I was working at the Ministry of Religion about 40 years ago as an assistant to the Ministry of Religions, the noted and learned Zerach Wahrhaftig. One day an aide put his head through the door and said, "Come into my office,” he beckoned to us. “There's a man here you have to meet." We went into the adjacent office to see an elderly, slightly bent Jew who had made aliyah from Russia only two days earlier. His name was Eliezer Nanas.

In those days it was highly difficult to get out of Russia; the Cold War was at its height and Jews were severely restricted. Yet this clearly religious Jew had made it and his story was indeed fascinating. It turns out that he tried to observe all the mitzvot, even when it was nearly impossible while living in Moscow. In the end he was apprehended for the sin of attending a heder to teach Judaism to youngsters whose parents were willing to take the risk.

He was sent to Siberia for ten years, a death sentence for most prisoners. When after a long and arduous journey Nanas arrived at the work camp, he was thrown into a little hut where there was nothing but a bed, surrounded by vast, empty vistas and unending snow. The food that he received was hardly enough to keep body and soul together and in the extreme cold of Siberia one's caloric intake made all the difference between staying healthy and alive or succumbing.

A guard soon entered his hut to inform Eliezer that he had been assigned the relatively easy job of house painting. He was given a ladder, a paint brush, a pail and told to paint different areas of the huge camp. Misery, cold and despair were all around him. Yet Eliezer Nanas made friends and encouraged those that were obviously Jews and kept a relatively positive outlook. However when after a few days he didn't report for work, an angry guard came to look for him. "What's going on?" he asked the Jew. "Why didn't you come to work?"

"Today is my Sabbath," replied Eliezer. "We don't work on Shabbat."

"Ahah!" said the guard. "We've had guys like you in the past. We know how to deal with your kind. You'll simply get less and less food until you know how to follow orders," said the guard as he banged the door shut. Nanas returned to work on Sunday, but he started receiving less food. He began to feel weaker and weaker.

One day he was called to paint the house of the camp commander. The commander's wife treated him civilly and right away he felt that she was Jewish herself. He even said a few words in Yiddish to check out his suspicion and to establish contact. They began to talk even as he painted. She heard about his background and saw that Eliezer Nanas was not a common criminal but a spiritual person on a high intellectual level. She also heard that his rations had been reduced as a punishment.

That night the commander's wife approached her husband (who was also a Jew but never acknowledged the fact). She asked him to intervene to help the painter and reinstate his food allowance. "Don't interfere in camp matters," he yelled at her.

Their 16-year-old daughter was standing in the room and heard the discussion. "You'll go to gehinnom (hell)," his wife warned her husband in response.

"What's gehinnom?" asked the daughter curiously.

"Never mind," her mother answered. "It's got nothing to you with you."

"But I want to know," insisted the girl. She pleaded and kept up the pressure until her mother finally relented and told her what little she knew. "The old time Jews believed that when one leaves this earth you either go to Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden, or heaven) or to gehinnom (hell) depending on how you acted in this world," her mother told her reluctantly. "It has nothing to do with us. Forget the whole thing."

One day soon after, a guard came over to Eliezer. "You have a visitor," he told the surprised Jew.

"Who visits anyone in Siberia?" thought Nanas. Even his family had never been able to make the arduous trip. He stepped into the visitor’s room and saw a young girl. It was the commander's daughter. They looked at each other for several minutes, each one wondering what to say.

At last the girl said, "If I help you, will you agree to give me half of your Gan Eden?"

Eliezer was taken aback. But as he peered at her, he saw her sincerity and naive yet strong faith, "Yes, I'll give you half of my Gan Eden" he replied.

That was the end of the very short, decidedly strange conversation. Eliezer received his normal rations and he continued to stay in his hut on the Sabbath.

After several more weeks, the daughter was back to visit him one again. This time she was beaming. "Don't tell anyone yet, but you are going to be released. They're sending you back to Moscow," she said. "But remember we made a pact," she reminded the amazed Jew. "You're giving me half of your portion on the World to Come."

"Yes of course, but I don't know why you need it," Eliezer finally said. "You have a complete portion of Gan Eden waiting for you all on your own."

Eliezer Nanas made aliyah to Israel shortly thereafter and was able to bring out his family after several months. He recounted his experiences in the book Subbota under the pseudonym of Avraham Netzach. Subbota, the Russian word for the Sabbath, became his nickname in prison because of his total commitment to observe Shabbat under brutal circumstances. He lived in Jerusalem for the rest of his life. There is a street in Ramat Shlomo named after him.