I was again called to the prison office. I found the Sliedovatiel Mashkevitch sitting at his desk, quite at ease. He appeared to be in the best of moods. After muttering some hasty response to my greeting, he picked up a thick document from his desk and handed it to me.
“This is your indictment,” he said with an air of self- importance.
I stood there speechless and did not know what to think. The first indictment had been relatively short, consisting of five pages. This one was practically a book. It was about thirty pages long. I did not expect anything good to come of this.
I was so dejected I could barely walk back to my cell. Still reeling from apprehension and confusion, I must have been walking rather slowly. My guards decided to quicken my step with a couple of blows. Once I reached my cell, I lay down upon my cot and could not even raise my head, much less read the indictment. I just stared at the papers. So, I thought, this is the sum total of my life and my crimes. They had written so much and yet I was an innocent man, who had never hurt a fly in his life. I was being kept a prisoner while the actual murderers were free, strolling the streets, protected by what was called “Russian justice.”
And so the die was cast. They could not find anyone else, so the lot had fallen on me. They had been searching and investigating, and at the upper levels a decision had finally been made. Mendel Beilis must be tried and convicted.
Well, let the trial take place, I sighed to myself. At least the whole world will see what atrocious villainies are being committed in the Holy Czarist Russia. I crawled off the bed clutching the indictment to see what these people were charging me with. I had to strain my eyes in order to see the small letters. My eyesight had been affected by the darkness of the cell, so I could only read it in bits and pieces. What were they seeking and what had they found?
At first, it looked quite simple. When the autopsy on the murdered boy’s body was performed, a number of wounds were observed on various parts of the body. There were thirteen wounds on the throat, on the skull and around the ears. In all, thirty-seven wounds were discovered on the whole body.
Professor Obolensky of Kiev University and his assistant had performed the autopsy and an analysis. They came to the conclusion that the wounds on the neck and the skull had been inflicted while the victim was still alive and the heart was still strong. As the heart became weaker, the other wounds were inflicted on the body. Thus, the first stabs were those that were on the throat and the head, and the last ones were those that were near the heart. These experts were also of the opinion that the stab to the heart was inflicted by pushing a knife all the way up to its hilt, which could be seen by measuring the depth of the wound. Their conclusion was that the murderer deliberately tortured the child.
Professor Kosorotoff, whose opinion was also sought, confirmed the findings of his colleagues. He added that the murder could have been perpetrated by one or more murderers. He was also of the opinion that it was the intention of the murderer to torture the child.
This was the expert opinion concerning the murder itself. If they wanted to find the motive for the murder, they would have to find the culpable party. At this point, the indictment related one wild story after another. After reading these accounts, it was possible to discern the basis for the whole frame-up.
The indictment stated that at the beginning of the investigation it was learned that on March 12, at six o’clock in the morning, Andriusha had left his house for school. Later, it was discovered that he had not attended school on that day and had not returned home.
At first, his mother thought he had gone to spend the night with a relative named Natalie Yustchinska. The next morning, the mother discovered that the relatives had not seen the boy, and a search for him began. The search lasted for several days until, finally, his dead body was found. In the beginning, the indictment continued, there were rumors that his mother had showed little interest in the fate of her son. Moreover, when his body was found, she was alleged not to have manifested any motherly feelings. She did not weep nor seem to be particularly disturbed. Because of all this, she was arrested, and the police searched her house. After several days of detention, the authorities reached the conclusion that not only were the rumors unfounded but they were the baseless inventions of her enemies.
At about the same time, rumors began to circulate that the Jews had murdered Andriusha. The indictment stated that the authorities had not attached much importance to those rumors because they were still under the impression that Andriusha’s mother was involved in the murder. Four witnesses had appeared, declaring that the boy’s mother had not displayed any signs of mourning when the body was discovered. They even added that a day or two after the disappearance of the boy, his mother, with the assistance of another man, was seen dragging something enclosed in a heavy bag.
The investigators also pursued another lead that was supposed to connect them to other people who might have perpetrated the crime. It was as a result of this that the thieves Rudzinsky, Singayevsky and Latischeff were implicated. There had been rumors to the effect that Andriusha had uncovered the secrets of this band and that they had threatened to harm him if he ever betrayed them. Therefore, there was a possibility that they were the ones who had done away with him. Tchebiriak had also been suspected, since Andriusha had often been seen in her house.
In reading all of this, I felt somewhat relieved. Thus far, the investigation seemed to be on the right track. I began to hope the indictment would not be so terrible after all. In reading further, however, I began to see a complete change in the narrative.
All of this had taken place in the beginning. That is, these were the opinions that the investigators initially expressed. But later, all of this gave way to a new version. According to the indictment, this phase of the investigation was brought to a close. They concluded that these “gentlemen,” namely Singayevsky and Rudzinsky, who, by the way, were notorious murderers and thieves in the neighborhood, were simply paragons of virtue. Tchebiriak was similarly held in high esteem. She was seen to be the “purest of the pure.” Earlier in the document, the honor of Yustchinsky’s mother was also cleansed. How could such an accusation be leveled against so “perfect a mother”?
In short, the indictment concluded that all the prior suspects were decent, honest people and simply should not have been charged with such an abominable crime.
The real culprit, according to the indictment, was a Jew named Mendel Beilis, the manager of Zaitzev’s brick factory. It was I who was selected for the role of Yustchinsky’s murderer. I had been living on the factory grounds for a number of years without ever having hurt or molested anybody. But it really did not matter, for supposedly I had not murdered Andriusha for personal reasons, such as for robbery or the like. According to the indictment, I had murdered him for religious purposes. Ironically, the indictment continued, crimes of this nature required a “tzaddik or a rabbi” or a “good Jew,” thus my integrity worked against me. I, of course, was no tzaddik, but the indictment alleged that I was. A number of queer stories were invented to make me appear the murderer.
At the time, continued the indictment, when the journalist Brushkovsky uncovered new facts and turned them over to Colonel Ivanoff, suspicion had turned again to Tchebiriak. One of her neighbors, a Russian woman named Molietzky who lived in the lower story of the same house, had even stated in a deposition that on the day of Andriusha’s disappearance she had heard a child’s screams coming from the apartment occupied by Tchebiriak.
But such evil things couldn’t be said about Tchebiriak. Who could believe it? Why, hadn’t she herself told the story of what Brushkovsky had done to her, how he had taken her on a trip to Kharkov for a conference with an “important person”? And hadn’t that person offered Tchebiriak forty thousand dollars if only she would take upon herself the guilt of the murder? This “important person” was said to be none other than my lawyer Mr. Arnold Margolin. Tchebiriak “affirmed” that this was all true and further stated that of course she had indignantly rejected the tempting offer because she could not be bought with money. Hence it was clearer than daylight, the indictment surmised, that Tchebiriak was virtuous and innocent and a totally credible witness.
Equally clear was the policy of the authorities. All the thieves and villains were similarly whitewashed. It was the journalist Brushkovsky and Captain Krassovsky who were not to be believed, even though prior to this whole episode they had possessed spotless reputations.
In order to make the charges against me plausible, it was necessary to make the crime a ritual one. Hence, it became imperative to base the charges upon the expert opinion of learned Christians who could declare positively that the Jews used blood for Passover.
I could not read any further. My nerves were shattered, and I passed out exhausted on my cot. In the morning, I again began to read further.
Just what was the expert opinion of these scientists? The indictment spelled it out very clearly. Yustchinsky had been murdered in a very unusual manner. As soon as his body was discovered, rumors had begun to circulate that the Jews had committed the crime for religious purposes. The investigative authorities were therefore justified in asking for an expert opinion in order to clarify the situation. For this information, they turned to Professor Sikorsky of Kiev University, to the professors at the Theological Academy in Kiev, to professors of similar subjects in the Academy ofPetrograd, including Troyitzky and Glagoliev, and finally to the person who was “renowned” as the “Master of Religious Sciences,” the Reverend Pronaitis.
The question put to Professor Sikorsky probably cannot be equalled in all of legal history. He was asked whether it was possible to determine the nationality of the murderer from the evidence, and if he could express an opinion on what motives had prompted the murderer to commit the crime.
Although it was a most astonishing question, this “great” scientist, who was a Professor of Psychiatry and himself somewhat unbalanced, was not abashed by it. He responded that the crime had been deliberately committed by a Jew and it had been done for the purposes of racial vengeance, to “avenge the Children of Israel.” The professor further testified that the murder had been well-planned and could not have been carried out by an insane person. He added that the murderers had not gone straight for the heart, because their aim was not to accelerate the death but to achieve their special ends, which was to draw out blood and torture the victim.
The professor divided the crime into three distinct phases: the drawing of the blood, the inflicting of torture and the actual murder. That, he explained, was why Andriusha had been stabbed so many times. The professor concluded that the deed was committed by one who was “experienced in that kind of work.” Such was Sikorsky’s opinion.
As obviously ludicrous as all of this “expert” testimony appeared to be, the authorities accepted it as valid. Two other professors who were the most prominent Russian authorities on the Bible and Talmud, Glagoliev and Troyitzky, were asked questions about Jewish laws and rites. Glagoliev answered that there does not exist in Jewish literature any law or custom allowing Jews to use blood in general or Christian blood in particular, especially for religious purposes. He further stated that the prohibition against shedding human blood or using any blood whatsoever was to be found in the Bible and, insofar as he knew, was never retracted or abolished in any later writings. He did not find any specific prohibition to that effect in the Talmud or in the rabbinical laws.
Professor Troyitzky was also quoted as having said that the Jews were forbidden by their religious laws to use blood. He also stated that they were strictly forbidden to murder any human being, whether Jew or non-Jew. He did add that the expressions “A gentile studying the Torah is subject to death” and “Murder the good among the gentiles” are to be found in the Talmud, but he finds them difficult to explain. He knows of no proper explanation.
In summing up, these professors testified that both the Torah and the Talmud prohibited Jews from using any blood, human or not. Regarding Kabbalah, he was unable to express any opinion. He was unacquainted with the Kabbalistic literature, and he did not know what, if anything, was said in those texts about the usage of blood.
Then the indictment proceeded to turn to the leading Christian expert on Kabbalah, the ex-Catholic priest Pronaitis. This was an interesting development. Glagoliev and Troyitzky, who were distinguished professors at the highest theological academies and considered the greatest Russian authorities on Jewish subjects, expressed an opinion that helped my case. They explicitly stated that the Jews were forbidden to use any blood, especially human blood. It would therefore seem that there could be no “ritual murder” charge, since no such ritual existed. But if there were no ritual, then all of the accusations that had been leveled against me would fall to the ground. And this, of course, the authorities could not allow. So they sought the answer in the Kabbalah. They searched high and low among professional clergymen, but they could not find anyone bold enough to say that he possessed any knowledge of this area of Jewish theology.
Finally, a priest by the name of Pronaitis, whose name had heretofore been totally unknown, declared that he was conversant in Talmud as well as Kabbalistic literature. This great master of Kabbalah gave, as his expert opinion, the following: All the Jewish rabbis, as well as Jews in general, are united in their hatred of the Christians. A gentile is considered a “beast harmful to man.” Thus, he could explain the prohibition against murder. This prohibition, according to Pronaitis, referred to the Jews alone, for only they were considered human. It did not refer to Christians, who were considered animals.
Having done with the Talmud, the learned priest then turned to the Kabbalah. He held that the murder had to be committed in a specific manner as prescribed by the Kabbalah and that blood played an essential role in Jewish ritual. It was used as a remedy for many diseases. He stated that when blood was needed it was not necessary to slit the victim’s throat. The blood could be drawn out by stabbing the victim. According to this priest, the opinion that the Jews were actually forbidden to use blood was mistaken. Even the Talmud likened blood to water and milk, he said.
Pronaitis then proceeded to enumerate a number of “scientists” and swindlers like himself, quoting their opinions in regard to the question at hand. He placed particular emphasis on the verdict of a certain apostate who had formerly been a rabbi and was now a priest. Pronaitis declared that this person said that Jews could eat cooked blood. This renegade was further alleged to have stated that Christian blood was good for eye diseases. Such was the information that Pronaitis, in the name of the renegade, gave to the court.
It is curious to note that even the renegade never claimed that he had any personal experience in these matters. He demurred that it had been his father who had shared this information with him and that he had taken a son’s oath never to divulge the secret. While the renegade had been a Jew, he had kept the details confidential. But now that he had changed his religion, apparently he wanted to share this knowledge with the world.
As if all this rigmarole were not enough, the indictment went on to discuss certain “evidence” that had been given by various people that would tie me to the crime. Tchebiriak’s son Zhenia was alleged to have testified that he had seen “strange Jews,” tzaddikim, in my house. It was not possible to determine whether or not Zhenia had actually said such things, because he had died in the interim. However, his nine-year-old sister corroborated his story. They professed that they had once gone to the Beilis house to buy milk and had looked through the window and seen two strange looking Jews in funny hats and black robes. The children said that they had become frightened and had run away.
Furthermore, on the day of Yustchinsky’s disappearance, the girl said that she had been playing with some other children in the factory yard when Beilis started to chase them away. They all ran and climbed over a fence to safety, but she claimed that she hid because she wanted to see what Beilis would do. She testified that she saw Beilis and the two other Jews catch Andriusha Yustchinsky and drag him into the house.
Among other stories, there was also included a report of the incident that had happened in prison involving the letter I had smuggled to my family through Kozatchenko. The spy Kozatchenko had quite a lively imagination. He testified that once he had gained my confidence he persuaded me to write a letter. Not only did I write the letter, he recounted, but I shared with him many secrets. He related that I asked him to do a job for me once he was out of prison. He claimed I offered him a great deal of money to poison two incriminating witnesses. The arrangements were that certain Jews would provide him with the poison, as well as a deposit of fifty rubles. I supposedly promised him that the Jewish people would greatly reward him and support him for the rest of his life if he could successfully accomplish the mission.
All this testimony resulted in the conclusion that I, in conspiracy with some unknown men who had yet to be discovered, had committed a premeditated murder of a Christian child for religious purposes. We had taken Yustchinsky, gagged his mouth, inflicted thirty-seven wounds on his head, neck and other parts of his body and had then drawn out his blood.
It was already March when I had received this second indictment. Pacing in my cell, I would often take out that document, most inappropriately called a Court Indictment, and re-read it again and again till the blood would almost freeze in my veins. I was helpless. The whole of Black Russia, with Czar Nicholas at its head, was against me.
When I was presented with the second indictment, I was asked once more whom I was retaining as my lawyer. I answered that I wished to retain my former attorney. Shortly thereafter, I was visited by Mr. Barsky. He informed me that Mr. Margolin had been forced to withdraw from the defense, because the Prosecuting Attorney had summoned him as a witness. The law forbade someone to be both a witness and a lawyer in the same case.
Mr. Barsky also told me that, besides him and Gruzenberg, I would also be defended by Messrs. Maklakov and Karabchevsky. When Mr. Barsky came for another visit, we spoke about the case. He would always encourage me to be brave and strong. He felt certain that the truth would surface, like oil in water, and that the Black Hundreds and the anti-Semites would suffer an ignominious defeat. He also advised me to ask the Prosecuting Attorney for a second copy of the indictment. He explained that I had the right to request another copy and that I should inform the officials that my lawyers needed a copy. I, therefore, dispatched a petition to the Prosecuting Attorney requesting a second copy.
The next morning, Mashkevitch came to the prison.
“Do you really wish to have a copy of the whole preliminary investigation?” he inquired.
“Yes, I must have it.”
“If you insist, then you will have it, but I must tell you that it may make things worse for you. It may delay the date of the trial for another few months.”
I asked why Fenenko had been able to give me a copy without any problem.
He laughed at me. “You are foolish. Fenenko was a child. He believed all the stories you told him. Don’t compare me to Fenenko. He had drawn up a worthless indictment , while I made one that came straight to the point. Anyhow, if you wish to have the trial delayed, you may have another copy.”
I was in a desperate dilemma. If I did not get another copy, then my lawyers would not be able to make a thorough study of the indictment in time. They would be unable to prepare their pleas or get to the very heart of the prosecution’s arguments. Were I, on the other hand, to get a copy, then the date for the trial would be postponed. It had been so difficult to wait thus far that I could not envision waiting any longer. There was a chance that Mashkevitch was just trying to frighten me, but then again, maybe he was telling the truth. If he wanted to put any obstacles in my way, he was certainly able to do so. Clearly, it was his policy to make me suffer as much as possible.
After considering the matter, I decided not to ask for a copy. I believed that my lawyers could manage without it. Perhaps they knew of another way to obtain a copy. Surely, they had more avenues of getting one than through a helpless prisoner. At least, I would not cause the trial to be delayed any further.
A few days later, I was told that my wife and brother were waiting in the Warden’s office. This rendezvous was my only consolation during this entire period of my imprisonment.
I entered the office and saw my wife and brother sitting there. Mashkevitch was also present. I began to ask them about the family. One of the questions my brother asked was, “Have you received a copy of the indictment?”
I told him I had been informed that the trial would be delayed for another few months if I were to procure that copy and that I had therefore decided not to get it.
“You mustn’t listen to all their excuses!” my brother shouted. “Get a copy and don’t pay any attention to their stories.”
The Warden had been present throughout our entire conversation, and he jumped to his feet, bellowing, “Get out of here at once. What impudence!”
It was a long time before the Warden regained his composure. He kept pacing the floor, mumbling, “What insolence, what impudence.” He also promptly ordered my wife to leave. After this episode, I expected to hear that my brother had been arrested. I spent several sleepless nights worrying about it.
A few days later, my wife again came for a visit. This time we met in the prison office, so we could only talk through a double grating. She was able, however, to tell me that my brother had not been arrested.
It was with the greatest impatience that I awaited that much longed-for trial. Two and a half years had elapsed since that fateful day when the chief of the Kiev Okhrana, Kuliabko, had arrested me at my house. Meanwhile, Kuliabko’s fortunes had plummeted. The well-known revolutionist and half-traitor Bogrov had managed to penetrate the theater when Czar Nicholas had come to visit Kiev. It was there that Bogrov had assassinated Prime Minister Stolypin in the presence of the Czar. Kuliabko’s career thus came to an abrupt and disastrous end. It did not, however, improve my situation in the least.
Now, at last, the great day was approaching, the day that not only I and my family but the whole Jewish nation had breathlessly awaited all these years. Nay, the whole world, even many gentiles were anxiously waiting for it, for all wished to know the truth. They all wanted to know how the Russian people would decide my fate as well as the fate of the Jewish people.
I was aware that I was being defended by the most erudite lawyers in all Russia. I also knew that there were many enlightened, humane compatriots on my side. But what good would this do me when the Russian justice system was controlled by the government and its puppets? It was impossible to predict any outcome or even to know what might happen next. All I could do was hope that the bubble of lies would burst.
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