Beiliss Libel 2

After raiding the home of thirty-nineyear-  old Mendel Beiliss, and dragging him  to jail on a trumped-up murder charge, the  Russian authorities needed to build up their  feeble case against him before putting him  in front of a judge. They had to prove two  things: first, that Beiliss had committed the  crime and, second and even more important,  that the murder was part of a Jewish  ritual. 

A major obstacle to this second goal was  that the autopsy, conducted by the City  Coroner, indicated no evidence whatsoever  that the young victim had been deliberately  drained of blood, a conclusion confirmed  by a second autopsy that yielded the same  results. In desperation, the authorities  turned to an anti-Semitic psychiatrist, Professor  Sikorsky, for his learned opinion and,  this time, they hit pay dirt.

“Professor Sikorsky, basing his opinion  on considerations of a historical and anthropological  character, and judging by basic  and other indications (in the autopsy), considers  the murder of Yushchinsky typical of  many similar murders which occur, from  time to time, in Russia as well as in other  countries,” they recorded. “The psychological  basis of this type of murder, according to  Professor Sikorsky, is ‘the racial revenge  and vendetta of the Sons of Jacob.’”

To get medical backing for the case, the  prosecution hired the services of Dr.  Kosorotov, professor of forensic medicine  at the St. Petersburg University, for a fee of  4,000 rubles. He conveniently attested that,  “The wounds were afflicted during the life  of the victim… All this makes one think  that the wounds were inflicted with the purpose  of obtaining the largest quantity of  blood, possibly for some special purpose.”

However, this assessment contradicted  the previous autopsies. To solve this  impasse, the coroners who had conducted  the second autopsy were prevailed upon to  add a few lines to their report of six months  earlier, and they reluctantly complied.  Russian doctors who dared to protest  against these violations of science and common  sense were cowed and silenced.

Two days after the Kharkov Medical  Society dared to pass a resolution that “It  considers it shameful and degrading to the  high standards of a physician to display  racial and religious intolerance and to  attempt to base the possibility of ritual murder  on pseudo-scientific arguments,” the  city governor suspended its activities.  Psychiatrists in St. Petersburg assembled  to analyze Sikorsky’s claims. Two of them  were warned that if their activities sparked  off a student riot, they would be fired.

For religious testimony relating to blood  libels, the authorities turned to Russian  Orthodox priests. The first one they dug up  was so ridiculous that even the prosecution  judged him hopeless.

“I, the Archimandrite Ambrosius, am of  the Orthodox faith…” he announced. “I had  numerous occasions to talk on this subject  (of blood libels)… in particular with two  Orthodox monks who had been converted  from the Jewish religion… All these discussions,  as far as I can recall, gave me reason  to believe that… it is the custom to obtain  blood.”

A year later, Ambrosius’ dossier was  thrown out when he revealed exactly whom  those Jewish converts were.

“The two monks who had converted  from the Jewish to the Russian Orthodox  faith were Cantonists (youngsters conscripted  at the age of about five to serve twentyfive  years in the Russian army), people who  were not well-educated. In conversations,  these monks did not show a background of  reading from Jewish books of ritual but  simply gave me their observations from  life.”

The prosecution finally uncovered a  willing priest, Father Justin Pranaitis, who  had fled to Tashkent to escape the police  after committing petty crimes. His claim to  fame was that, in 5653/1893, he had written  a pamphlet called, “The Secrets of the  Teachings of the Rabbis about Christians.”

During the trial, a London Times correspondent  described him as, “One of the  most striking members in the court. A lean  churchman with beetling brows, dressed in  a cassock and with a large golden cross…  suspended at the waist with a silver neck chain.”

Actually, the people cooking the case knew all the time  that it might very well blow up in their faces but it was too  late to backtrack because the Czar had already been assured  that the Jews were behind the murder. These confessions  remained hidden in sealed archives until they were  unearthed, after the Russian Revolution.

For example, in February 5672/1912, Colonel Shredel,  head of the Kiev police, sent a top-secret letter to the vice-director  of the Department of Police in St. Petersburg:

“It is a probable assumption that the boy, Yushchinsky,  was an involuntary witness to one of the criminal acts [of a  local criminal gang], and that on account of fear, it was necessary  to do away with him…,” he wrote.  “Considering the insufficiency of the evidence against  him, and the universal interest in the case which has  acquired almost European prominence, the accusation of  Mendel Beiliss may cause a great deal of unpleasantness to  the officials of the Department of Justice and may lead to  just rebuke for the hastiness of their conclusions, nay, the  one-sidedness exhibited during the investigation.”

While Beiliss was moldering in jail, anti-Jewish sentiment  took a turn for the worse when a young Jew, Dmitri  Bogrov, assassinated the Russian Premier, Pyotr Stolypin,  in Kiev during the Czar’s visit to the city. Intriguingly, it  was rumored that Bogrov had undertaken this murder under  the commission of the secret police because Stolypin had  made many enemies in his attempts to make Russia liberal,  including improving the conditions of its Jews. 

One year and five months after Beiliss’ arrest, the case  had another breakthrough. The nine-year-old daughter of  the ringleader of the criminal gang mentioned earlier suddenly  remembered vital evidence that she had somehow  forgotten to mention during her earlier questioning.

“They (she and some other children) penetrated to the  factory grounds through a hole in the fence and began to  ride on the clay mixer,” her deposition read. “Suddenly they  saw Beiliss, accompanied by two Jews, running towards  them. They jumped down and ran away but Andryusha  (Yushchinsky) and Zhenya were seized by Beiliss… The  two Jews started dragging Andryusha towards the kiln.”

After two-and-a-half years of preparation, the trial started  with the reading of a rambling forty-one-page indictment.  A public prosecutor and two private attorneys, who  had volunteered their services gratis in the holy cause of  anti-Semitism, were arraigned against Beiliss. One of them  was an infamous lawyer, Schmakov, who boasted that he  had never accepted a Jewish client and covered his office  walls with anti-Semitic depictions of Jewish noses.

To compromise for the weak indictment, a jury of ignorant  and illiterate jurymen was carefully assembled.

“Seven peasants, three townsmen, two government  clerks…” a newspaper commented. “For a university city,  the choice is certainly extraordinary… I learned that for a  minor crime (being judged in the same building), there  were two or three professors, ten educated men and only  two peasants. This would mean that the type of people for  the Beiliss jury was formulated in one of the early stages.  How did it happen? How was it done?”

After the overthrow of Czarist Russia a few years later,  an investigative commission discovered that no member of  the jury was chosen until he had been carefully screened by  the secret police and, during the trial, secret agents disguised  as ushers kept a close surveillance over them. In  fact, seven of the jurors were members of the anti-Semitic  Union of the Russian People organization.

In charge of defending Beiliss was one of the best legal  teams in the country, led by Oscar O. Gruzenberg, the leading  criminal lawyer of his time. In 5663/1903, he had successfully  defended a Vilna Jew accused of ritually murdering  a servant and, in this case too, he drove the presiding  judge into a corner many times until his only effective retort  was, “Don’t argue with me!”

The other members of the five-member defense team  were non-Jews who were eager to further the cause of justice.  The first witness was Yuliana Shakhovsky, a lamplighter’s  wife, who claimed to have evidence that a Jew  seized the victim on the morning of the murder. She fell  apart under cross-examination (cited in Maurice Samuel’s  book, Blood Accusation).

Karabchevsky (Beiliss’ defense lawyer): Did the detectives  advise you to accuse Beiliss?

Shakhovsky: They gave me vodka. They told me to say  this and that.

Karabchevsky: Did they tell you to accuse Beiliss?

Shakhovsky: Yes.

Karabchevsky: You were questioned seven times. You  also testified that Zhenya told you how he and Andryusha  were chased by a black-bearded man. Didn’t you later  admit that Zhenya (son of the woman gang leader) never  told you such a story and that you had invented it?

Shakhovsky: I don’t remember.

Unfortunately, the chief prosecutor was not impressed  by this and subsequent contradictions and retractions of key  witnesses. His thesis was that such witnesses had obviously  been bribed or frightened by Jews.

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