The days were dragging along. When was my trial going to take place? There were periods when I felt perilously close to going insane. At such times, I would stare at my guard in amazement. I would think to myself, Is this really happening to me? Am I the man lying here on this cold and filthy floor, among these creeping creatures? Is this the same Mendel Beilis who used to be a man of consequence, dressed like other human beings, who used to live a peaceful life with his wife and children?
I experienced mental tortures that are hardly possible to bear, much less describe. Lack of exercise and constant worry deprived me of sleep. When on occasion I did manage to fall asleep, I was troubled by the wildest nightmares, which exhausted me more than the sleep refreshed me. Usually in my nightmare, I was either being led to my execution or pursued or choked and beaten. I would awaken trembling with fear and breathless from having tried to escape from my imaginary persecutors. I would experience a sort of relief upon awakening to realize I was still in jail, in my prison cell, and not in the torture chamber of my dreams.
The nervous strain was depriving me of all my strength, and I feared I would soon relent. I sought consolation in the knowledge that the day of my trial was speedily approaching. Surely, the day of my trial would come and the world would recognize the truth. My innocence would be proclaimed, and the Jewish people would remain untarnished by terrible calamities such as this that have been perpetrated upon them by their detractors. The world would know that Jews do not murder gentiles, nor do they draw their blood.
However, the date for my trial had not yet been scheduled. The officers of the courts were still undecided about what to do. First, I was told that the trial would take place in March. Then it was postponed until April. Nothing was definite. What was the problem? Why were they so slow?
The reason for the delay was really quite clear. The indictment had already been drawn up, and those who were most interested in pressing charges against me were not satisfied with it. Fenenko, the Sliedovatiel, had told me himself that he had not wanted to indict me because the material gathered during the investigation did not provide him with enough grounds to support a prosecution, much less pursue a charge of ritual murder.
The procurator, however, was more stubborn. He was determined to make a case against me at all costs. A Jew had to be imprisoned so that this case would be remembered for generations to come. This is why they continued to push for an indictment, even though there was no foundation to support it.
In the year 1913, in the beginning of May, the indictment was formally presented to the Superior Court of the Province of Kiev for endorsement. The Court put the case on its calendar. This triggered a new period of despair for me. If my case was to be tried as an ordinary criminal murder case, then there was a total lack of proof or evidence upon which to base an accusation against me personally. If it were to be treated as a simple murder, the evidence should have compelled the authorities to arrest Vera Tchebiriak with her gang of thieves and to press charges against them. However, since the Czar himself had expressed the desire that a Jew be prosecuted, and since the higher officials naturally wanted to humor him, they were forced to suspend the normal laws that would have applied and proceed against a Jew. And this Jew was me. But if the case was to be based on a charge of ritual murder, then why didn’t they state that accusation in the indictment? Thus, none of the parties interested in prosecuting me was satisfied with the indictment. I was neither “fish nor fowl,” neither a ritual murderer nor a plain murderer. The Czar could not be pleased. Apparently, the Jews had won the first round.
After many long and hair-splitting arguments and discussions, the day of the trial was finally set. It would commence at the end of May. I have already explained that the indictment accused the murderer of Andriusha of malice aforethought since the victim was “grievously tortured.” The indictment further mentioned that “two Jews dressed in unusual garb came to Beilis” and that the Jews were seen to perform their prayers. It also stated that “each year Beilis baked matzahs for Passover.” Other “crimes” of a similar nature were also enumerated.
My lawyers were preparing for all possible eventualities and insisted to the court that the testimony of experts and scientists was necessary for the trial. Among others, they requested the presence ofProfessors Kokovtzeff, Tikhomiroff and Troyitzky, all professors of theology or of Hebrew language in the higher academies for clergymen. They also subpoenaed the former procurator of the Holy Synod, Prince Obolensky, and Herman Struck of the theological faculty of the University of Berlin as witnesses.
One day, while I was sitting in my cell thinking about my forthcoming trial, I heard a noise in the hall indicating that the many locks to my door were in the process of being opened. The clang of the thirteen locks kept reverberating until, finally, the door flew open. I expected to see the spiteful faces of my guards, but it was Mr. Grigorovitch-Barsky instead who was being ushered in. With his usual kindness and cordiality, he calmed me considerably and asked how I was being treated by the administration.
Then he came to the point of his visit. “Mr. Beilis, rumor has it that, in spite of the indictment presented to you, it looks as if the whole trial will never take place.”
“Why?” I asked, perturbed as much as amazed.
“It’s simple,” he replied. “There is just too much proof against the real murderers. New facts have been brought to the attention of both the public and the officials by a Russian journalist, Mr. Brazul-Brushkofsky, who has diligently devoted himself to the case. He has collected new material and presented it to Colonel Ivanoff of the Okhrana. The evidence gathered by Brazul-Brushkofsky is so important that the investigation is likely to be reopened, and in all probability, your indictment will be quashed. Of course, it will be a bitter pill for your persecutors to swallow, and they will put up a fight, but it looks as if they will have to give in.”
My joy was so great that I began to weep.
“Don’t cry, Mr. Beilis,” Mr. Barsky said softly, himself quite moved. “I completely understand your situation. Rest assured that you will eventually be released. Of course, it’s impossible to predict how long they will drag it out. You can see for yourself that they are trying their best to grasp at straws, but we feel very hopeful their efforts will come to naught. If not now, then sooner or later, they will have to release you.”
Mr. Barsky bid me farewell, expressing the hope that he would soon visit me as a free man, enjoying the company of my family. I was jubilant. The whole indictment against me was falling apart.
Even though the real murderers had finally been uncovered, I figured that the investigation would still have to take some time. If all of those who had been so involved in trying to prosecute me had instead busied themselves with trying to find the real perpetrators of Yustchinsky’s murder, it would have been so simple. All they had to do was get hold of Vera Tchebiriak and her gang. It certainly would have taken a lot less energy to have prosecuted them than try and build a case against me. Vera and her cohorts had been arrested at the very beginning of the investigation, even before I was, but their imprisonment was not what the “higher-ups” really wanted to accomplish.
But that was in the past. Now, in spite of everything, the truth was going to come out after all! Even the Black Hundreds would realize that I had innocently been thrown into the dungeon and that I ought to be released.
I was delirious with joy, eagerly awaiting my approaching liberation. I practically forgot all that I had suffered over the past year. I conjured up images of what that morning would be like when the guards would come and proclaim, “Beilis, you are free! You can go home. You are innocent.”
The new developments that had been related by Mr. Barsky threw me into a state of anxious restlessness. Every time I heard footsteps in the hall, I felt certain that an official was coming to announce my release. Several days passed in this manner, days of strain and impatience. Seeing that my hopes were not being realized, I began to have doubts. Who knows whether the information was based on solid facts? Perhaps my lawyers simply wanted to cheer me up. Maybe the case had taken such a bad turn that they felt the need to give me some false hope in order to strengthen and sustain me for the bitterness of what lay ahead.
I did not, however, want to believe any of this. From Mr. Barsky’s previous visits, I always had the impression that he was a frank and sincere person. I did not think that he would conceal anything from me. Even if the news was truly terrible, he would tell me the truth. And since he told me that there was a chance for my speedy liberation, how could I doubt his word, especially since we both knew how completely innocent I was?
The days were lapsing, then the weeks and the months, and there was still no change in my situation. I understood that new circumstances must have arisen, but whether they were for the better or for the worse, I did not know. Above all, I was afraid of Colonel Ivanoff’s name, for he was a colonel and a gendarme. In my opinion, this was not a good omen. The man was not likely to do anything in my favor. His duty, of course, was to please the higher officials, not to alleviate my suffering.
For a while, things were quiet, and no one came to visit me. I was neither summoned for the trial nor was I told to go free.
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