A sense of real excitement filled the air when the Sergeant-at-Arms announced that he was bringing the two “tzaddikim” to the witness stand. Their names were Ettinger and Landau, and they were alleged to have been seen at my house dressed in caftans and skullcaps and wrapped in talleisim. Shakhovsky the lamplighter had testified that on the Sabbath morning before the murder, he had seen two tzaddikim enter my house. The authorities checked the register at the factory office and found listed the names of these two Jews.
Mr. Ettinger was a young man about thirty years old who was clean shaven and completely assimilated. He was hardly much of a Jew at all. He was extremely wealthy and was the brother-in-law of Mr. Zaitzev. Mrs. Zaitzev was his sister.
Ettinger was an Austrian who had once come to Kiev to visit his sister’s family. As a foreign Jew, he had no right to live in Russia outside of the Pale. Even though his brother-in-law was a millionaire, an exception could not be made. Zaitzev himself lived in Lipki, the most aristocratic section of Kiev, and this was where the dashing young Mr. Ettinger had no right to reside. He could not legally be registered as a resident of that house, so he followed the usual procedure for situations such as this. He bribed a police captain in Zaitzev’s district to find a way to circumvent this technicality.
The idea was to have Mr. Ettinger register as a resident of the Plossky district where Jews were allowed to live. This is what he did, although he basically continued to live in Mr. Zaitzev’s house. This constituted legal compliance, Russian style. He was officially registered as a resident of the factory which was in the Plossky district, but as a matter of fact, he didn’t even know where it was. He had never even stepped foot there. Why would a debonair young man, who had come to Kiev to live it up, want to go to a brick factory? To learn how to bake bricks?
Mr. Landau was in a similar predicament. He was a young man, twenty-five years old, who was studying on the continent. He was a grandson of old man Zaitzev and was also registered as a resident of the factory for the same reason. The register showed that both these men had “resided” there, but that they had “checked out” about five months before the murder had taken place. Nevertheless, the two young men were summoned as witnesses for the trial. After all, the prosecutors needed to find two Jews somewhere since the investigators had discovered that two tzaddikim had also participated in the murder.
When the two neatly dressed young men were put on the stand, Mr. Gruzenberg, who was well-known for his wit, introduced them to the judges and the members of the jury.
“As you can see,” he said, “these gentlemen are the two tzaddikim who are said to have been praying wrapped in talleisim and dressed in caftans and skullcaps.”
Since most of the residents of the city of Kiev knew a great deal about Jewish dress and customs, peals of laughter resounded through the court. They got the joke.
Mr. Ettinger could not speak Russian, so an interpreter accompanied him to the stand. Surely, he had never dreamed he would be required to answer questions of this nature. He was asked whether he was a tzaddik and if he ate shmurah matzah. The prosecutor drilled him about eating the afikoman and participating in other religious rites.
He repeatedly shrugged his shoulders, but he patiently answered all the questions. The whole situation must have seemed unreal to him, as if he were in an insane asylum. As soon as he answered a question, his reply was immediately translated into Russian.
The Prosecutor, Mr. Viper, was the one who had drafted the part of the indictment that mentioned tzaddikim. He became quite nervous listening to the testimony, for it certainly did not coincide with his version of events. He also could not understand why a Jew would deny being a tzaddik and eating shmurah matzah.
Mr. Viper angrily turned to the witness and snapped, “I also speak German, and I understood every word you said. Now why don’t you tell the truth?”
He wanted to give the jury the impression that all of Mr. Ettinger’s testimony had been a lie. It did not occur to the jury that the Prosecutor would publicly make such a false accusation, so they presumed he was telling the truth. Mr. Viper had succeeded in casting aspersions on Mr. Ettinger’s integrity, and the jury began whispering among themselves.
How could these unsophisticated farmers be expected to comprehend that it was not possible for this handsome, well-to-do, modern young man, who spent his nights partying with chorus girls, also to be a tzaddik who ate shmurah matzah? Tears of frustration must have contorted my face, for when Viper saw my expression, he began to laugh. The more he mocked me, the more embittered I became, causing him to laugh that much louder. Unfortunately, it appeared to the jury that it was the veracity of Mr. Viper’s accusation that had upset me. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
I had previously mentioned that Vera Tchebiriak had told the Prosecutor how she had been invited to the city of Kharkov to see a prominent person who would give her forty thousand rubles to take the blame for Yustchinsky’s murder. She later stated that this person was Mr. Margolin, my lawyer. She also claimed that Mr. Sergei Yablonovski, an associate editor of the Kievskaya Mysil, was also present at this clandestine meeting.
It was now Mr. Yablonovski’s turn to take the witness stand. He bluntly declared that he had never been to Kharkov. Madame Vera Tchebiriak was called upon to refute his testimony. The Presiding Judge got straight to the point. He asked her if she would recognize the man who allegedly offered her that money in Kharkov.
“Of course, I would recognize him,” she said.
Yablonovski was asked to approach the bench. The Judge proceeded with his questioning of Vera.
“Do you know this man?”
“If he sits down in a chair, then I’ll recognize him,” she replied.
The Judge turned to Yablonovski.
“Is what Vera Vladimirovna told us true? Did you and another man offer her money to take the blame for Andriusha’s murder?”
Yablonovski smiled. “One of us is telling the truth. It is up to you to decide who is the liar.”
“Well, Vera?” the Judge asked.
“I’ll be happy to sit down if you’d like,” Mr. Yablonovski offered with a smile. A chair was brought over, and he made a big production of sitting down and folding his hands in his lap.
“Yes, yes!” Vera exclaimed. “That’s him! That’s the way the man who offered me the money was sitting, with his hands folded just like that.”
A roar of laughter again erupted in the courtroom. Even the Presiding Judge was bemused. “How is it that you can recognize him by the way he sits and not by his face? Don’t most people recognize someone by the face?”
She smugly responded, “Well, on that occasion, he was sitting just as he is now, and that is why I recognize him.”
The audience thoroughly enjoyed this interchange, and I myself even found it hard to suppress a laugh.
It was finally time for the lamplighter, Mr. Shakhovsky, to appear. The entire assembly was waiting for the spectacle to continue. Since much of the indictment rested on his eye-witness testimony, he was considered a key witness for the prosecution.
“What can you tell us about this case?” the judge asked.
To everyone’s astonishment, Mr. Shakhovsky replied, “I don’t know anything about it.”
The Court Clerk scurried to find Mr. Shakhovsky’s deposition wherein he had described how, on that Saturday morning at nine o’clock, he had seen the tzaddikim with their skullcaps and talleisim praying in Beilis’s house. All of this was read aloud in court. How could he now say that he knew nothing? Nothing!
“I’ll tell you the truth,” Mr. Shakhovsky mumbled sheepishly. “When I said those things, I was drunk. A detective, Mr. Polishtchuck, kept giving me vodka. Besides, I was angry at Beilis because he threatened to have me arrested for stealing wood from the factory yard. It’s true. I did say all those things, but I wasn’t under oath. I swear, this time I’m telling the truth. I am a Christian, and I fear God. Why should I destroy an innocent man?”
It was as if a bomb had been thrown into the courtroom. All the Black Hundreds who had come to watch were completely dumbfounded. The whole scenario for the crime had been built upon the lamplighter’s story. Now what could be done? The disappointment was all the greater because so much had been expected. Schmakov and Zamislovsky leaped to their feet and began to try and salvage Mr. Shakhovsky’s testimony.
“Don’t you remember,” Schmakov almost begged, “when you told me about that woman named Volkovna who had met your wife and made fun of you because you lived so close to the scene of the murder and didn’t know anything about it even though the whole world knew it was Beilis who had murdered Andriusha?”
“I know nothing. I was drunk.”
“But didn’t you say—”
“I was drunk I tell you, I don’t know a thing.”
Mr. Shakhovsky’s wife was hustled to the stand.
“I don’t know anything about any of this,” was all she could say.
“But what about your conversation with Volkovna? Please tell us what you said to her.”
“She was the one who did the talking,” Mr. Shakhovsky’s wife answered sullenly. “And it was all nonsense anyway. But if you want to know what she said, ask her.”
Madame Volkovna was escorted to the stand. She turned out to be quite an old peasant woman, barefoot and clothed completely in rags.
Again, the same question. “What do you know about this case?”
Volkovna proved to be a testy character who was quite irate about being dragged to court. “Leave me alone, all of you. I don’t know a thing,” she protested.
“Will you tell us what your profession is?”
“What do you think I do? I collect alms whenever I can get them.”
“What do you do with the money?”
“When I can, I buy some vodka to drown my sorrows.”
Naturally, the audience laughed, but the prosecutor ignored it and went on.
“The Shakhovskys told us that you had been bragging that you knew all about the case and they didn’t.”
“Will you leave me alone?” the aged beggar almost shouted. She had become even more agitated. “What do you want from an old lush like me? I was probably drunk that day, too, and slept on the street. Now leave me alone, and stop pestering me.”
Her entertaining performance had delighted the courtroom audience. Even the judge couldn’t help but grin.
|[Home] [Campus] [Curriculum] [Dedications] [News] [Archives] [Judaica]|