A Letter from Max Chernyak

Dear Comrades:

Don’t be surprised if suddenly you get a letter from me. Many times I thought of writing to you, to tell how we are getting along and what we are doing in Russia. I didn’t write because while I was free there was no way of communicating, and when there was a way I was in jail.

Especially did I long to write to you because I still remember your last letter to me in Chicago, the time you sent me the credentials from the M. E. It was just before I left for Russia, which was in May, 1917. You envied us because we were Russian born and that we were lucky that we could go to a country where there would be freedom for the working class. We all thought the same. Yes, it was the time of enthusiasm we were to be envied, because we bravely fought the battles for freedom on the Russian fields: but my dear friend, the lucky ones are not those who come to Russia – o no!

I went through a lot of fighting, was wounded many times, and how I am paid for all I went through – jail, jail and jail again.

Since 1919 I am hunted for like a wild beast, spied after and frame-ups made. The last arrest was the most cruel, though the most foolishly fabricated one, and when I proved it to them, I was plainly told that I was arrested because I might be active in the future.

A verdict was brought against me. I was to be exiled to one of the worst places in the world called “Narimsky Baise.” In protest against this sentence, I hungered 28 days, and then at the end of the 28th day they started to feed me by force artificially. I preferred to die in a Moscow jail than to die on the way to the wilderness.

After five days of artificial and forcible feeding, I was finally, in a dying condition, brought home on the guarantee of a high government official. He took the responsibility to get me back after three months to the authorities to be sent away to the “Narimsky Baise.”

My left side from the toes up to the arm is paralyzed, but this will not stop their sending me away as soon as the 3 months will expire.

I am home, but materially very badly off. I am short of food, necessary medicines, and care of doctors. Rose and Esther are also invalids of the struggle for freedom. Rose is left with a stiff leg and swollen arteries on both legs – she must undergo an operation. Esther can’t obtain work because she doesn’t know Russian well enough. The boy is only 11 years old, they only depend on my earnings, but my present condition is terrible, as jails and only jails took my health away, and as that is not enough, I am to be sent away, never to see the white bright world again.

Immediate help is needed. Do for me what we used to do for others.

I remain fraternally yours. M. C.

From: Behind the bars, 1, January 1924. Reprinted in Letters from Russian Prisons and The Guillotine at Work.