Based on a true story, Under Jakob's Ladder follows Jakob Seel (Jeff Stewart) and his experience as a German-Russian living in the Soviet Union at the outbreak of World War II. Under the new Communist regime, Jakob is dismissed from his post as the teacher and preacher in his village. When Jakob breaks a strict law by speaking in public at a funeral, he is taken away to a Soviet prison.
There, Jakob manages to make peace with his imprisonment and find the freedom he craves within the walls of his cell. However, a ruthless warden, Nikolai, seeks to carry out his secret vendetta against the lowly teacher who humiliated his father, a chess grandmaster, 20 years ago.