I was summoned several times to the Sliedovatiel. He was Mr. Mashkevitch, the notorious anti-Semite, whom I have already mentioned. Once during the interrogation, he said, “Tell me, Beilis, did your father ever go to see tzaddikim?”
I was dumfounded by this question, since I had expected him to announce my freedom. He was apparently starting the interrogation all over again. What new tricks did he have up his sleeve? Had not the interrogation process ended? It seemed to me that the prosecutors only had two choices—to try me or to release me. But once more, it was the same old story, with chassidim and tzaddikim. Weren’t the authorities carrying this point a little too far? I told him I could not remember. If it had happened, it had taken place years ago.
“Are you a chassid or a misnaged?” he continued to ask.
“I am a Jew,” I replied. “And I don’t know the difference between these two groups. We are all Jews.”
“Do you know whether Zaitzev ever went to a rabbi?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you not related to the family of Baal Shem Tov?”
“Mr. Sliedovatiel, I have no idea.”
“Do you pray with a tallis or without a tallis?”
I had answered this question once before. I had explained that before my marriage I had prayed without a tallis and after my marriage I prayed with the tallis.
“What do you need the tallis for?”
“I don’t know what it’s for.”
“Now, Beilis, tell me,” the Sliedovatiel droned on. “What is it exactly that you call an afikoman?”
Again, it was the same absurd line of questioning, the same foolish questions with which the first Sliedovatiel had confronted me over a year ago. I figured that maybe the new man just wanted to find out whether Fenenko had investigated the case properly and that once he had the information he would release me. After all, Fenenko himself had asked me these foolish questions, and hadn’t he ultimately admitted that he had no evidence against me?
I wasn’t able to explain properly to the Sliedovatiel what the afikoman was. During my childhood, I had lived in a village. Then, I was taken to serve in the army for several years, so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to learn about the religious rites in depth. I know that I used to eat matzah and that the afikoman was actually a piece of matzah, but I did not know any more about it. And even had I known, it would have been difficult for me to explain. He had more questions.
“Do you have a brother that is a rabbi or a shochet*?”
“No, we don’t have any rabbis in the family. If there were any, over fifty or a hundred years ago, I am not aware of it. There might have been a rabbi or a shochet at that time. However, not now.”
He was silent for a minute or two and looked as if he wished to remind himself of something. Several times, he leafed through some papers in front of him. At last, he asked another question.
“Do you have any connection to Schneur Zalman Schneyerson, the well-known Rabbi of Liadi?”
“No,” was my answer. “I have a good friend by that name. He lives in Kiev and often came to visit me, but I do not know the Schneyerson family in Liadi, and I am in no way related to it.”
With these, and similar questions, he kept plying me for about two hours. Then he started to read from a book written by a scientist named Pronaitis, who was trying to prove, with all sorts of sophistry and misquotations from the Torah and the Talmud, that the Jews actually use blood for their matzahs and that the blood was baked into the afikoman. The Sliedovatiel also mentioned the names of Schmakov, Professor Sikorsky and Golubov, who were also supposed to know all about Jewish religious rites.
I am sure that during the interrogation, he must have felt that he was exhibiting a great deal of knowledge about our Torah. His questions, however, provoked a burning anger in me. It was he who was drawing my blood with every question that he asked. I was his prisoner. He had total control over me, and he could do whatever he liked. I was, however, helpless, and I had to answer him.
The grilling itself would not have produced such a painful reaction from me had I not noticed the manner in which he treated my answers. I could see, from his smirk and his negative response to my answers, that all these questions were superfluous. As far as he was concerned, the case was crystal clear. He felt quite certain that the Jews needed blood for Passover and that the blood was put into the afikoman. He believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of this could be substantiated by scientists such as Pronaitis, Schmakov and Sikorsky.
By the time the inquisition had ended, I realized that my indictment would not be quashed. I knew I would have to stand trial. However, I could not understand why there had been the need to interrogate me yet again since the indictment itself had already been completed. Presently, this too would become clear.
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