Eight months had elapsed since that ominous morning when I was first put behind iron bars. Eight dark months had rolled away, and the end of my suffering was nowhere in sight. I didn’t even know if anything was being done on my behalf in the outside world or who, if anyone, was planning to defend me.
Just after the indictment, my wife and brother further informed me that immediately after my initial arrest they had retained the services of a lawyer by the name of Margolin to defend me. I was told, however, that I could not see my attorney until after I had received the indictment. Thus it was, on one of those dreary days, that the door of my cell unexpectedly opened and a distinguished gentleman ofJewish appearance entered and introduced himself as Mr. Gruzenberg. He explained that he was one of my attorneys, but he had not been able to see me earlier because of the aforementioned law. Now, however, since the indictment had been completed, he would be able to come to visit me as often as he wished. I was very impressed by his appearance and grateful that he was so supportive.
“Be strong,” he said warmly. “I come to you in the name of the Jewish people. You must forgive us, since you are being compelled to suffer for all of us. I tell you that I would be happy to trade places with you and put on your prisoner’s clothing and let you go free.”
“I have only one request Mr. Gruzenberg,” I replied. “I must know what is going on. You must tell me how my case stands. I won’t give up hope no matter how bad the news is, but I cannot continue to live in this state of uncertainty. Just tell me the truth.”
“You’re right,” he said. “You ought to know everything, but no one is able to gauge the situation with precision. I had a similar case in Vilna with Blondes, who was also accused of ritual murder. You can’t tell how these cases will turn out.”
I repeated to him a Russian proverb that Fenenko had told me during one of my interviews with him. “When the corn is milled, we will have some very fine flour.”
“Well, well,” said Gruzenberg grimly shaking his head. “We may have muka indeed.”
This was a clever play on words, since muka can mean both flour and trouble. Before leaving, he encouraged me by saying that I was going to be defended by the very best lawyers in all of Russia: Zarudny, Maklakoff, Grigorovitch-Barsky and others. He said that soon I would be visited by each of them.
After his visit, I was greatly relieved. Even though my lawyers had not given me any false hope, I grew more optimistic that I would eventually be released. It cheered me to know there were people taking my interests to heart, to know I had not been forgotten. It was comforting to know that the greatest legal minds in Russia were eager to defend me.
Mr. Grigorovitch-Barsky was the next lawyer who came to visit me.
“Couldn’t you have had me released on bail or even appealed to the Czar himself for mercy?” I asked him when he came.
He managed a smile and shook his head. “Do you know that the Czar has recently visited Kiev?”
“Yes,” I said. “The newly arrested prisoners told me about it. I also heard that during this visit Prime Minister Stolypin himself was assassinated in the Czar’s very presence. I understand that the chief of the Okhrana, Colonel Kuliabko, the one who originally arrested me, was very upset, since it was his responsibility to prevent such things from happening.”
“That’s true,” confirmed Grigorovitch-Barsky. “So now you know that the Czar was in Kiev. At the time, I was working for the government as an assistant prosecuting attorney. As such, I was a member of the deputation that was selected to welcome the Czar. One of my colleagues who went with me was Tchaplinsky, the Prosecuting Attorney of Kiev. When he was introduced to the Czar, he said, ‘Your Majesty, I am happy to inform you that the real culprit in Yustchinsky’s murder has been discovered. His name is Beilis, and he’s a zhid. When the Czar heard these words, he bared his head and made the sign of the cross as an expression of his thanks to God. Now I ask you, Beilis, to whom will you appeal for mercy? To the man who thanks God that a zhid is suspected of the murder?”
I was stunned by this response and could hardly recover my senses after hearing this story about the Czar from Mr. Barsky. Everyone knew that Nicholas was not exactly a friend of the Jews, but I was shocked that in front of a gathering of his officials, he would so openly exhibit such an intense interest and pleasure when learning of the persecution of a Jew.
“I’ll tell you another thing,” Mr. Grigorovitch-Barsky continued in that friendly and winning manner that was uniquely his. “The Czar was scheduled to visit a certain place one day while he was in Kiev, and a great crowd had gathered to greet him. Even though strict order was being maintained, the people were growing restless and quite uncomfortable. I was there with a friend to watch the royal procession. A certain colonel passed by and pushed a Jew, calling him a zhid. At the time, my friend and I were dressed in civilian clothes. The Jew who had been pushed by the colonel was nicely dressed and seemed most refined. He certainly had not misbehaved and did not merit the insult. I turned and addressed the colonel.
“‘Why were you so rude?’ I asked.
“‘You zhid defender!’ He retorted.
“We had a heated argument, and I eventually brought charges against the colonel. He was subsequently sentenced by a judge to eight days in prison, which was a punishment he certainly deserved for his rudeness. As a result of all these unpleasant incidents, I decided to resign from my position with the government. I gave up my post as the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and became a private lawyer.”
Before Grigorovitch-Barsky had come to visit me, I had been given a paper to sign in which I was officially informed that Schmakov, a lawyer on Yustchinsky’s side, was suing me for the amount of seven thousand rubles for civil damages. Since this lawsuit was related to the murder, it entitled him to participate in the trial against me. During my session with Grigorovitch-Barsky, I asked him who Schmakov was. Grigorovitch-Barsky told me that Schmakov was an old man and an infamous anti-Semite whose opinions were of little consequence. My lawyer seemed rather confident about the prospects for my case. He told me that the greatest experts and scientists in Russia would be summoned for the trial and that, before such a gathering, Schmakov would appear ridiculous. We parted like old friends.
After this, my lawyers visited me regularly. Mr. Margolin was a frequent visitor who also kept in constant touch with my family. He was a tremendous source of solace and reassurance.
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