One of the activities prohibited in the Gulag was card playing. It was considered a severe crime, and harsh punishment was imposed if one was caught violating this prison rule.
Somehow, the inmates managed to smuggle in a deck of cards, and would while away their free time with the forbidden game.
The guards were told about the breach, and came to inspect the prisoners’ quarters. They found nothing.
As weeks went by, and the games continued, the guards were baffled. Are these uncouth prisoners really outsmarting us? they wondered.
They finally decided to put an end to this affront to their authority and pride, and carried out a surprise inspection, checking every inch of the barracks as well as the bodies and clothes of the inmates.
They found nothing.
They came to the conclusion that the informer had lied to them, either to curry favor in their eyes or to make a joke out of them.
As soon as the inspectors left, the cards appeared and the games continued as usual.
One of the prisoners, Reb Mendel, couldn’t understand how it had happened: the inspectors had checked every possible hiding place.
Eventually, he was let in on the secret.
“You see,” the head thief began, “we are professional pickpockets. As soon as the guards would enter the barracks, we would slip the cards into their pockets. Right before they would leave, we would slip them back out again. Obviously, it never occurred to the guards to check their own pockets . . .”