The testimony thus far presented in court seemed to indicate that the truth would emerge victorious. Not only were the witnesses for the defense proving my innocence, but even those called by the prosecution inadvertently helped my position. The case against me had been dealt a severe blow by Shakhovsky, whose performance was a terrible disappointment for the prosecution. Everything appeared to be going my way, but when I would glance at the homely features of the jury, a chill would run down my spine. I could not discern how they were responding to the testimony. I feared they were being overwhelmed by the procedural technicalities and would fail to grasp the import of the whole affair.
At the end of a short intermission, Mr. Krassovsky was summoned to the witness stand. Mr. Krassovsky had formerly been a detective with the secret police force and had risen to the rank of captain. He had retained that position for twenty years and had distinguished himself by his cleverness and efficiency. He had the reputation of being able to solve any murder or other capital crime. He had, however, been out of the limelight for many years.
When Yustchinsky’s murder first came to light, the public had demanded that Krassovsky be put in charge of the police investigation. He enjoyed their full confidence and respect. The problem was that the Black Hundreds did not want Krassovsky involved; they were afraid he might actually find the real murderers, and this was the last thing the anti-Semites wanted. Six months later, when my lawyers insisted that the investigation be handled by a police official who was both competent and trustworthy, Krassovsky was put in charge. He immediately picked up the right scent and was about to indict the whole gang when the Governor himself interfered. A trumped-up charge of misconduct was levelled against Mr. Krassovsky, and he was demoted and thrown into jail. This was just the first of many humiliations he was forced to endure. A lawsuit was even filed against him. He was ultimately acquitted, but he lost his commission and was never reinstated as a police detective. This was the price he had to pay for his sin of trying to uncover the truth.
Mr. Krassovsky did not speak for very long, but what he said was quite sufficient. He described his activities as they related to Vera Tchebiriak.
“When I was investigating the murder, I visited the Tchebiriak house quite often. During the time Vera was in prison, her two children, Zhenia and the girl, both fell ill and were taken to a hospital. Immediately upon her release from jail, Vera ran to the hospital to take the children home, even though she was warned by the physicians not to do so. The boy was so weak they feared he might die on the way. But she would not listen to reason. She insisted on taking them home at once. She was afraid they might say something to betray her.
“Even when I would visit the family, she was afraid of what the children might reveal to me. When I used to see the boy at home, I would ask him questions. Once, while I was sitting and talking with him, he turned pale and stopped in the middle of a word. I quickly turned and saw his mother standing behind me, making a sign with her finger for him to keep silent. Once when I came in, Zhenia was in bed not feeling well. I overheard Vera admonish him, ‘Remember, you don’t know a thing.’ I also heard Zhenia retort, ‘Mother, are you ever going to stop giving me orders and telling me lies?’ A short while later, the boy was dead.”
Krassovsky and Brazul-Brushkovsky, the journalist, both revealed many new facts in the course of their testimony. This information clearly indicated that the murder had been committed by Tchebiriak and her cohorts, Singayevsky, Rudzinsky and Latischeff. No less clear and convincing was the testimony given by Mr. Margolin, who appeared in court not as my lawyer but as my witness.
During the trial, I became aware for the first time of the extent of the remarkable effort that had been exerted by Messrs. Brazul-Brashovsky and Krassovsky to uncover the identity of the true murderer. While secluded in prison, I had had no idea of how hard they had worked and what they had been able to achieve on my behalf. I had some knowledge of Mr. Margolin’s involvement, but I had never imagined that real Russians who were not Jewish, men such as Messrs. Yablonovsky, Brushovsky and Krassovsky, would actually sacrifice the security of their positions in the pursuit of truth and justice. Never in all the days of our lives, will I or my family forget these wonderful and enlightened men.
Fenenko, the District Attorney, was also summoned, and he reviewed for the court the outcome of his investigations. He concluded his testimony by saying that he could not find any grounds on which to base an accusation of murder, much less a charge of ritual murder. He maintained that he knew that the testimony of Shakhovsky the lamplighter was meaningless, but he was unable to do anything about it. Since Shakhovsky was willing to testify against me, an indictment had to be drawn up.
Mr. Zaitzev was then called upon to testify. The Presiding Judge asked Mr. Zaitzev a series of questions. Did he ever pay homage to the tzaddikim? Had his father ever done so? And so forth. The last question, however, was totally unexpected. Why was Beilis put in charge of baking the special matzah that Mr. Zaitzev had ordered for his private use when there were dozens of other Jews who worked for him?
This is the story about the matzah. The elder Mr. Zaitzev, who had died some time before the trial, was one of the wealthiest Jews in all of Russia. He owned fifteen sugar factories. One of his largest factories, located in Rigorovka, about twenty-five miles from Kiev, had an adjoining beet field. On that field, several acres were set aside to be sown with wheat, and from that wheat, several hundred pounds were usually set aside for shmurah matzah. That grain was kept in a separate granary, and Zaitzev alone had the key.
About a month before Passover, a rabbi would come, and under his supervision, about five hundred pounds would be milled for his matzah. The matzah would then be baked, packed in cases and distributed among various members of his family and friends. This was the old man’s custom, which had been a family tradition for many years.
Mr. Zaitzev had involved me in the production of this wheat for about fifteen years. When I was arrested, the officials discovered in my house some correspondence between Mr. Zaitzev and myself wherein I was instructed to go to Rigorovka and get the matzah flour. This is what prompted the authorities to make all sorts of insinuations about the shmurah matzah. When the prosecutor asked Mr. Zaitzev why his father had always sent me to take care of the matzahs, he explained, “Mr. Beilis’s father had been a very religious Jew, and he was always careful to eat shmurah matzah. My father had known old Mr. Beilis very well. We had some commercial dealings him. One time, I asked my father why he had selected Mendel Beilis for this task. He replied that since Mendel’s father had been so religious he probably raised his son accordingly and, therefore, Mendel Beilis was someone who could be trusted to handle this responsibility.”
The most important witness to follow was Vera Tchebiriak herself. Throughout the trial, one witness after another had pointed to her as the guilty party. No one even wanted to be seated next to her. Early in the trial, she had appealed to the Presiding Judge for protection, claiming that threats had been made against her life. Every time she would go home, she would ask for a policeman to escort her to protect her from an assassination attempt.
Before describing her testimony, I would like to add an interesting observation. Whenever witnesses who were supposed to testify for the prosecution got on the stand, they always changed their story. They invariably justified their change of heart by explaining that they were good Christians, and as such, didn’t know anything about Jewish religious customs. They did not know for sure whether it was true or not that Jews used blood. How could an orthodox Christian be expected to know such things? But they all concurred that, once they began examining the evidence, it was clear that Vera Tchebiriak had committed the murder. That being the case, how could they accuse an innocent man of such a heinous crime? Therefore, a great deal was expected from Tchebiriak’s own testimony. The prosecution was relying on her to supply them with the best evidence thus far.
As it turned out, she had nothing to add, only repeating a couple of old stories. When she was asked if she had personally seen any of the things she described, she replied that it was her children who had reported them to her. Since the children were now residents of a better world, transported there with the able assistance of their mother, it was impossible to verify the veracity of her statements.
Yustchinsky’s mother was summoned next, and even she gave an altogether different version of events than was expected. When asked if she knew Beilis, she said, “No.” When Schmakov asked if she had seen any Jews around the cave where her son’s body was found, she said, “No.”
When Gruzenberg asked whether she recognized the shirt that was shown her by the District Attorney and was considered to be an important piece of evidence, her answer was, “No, that shirt did not belong to Andriusha.” This response produced quite a stir. I noticed that some of the men on the jury exchanged glances and shrugged their shoulders. When the Presiding Judge asked if her son had gone to visit the Jews during the month of March, her answer was again an emphatic “No!”
The testimony seemed to last forever, but at last, the long list of witnesses was finally exhausted. The court decided that now was the time for the next phase of the trial to take place. The jury was to be taken to the scene of the crime. They were to inspect three places personally: the factory where the murder supposedly took place, Vera Tchebiriak’s house and my own.
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