Was I really just supposed to sign and leave in silence? I looked at the major--to see whether he he intended to say something to me, whether he might not provide some clarification. No, he had no such intention. He had already nodded to the jailer at the door to get the next prisoner ready.
To give the moment at least a little importance, I asked him, with a tragic expression: "But, really, this is terrible! Eight years! What for?"
And I could hear how false my own wirds sounded. Neither he nor I detected anything terrible.
"Right there." The major showed me once again where to sign. I signed. I could simply not think of anything else to do.
"In that case, allow me to write an appeal right here. After all the sentence is unjust"
"As provided by regulations," the major assented with a nod, placing my sheet of paper on the left-hand pile.
"Let's move along" commanded the jailer.
And I moved along.
(I had not really shown much initiative. Georgi Tenno, who, to be sure, had been handed a paper worth twenty-five years, answered: "After all, this is a life sentence. In olden times they used to beat the drums and assemble a crowd when a person was given a life sentence. And here it's like being on a list for a soap ration--twenty-five years and run along!"
Arnold Rappoport took the pen and wrote on the back of the verdict: "I protest categorically this terroristic, illegal sentence and demmand immediate release." The officer who had handed it to him had at first waited patiently, but when he read what Rappoport had written, he was enraged and tore up the paper with the note on it. So what! The term remained in force anyway. This was just a copy.
Vera Korbeyeva was expecting fifteen years and she saw with delight that there was a typo on the official sheet--it read only five. She laughed her luminous laugh and hurried to sign before they took it back. The officer looked at her dubiously: "Do you really understand what I read to you?" "Yes, yes thank you very much. Five years in corrective-labour camps."
The ten-year sentence of Janos Rozsas, a Hungarian, was read to him in the corridor in Russian, without any translation. He signed it, not knowing it was his sentence, and he waited a long time afterward for his trial. Still later, when he was in camp, he recalled the incident very vaguely and realized what had happened.)
I returned to the box with a smile. It was strange. Each minute I became jollier and more relieved. Everyone was returning with "ten-ruble bills," including Valentin. The lightest term in our group that day had been given the bookkeeper who had gone out of his mind. He was in fact, beside himself. And the lightest term after his was mine.
In the splashes of sun and the July breeze, the little twig outside the window continued to bob up and down as gaily as before. We chattered boisterously. Here and there, more and more frequently, laughter resounded in the box. We were laughing because everything had gone off so smoothly. We were laughing at the shocked bookkeeper. We were laughing at our morning hopes and at the way our cellmates had seen us off and arranged secret signals with us to be transmitted via food parcels--four potatoes or two bagels!
"Well, anyway, there is going to bevsn amnesty!" several afirmed. "All this is just for form's sake and it doesn't mean anything. They want to give us a good scare so we'll keep in line. Stalin told an American correspondent--"
"What was his name?"
"I don't remember his name."
Valentin said to me, reassuringly, intimately: "Well, all right. We are still young. We are going to live a long time yet. The main thing is not to make a misstep now. We are going to a camp--and we'll not say one word to anyone so they won't plaster new terms on us. We will work honestly--and keep our mouths shut."