As the Beiliss fiasco gathered momentum, protests poured into Russia from leading Jews and gentiles worldwide. The first protest was signed by 206 leading German academics.
An American protest contained the names of 74 Christian leaders. A British protest had 240 signatories, including government leaders and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. A Russian manifesto was signed by 150 eminent scientists and artists, six members of the Imperial Council and sixty-four members of the Duma (Russian parliament).
Twenty-five members of the St. Petersburg bar were sentenced to imprisonment for sending a cable to the defense, denouncing “the distortions of the foundations of justice evident in the staging of the trial.” Mass meetings were held worldwide and the vast majority of the world’s press condemned the show trial. However, as the saying goes, “the dogs barked and the caravan moved on.”
One of the key witnesses against Beiliss was ten-year-old Lyudmilla Cheberyak, the daughter of the alternative prime suspect, who claimed that she had seen Beiliss dragging off his victim. The court accepted her as a witness even though she had kept silent for the first eighteen months after Andryusha Yushchinsky’s murder. In court, she gave a detailed description of what purportedly happened (cited in Maurice Samuel’s book, Blood Accusation):
“Andryusha (the victim) called to my brother, Zhenya, asking him to go and play. We all went: Zhenya, Dunya, myself and some boys. We were playing on the grounds when Mendel and someone else chased us away. He got Zhenya and Andryusha. Zhenya got away and ran but he held onto Andryusha while I ran home with my sister. She shouted, ‘They got Andryusha,’ but I didn’t see it.” Of all the children that Lyudmilla named, only Dunya was still alive during the trial; Zhenya and their sister had died during the thirty months since the murder. Dunya was asked to take the stand and Judge Boldyrev asked her, “Were you playing with Lyudmilla and did Beiliss chase you away?”
“It never happened!” she replied.
“We were chased by Beiliss!” Lyudmilla insisted.
“Better think back!” retorted Dunya.
Lyudmilla began to cry and the prosecutor asked that this be entered into the record to support his foolproof thesis that any witnesses who supported Beiliss had been bribed or intimidated.
Thus, paradoxically, the more support garnered for Beiliss, the more it proved the corrupting influence of the Jews. In anti-Semitic circles, this kind of argument is considered eminently logical even nowadays.
As mentioned earlier, there was an alternative prime suspect in the Beiliss case – the criminal ringleader, Vera Cheberyak. Not happy with the way the case was going, she clumsily attempted to bribe another youngster to testify against Beiliss. However, she was overheard by a witness and confronted with the youngster in court.
Judge: “Witness Cheberyak, the boy says you instructed him to tell us that he was at the clay mixer at the time.”
Cheberyak: “It never happened!”
Judge: “Tell us, boy, how it really was.”
Zarutsky: “She (Cheberyak) was seated some way from us (in the court building). She told me to come over and said to me, ‘Don’t you remember when you, Zhenya, Valya and Lyudmilla were playing on the clay mixer and Beiliss grabbed Valya, Zhenya and Andryusha and those two managed to get away and he got Andryusha?’”
Cheberyak: “You are lying. It was Lyudmilla who said that.”
Although this incident provided a clear insight as to the source of the testimony of Cheberyak’s daughter, Lyudmilla, the court allowed the incident to slide into oblivion.
On the other hand, the number of witnesses who came forward and testified against Cheberyak and her henchmen mounted. For example, Katherine Diakonova, a seamstress, testified that she had visited Cheberyak’s home on the day the victim disappeared and noticed many strange things going on.
“Cheberyak herself opened the door and I saw in the big room the three men (her henchmen) who got flustered and ran into the small room where they remained in hiding,” she said. “She didn’t let me go into the living room but took me into the kitchen. The room was in disarray, the rug thrown under the table.”
Also, Zinaida Malitzkaya, the woman who lived underneath Cheberyak, testified that she heard suspicious footsteps and noises coming from Cheberyak’s apartment that morning.
To prevent the case from drifting too far in the “wrong” direction, Prosecutor Vipper expended superhuman efforts proving that Cheberyak’s three henchman had committed a complicated burglary the following evening and could not possibly have had time to commit another crime and hide the evidence the day before.
On the twenty-fifth day of the trial, the religious experts took the stand. On the prosecution’s side was Father Pranaitis, who had been hauled all the way from Tashkent to deliver his twisted notions of Judaism. It was true that his expertise was a little shaky, but the prosecution was nonetheless confident that his passionate anti-Semitism would convince the boorish jurymen where to cast their vote.
Pranaitis launched into an involved opening address, peppered with Hebrew terms, such as chassidim, tzaddik, Zohar and Shulchan Aruch. He also quoted extensively from a book, published a century before, by an unknown author who called himself Neophyte and claimed to be a converted Jew, privy to the secrets of the Jews. In front of the court and international press, Pranaitis read pearls of wisdom from this book, including interesting facts, such as, “All European Jews have eczema… all Asiatic Jews mange upon their heads, all African Jews boils on their legs, and American Jews a disease of the eyes as a result of which they are disfigured and stupid.” The book described the use of blood for so many different rites that a London
Times correspondent cabled home, “If Neophyte is right, it is difficult to see why the huge supply of such a demand has escaped general attention hitherto.”
Despite Pranaitis’ boorishness, it was difficult for the defense to expose him because every time they asked him to back up his quotations from Jewish texts, he pleaded that he did not have the requisite volumes with him. And when the defense offered to supply the books themselves, he retorted that he refused to be drawn into a literary squabble.
Then Ben-Zion Katz, a Hebrew writer who was acting as an advisor for the defense, figured out a brilliant solution. Why not show everyone that Pranaitis was totally ignorant of the meaning of the Hebrew phrases he was spouting forth so confidently?
The next day, Karabchevsky of the defense asked Pranaitis, “Will the expert kindly tell us the meaning of the word Chullin?”
“One may not cross-examine the experts,” the judge objected. Karabchevsky explained that he merely wanted information in order to follow the priest’s arguments more closely. Then the fun began.
Defense: “What is the meaning of the word Chullin?”
Pranaitis: “I don’t know.”
Defense: “What is the meaning of the word Eruvin?”
Pranaitis: “I don’t know.”
Defense: “What is the meaning of the word Yevamos?”
Pranaitis: “I don’t know.”
Defense: “When did Bava Basra live and what was her profession?”
“Pranaitis: “I don’t know.”
After the last question, the Jews in the courtroom burst into laughter.
“Furthermore, all the perverse and ridiculous lies that Pranaitis had postulated were completely refuted by the brilliant, decisive testimony given by the well-known and universally respected Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Mazeh,” Beiliss later wrote in his autobiography.
“He delivered a long, detailed speech, quoting passages from the Torah, the Talmud and many other books, to conclusively reveal both the absurdity and the stupidity inherent in the testimony of such ‘experts’ as Pranaitis.
“Any intelligent person could see that the priest had no knowledge whatsoever of the Talmud and could hardly even read a passage in Hebrew.”
A Russian agent disappointedly wrote to his superiors in St. Petersburg:
“Questioning of Pranaitis reduced the persuasive power of his testimony, revealing ignorance of texts and insufficient acquaintance with Jewish literature.
In his final summation, Judge Boldyrev asked the jury to decide two questions. The first: “Has it been proved that on March 12th, 1911… Andrei Yushchinsky [suffered]… wounds [that] caused… almost total loss of blood… and death?” This question was carefully worded to hint at ritual murder.
The second question: “If the event described in the first question has been proved, is the accused… guilty…?”
While the jury deliberated, a memorial service for Andryusha was held in a nearby cathedral surrounded by a giant crowd.
Finally, the jury filed back into court and the foreman read out their decision. Concerning the first question, as to whether there had been a ritualistic crime: “Yes, it has been proved!”
Concerning the second question, whether Beiliss had committed the crime: “No, not guilty.”
Pandemonium broke out and Beiliss burst into tears. The crowd around the cathedral dispersed quietly. The Times of London wrote that “the acquittal of Beiliss was the most crushing blow to Russia since the Russo-Japanese War.”
Despite this, the prosecution claimed that they had triumphed because the jury had ruled the first verdict as guilty, and organized a victory banquet in St. Petersburg.
Beiliss left Russia in 5674/1914 and, after eight years in Palestine, he moved to America. By the time he passed away in 5694/1934, blood libels were largely an aberration of the past, but worse things were yet to come.
Anti-Semitism is so difficult to stamp out that Father Pranaitis is quoted even in our day. Canadian schoolteacher, James Keegstra of Eckville, Alberta, was dismissed from his post in 5742/1982 because of his anti- Semitic actions, including the espousal of that priest’s ideas in class.