.
What happened next seems like a fairy tale.
While I was standing in the office discussing my Israeli relatives and other dark areas of my biography with the commandant, the door opened: Irina and Galina Zelichonok walked in.
I could not believe it. Irina and Galina were there, in the special commandant's office in Siberia, on the very day and at the very hour of my arrival!
We ran to each other. Second Colonel Svintsov raised his eyebrow:
- Who is that?
- My wife!!! And my sister! (Indeed, Galina Zelichonok was my sister in spirit).
The Colonel was puzzled.
- Citizen Irina Lein, how could you know where your husband would be delivered and when?
- My heart told me.
The Colonel murmured:
- We ourselves did not know when he would be brought here.
Then he became generous:
- You can stay with your husband at the hotel for three days.
A chemic released from custody was usually given three days for his personal needs. But the commandant might grant these days or refuse them. Svintsov decided to allow us the days, probably reasoning that the hotel room was bugged and we obviously had a lot to tell each other. Irina and Galina had brought two huge rucksacks with food and clothes. I took a shower, the first shower after a 45-day journey, and had a meal. I was exhausted both physically and spiritually but Irina was by my side. We talked endlessly.
Only then did I find out what Irina and the children had been subjected to. It had been horrible when Mordechai Yudborovsky came at around midnight on May 17, 1981 and told Irina about the circumstances of my arrest. Then there had been that terrible meeting with the investigator who had handed my cuff links to Irina and told her mockingly:
- These are the last remnants of your husband.
One of our neighbors had been instructed by the KGB and had tried to terrorize Irina.
But Irina also remembered those who had helped our family and the Jewish cause in general. After my trial when it became known that I had not pleaded guilty, support for Irina by the refuseniks became stronger. Irina told me how enthusiastically our daughter's friends had sat up all night typing the records of the speech I delivered in the absence of a defense lawyer and also the final words I, the accused, spoke on my own behalf. I knew how our friends had laughed at the prosecutor’s primitive speech. How glad they were that, as Nellie Shpeizman put it, “the Jews had not been spat on in court this time”. I knew how the investigator shouted at Irina during the interrogation to extract evidence against me. Irina had been determined just to keep silent, but because she realized instantly that I would see the protocol, she told the investigator how much she and the children loved me and insisted on the investigator writing this down in the protocol. This was a message for me that I received with joy in my cell.
After I was sentenced, I was entitled to send her letters and did so every day. Once the letters stopped coming, and Irina found out they had moved me from the Kresty prison, she hurried to Department # 5 of the Interior Ministry. They confirmed that I had been transferred but refused to tell her where I was being held as well as the time I would be released from custody. For more than forty days Irina knew nothing about me and was deeply worried. She went to the prosecutor's office and other places, sent cables to Interior Minister Shchyolokov and Justice Minister Smirnov but received hollow official responses that brought her no information at all.
Suddenly one day she found an envelope in her mail box with a short message, “Your husband has been transported to Abakan”. I remembered the Jewish businessmen I had met in Sverdlovsk transit prison and thanked them mentally. We had been separated in Achinsk, where I remained in prison as they were released from custody. One of them fulfilled my request and had sent that message to Irina.
At once, Irina learned that Abakan was the center of the Khakass Autonomous Republic and that civilian airplanes flew there. She decided to take a flight to Abakan immediately. Other refuseniks tried to dissuade her. They told her it would be wiser to wait till I sent a letter with my address. But it was impossible to stop my wife. She invited the refuseniks to our home and read aloud my letters from the prison. Our close friends and those refuseniks who had recently became acquainted with Irina held their breath as they tried to contain their tears. Everybody was eager to help.
It is written in the Tanah: “If you find a good wife she will be more precious than a pearl.”
Ilya Simovsky suggested a toast:
- To Evgeny’s luck! He has such a devoted wife.
Aba Taratuta and Natalie Khasin offered money for the purchase of air tickets out of the fund for supporting prisoners. Galina Zelichonok was determined to accompany Irina on her crazy journey.
The day before Irina left, representatives of Jewish communities from the United Kingdom and Switzerland, Barbara Dean, Margaret Jacobs and Beverly Nenk, came to see her. Irina spoke with them in detail about the problems of the refuseniks and the circumstances of my arrest.
- Don’t be silent. Let the world know what is really going on in the USSR, - she asked her guests. As they were parting, Margaret handed her fur coat to Irina.
- No, Margaret! It is November now and it is cold in Leningrad. You will need it yourself and I have a coat! - Irina said.
But Margaret, Barbara and Beverly insisted:
- That is a gift from the three of us.
They knew that only a fur coat could keep a person warm in Siberia. They wished Irina:
- A successful journey!
Our refusenik friends could hardly believe that Irina's escapade would be a success but they wished her good luck anyway. Felix Barash dedicated these verses to Irina:
If you need to find direction
On a rainy day or night,
Don't believe a compass,
Believe your heart.
The heart is the compass for human beings!
It might not find the North,
Nor even show you the South,
But as long your faith is strong
Your heart will find your friend in the dark.
The heart is the compass for human beings!
Your heart will open any doors
And tell you the ‘rendezvous’ spot.
Don't believe a compass,
Believe your heart
The heart is the compass for human beings!
Irina’s heart did not deceive her and a miracle did indeed occur. On their arrival in Abakan, Irina and Galina went to Khakass Regional Interior Administration. A girl clerk accepted them as ordinary visitors of their chemic relatives and immediately gave them specific information of my whereabouts: “Convict Lein was sent to special commandant's office #3 in Chernogorsk”. That same evening, Irina and Galina arrived in Chernogorsk by bus, and immediately went to the commandant’s office. They asked the officer on duty there:
- Where is Evgeny Lein?
- The commandant is talking with him.
So we were together again on the unforgettable date of November 28, 1981.
We had known each other since childhood. We lived in neighboring streets, Syezhinskaya and Gulyarnaya (literally festive gathering streets) in the Petrograd Side District of Leningrad. In 1956 the Education Ministry underwent a cultural revolution - high schools for male and female students had merged. We found ourselves in the same class and became friends. In 1960 we got married and had been together ever since, for over 20 years, until my arrest.
Again we were together, despite all the difficulties.
These three happy days passed like one second, and again I was standing in the limelight in the commandant’s office. Second Colonel Svintsov looked at me sternly and explained that I was not allowed to leave Chernogorsk. As I had to register at the commandant’s office twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, any attempted escape would be noticed at once. I had to work at the local factory and do my job well - the supervisory commission would see to that. I had to live in the hostel of the commandant's office. But as there were not enough beds in that hostel, some chemics were allowed to room in private houses. The only condition for that was that the chemic should live there together with his wife. In this way the authorities turned the wives into hostages. If I violated the disciplinary code or the work regulations, I would be sent to a locked camp, Svintsov threatened.
Irina found me in a gloomy mood and refused to leave. I insisted that our children needed her more than I did. However, it was impossible to persuade her to leave.
So I went to be corrected by labor and Irina ran to find a room to rent. On that same day she found a hut where an elderly woman was letting a room. The room was so situated that our landlady, an informer, passed through it all the time, watching us.
It was down to 40°C below zero Centigrade (-40°F). Our furnace worked on coal, which produced a lot of heat and... carbon monoxide. That was why the furnace had no screen in the chimney tube, and by the morning the temperature was close to 0°C/32°F.
There was no running water in these houses. Once a day we went to a well and brought water on a sleigh. The toilet was outside and, of course, was not heated. But a human being is able to survive under even worse conditions than these. Our love and friendship was keeping us warm.
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