It was midnight. I was taken from my cell with a group of men, loaded onto a bus and driven away. The windows of the bus were painted over, making it so dark inside that I could not see the faces of the other men. I think all of us were preoccupied with the question of where we were going.
Though we were forbidden to speak, somebody whispered, “They’re taking us to Russia.”
“No, they are going to kill us,” another said, quietly.
We all had low spirits. I am sure we thought: “Will I ever again see my home? My mother? Wife and children?”
I knew that my wife Erna would be praying for me and I started to pray in my heart for her and the children. I prayed also for myself and all the dear brothers and sisters in our church. Then I prayed for my fellow prisoners. And, “Oh, Lord, help me....” I was finally able to pray for even my captors.
The bus rambled on for two or three hours. At last it made a sharp turn and lurched to a stop.
“Where are we?”
“How far are we from our homes?”
No one knew.
When the door of the bus opened we could see nothing more than a wide door leading into what was obviously a prison. Several guards waited outside the bus. One guard, in a gruff voice, ordered us off the bus and into the building.
This was Znojmo prison, as I found out much later.
There in the great concourse, we had to form in single file. The ceiling was four stories high. Each floor was a tier of cells that circled the open concourse on all sides.
One prisoner after another was called to proceed up the stairs. Once out of sight, we heard only the echoes of their footsteps and the clanging of cell doors.
“Next!” I heard a guard say. It was my turn.
I was led by two guards to the stairs leading up. We climbed past the balcony of the first floor of cells, then the second floor, and finally the third. We walked along the third floor balcony, past cell after cell, until we stopped in front of one. A guard put a key into the lock and turned it. Two other guards came from somewhere. They huddled together and whispered for a moment. Suddenly, they opened the cell door, quickly and roughly pushed me in and slammed the door after me.
It happened so quickly. I found myself in a very small cell. I was aware that the guards were watching me through the peephole in the heavy cell door. I could hear their unintelligible whispering.
Looking around, I was surprised to see that the cell was clean and well-lighted. There was a small table and a seat attached to the wall. In a corner was the toilet. There was a single bed—and it was occupied! There was movement under the blanket. A hairy hand with long black nails emerged from underneath! I was spellbound! Then the other hand came out. But still I could not see the man because the blanket hid his face.
Slowly, the blanket was pulled down, inch by inch, revealing a face, unshaven, disheveled, and with a wild gleam in the eyes. It was the face of an insane man. He gazed at me, grinned and growled like a furious animal. I was afraid he was about to attack me. I quickly moved to the far end of the cell. It was all so strange and scary. I felt helpless and defenseless. Instinctively, I looked for a way of escape. But there was none.
In my anxiety I knelt down, whispering in prayer, “Lord, here I am, putting myself into Thy hands.”
I covered my face with my hands and listened for every movement of the creature on the bed. It was so quiet. Even the guards behind the door stopped whispering. Suddenly the light was turned off. I lay down on the hard floor, peering through the darkness in the direction of the bed, anxiously waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark so I could see the creature. All remained quiet. In spite of all the excitement, I was fatigued and eventually fell asleep.