AFTER HE joined the underground, Shimon Grilius practiced for prison. He slept on a hard bed without a blanket. He put margarine instead of butter on his bread.

"Why are you using margarine?" his mother asked.

He lied so she would not carry a burden.

Three years later, after he had been betrayed, he found that his preparations had not been sufficient. The horror of life in a Soviet prison was unimaginable.

Doubly so for a Jew. Grilius quickly became a very religious, Orthodox Jew. It helped him survive.

"In order to live, you don't just get up in the morning and eat. There is a spiritual dimension to life. I learned how low a person can sink if he is without religion, if he relies only on human rationalizations."

Grilius, 34, is a hort man with a long red beard. He wears a black suit and a Boston Blackie hat with a black skullcap underneath.

Grilius is in Washington seeking to interest American authorities in the fate of another Jew, Josif Mendelevich, who remains in prison in Russia.

Mendelevich was convicted of crimes against the Soviet state after participating in a plan to hijack a plane and escape to Israel in 1970. He is the only Jew among those convicted not to have been released and allowed to leave Russia.

The leaders of the hijack attempt, Mark Dymshits and Eduard Kuznetsov, were freed last April with other Soviet dissidents in exchange for two Russian spies.

Two non-Jews who participated in the attempt, Alexei Murzjenko and Yuri Fiodorov, also remain in prison.

It is Mendelevich whom Grilius came to know and love in prison as a spiritual mentor. Grilius now fears that his friend remains behind and has been singled out for special torments because he is a deeply religious Jew who insists on wearing his skullcap, demands kosher food and refuses to work on the sabbath.

Just the sort of things that tend to drive prison authorities wild.

Here is how the friends met:

Grilius was convicted of crimes against the Soviet state after he was caught in 1969 helping to run seminars on Jewish culture and flaws in the Soviet system.

"I'm not a sheeo, I'm not a fool to be led around. I was searching for truth and justice. I started questioning [Soviet] thinking, their ideology."

He was thrown in with murderers, rapists, people who had killed for a few rubles. "I can't repeat the things I saw. It was Sodom and Gomorrah in there. One thing I can say. They brought in a couple, a husband and wife. The husband had killed his mother-in-law. He had cut her open and taken out her liver. He had forced his wife to fry the liver, and they both ate it."

The prisoners were encouraged to pressure Grilius for information on other Jews. In addition, he was interrograted by the authorities for eight months.

In the midst of this "terrible inhumanity," Grilius discovered the difference between good and evil. His acts against the state had been secular.Now he became religious. "Without a belief in God, what would hold a man back from doing the most terrible things in order to save himself?"

He refused to break, to "squeal" on other Jews.

Another prisoner, a Nazi who had been a kapo in one of Hitler's concentration camps and who was on good terms with the Soviet prison's authorities, told Grilius about the hijack attempt.

"Now there will be more Jews here," the Nazi chided.

Grilius prayed it would be so. He needed companionship.

Then one day the Nazi told him a Jew was coming. Grilius was off-duty at the prison's flatiron factory where he worked. He stayed in the prison yard, near the front gate, waiting.

Finally he saw Mendelevich escorted through the gate. Frail, his head newly shaved and white, Mendelevich walked slowly across the prison yard carrying only a small valise.

"He was the first civilized human being I had seen in a year."

Weeping, the two men embraced.

Grilius was 16 years old when he learned his father's secret.

It was 1961, and Krushchev had disclosed Stalin's excesses to the world. Grilius' father took him aside and disclosed that for five years shortly after World War II he had been a prisoner in one of Stalin's slave labor camps. The father had been imprisoned for helping Jews to escape to Poland en route to Israel.

Nobody had told Grilius this earlier for fear it would turn him against Russia and get him into trouble.

The father, small of stature like Grilius, had found judo helpful in surviving the labor camp. He taught Grilius judo.

All this was powerful medicine for a boy already possessed of a troublesome "sense of justice." Grilius had been in trouble in primary school for defending another boy who had run away from home to escape drunken parents. The teacher had taken sides with the parents, ridiculing the runaway.

"As I got older, I began to see the terrible contradictions in the whole (Soviet) system. Stalin was portrayed as a righteous individual. Then Khrushchev was portrayed as a saint. Then Brezhnev said Khrushchev was a thief . . . "

At university in Ryazan, far from his native Lithuania, Grilius helped form a small cell of underground Jews. They used a friend's summer house in the Russian countryside not far from Moscow for their seminars.

As he criticized the Soviet system, Grilius and his companions also dug into their Jewish roots. They celebrated their Jewishness.

"It was an inside need that I had as a human being. Living within the restraints of the Soviet system was like living without air."

He knew that he would eventually be caught. "Every person in Russia knows that if he's starting to live a free life spiritually and talk about Israel (the authorities) will come for him, if not tomorrow then the day after."

In 1969, with 90 students attending the seminars, an informer blew the whistle. The KGB moved in.

Grilius was 24 years old when he went to prison, but his life already had the meaning and direction that carries him forward today.

"I decided there is not justice or freedom in Russia for Russians or Jews. It's like slavery there. Since I am a Jew, I don't want to convert Russia. I could not remain a Jew in Russia. All any of us wanted was to get out of the country."


He tried to grow a beard as a symbol of his orthodox faith. The guards handcuffed his hands behind his back and hoisted him from the handcuffs until his toes swung free of the ground.

While he hung that way, they shaved him.

After he refused to work on the sabbath, Mendelevich was taken out of the flatiron plant and put to work shoveling dirt.

In poor health to begin with, he deteriorated. He was given an aspirin from time to time, no other medication.

Loads of dirt to be shoveled were scheduled to arrive just before the beginning of the sabbath. The Jews in the prison rallied to help so that Mendelevich could avoid dishonoring the holy day.

Talking in the barracks was not allowed. Outside in often freezing weather, Mendelevish taught Grilius to speak Hebrew.

Grilius recounted this tale from Mendelevich's youth in Riga, Latvia:

"During the war, the Nazis killed 20,000 Jews near Riga and buried them in a ravine. There was no marker for the mass grave.

"Surviving Jews passed on the information. Starting at age 16, Mendelevich led gatherings of Jews at the grave. They marked it. They petitioned the Soviet government for an official marker. The official marker that finally arrived said 20,000 had died there, but did not identify the dead as Jews.

"Mendelevich continued to lecture groups of Jewish youths at the gravesite in Hebrew.

"Mendelevich and his family repeatedly tried to obtain exit visas to go to Israel. They were refused. Finally he was arrested in the hijack attempt.

"They knew they were being followed the morning they were arrested. They decided to go ahead anyway, as an act of leadership and faith. Mendelevich has a frail body but an extremely strong spirit. If Dymshits and Kuznetsov were the leaders, Mendelevich was the spirit and the heart of the operation."

Mendelevich was sentenced to 12 years at hard labor. He has served nine.

Grilius was released at the end of his term in 1974. He then was allowed to emigrate to Israel with his father and mother. Mendelevich's mother and sister were also allowed to go.

Mendelevich was left behind.

For six years, he has not seen his family. He has not been allowed to receive a letter for a year.

He wrote, in one of the monthly letters he is allowed to send, to his sister: "I do not believe that you have ceased to love me . . . "

He is not allowed books.

"I can't improve my mind," he wrote in another letter. "My intelligence seems to be going down all the time. I can no longer adequately express myself because I am not allowed to study or ask questions. In this way, they are destroying me . . . "

Not hearing from his family, he dreams of them and imagines them as they must be.

"You can suffer hunger, you can suffer a cutoff of letters, you can suffer hard work -- but the fact that father died is a greater hurt to me than all the other sufferings . . . "

He is a poet.

"In the summer it's more pleasant because it's not so cold here. Even the crows in the morning don't say, 'Caw, caw.' It seems more like, 'Ah, Ahhh . . . '"