Chapter 27       The Scene of the Crime
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I began to feel somewhat more cheerful. For one thing, the witnesses had finished testifying. My trial was still a long way from being over, and I knew there were still many difficult ordeals to be endured, but I felt as though the greater part of the load had been lifted from my shoulders. I also welcomed the opportunity to see my house after two and a half years of imprisonment.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon. Despite a heavy rain that made puddles of mud, the streets were packed with people. The members of the jury were surrounded by cavalrymen and police to prevent them from having any contact with outsiders. To avoid any demonstrations, I was driven to the factory through unfrequented side streets.

At last, we arrived at the factory and approached the house which had been my home in Kiev for so many years. Since I remained in the coach, some of the neighbors came out to see me. Through the little windows of the prison coach, I could see them pointing their fingers at me and exclaiming, “Beilis! Beilis!” Some wrung their hands and wept.

The Presiding Judge finally permitted me to go with an escort into the house. My wife and children were not there, since they had been warned to leave. A new clerk, a young Christian man, was there instead.

The mud outside was so deep that we could hardly walk. Nevertheless, all of us, the judges, the jury, the experts, the people from the press, even Golubov the student, took a complete tour of the factory grounds. Everything was examined, from the place where the children used to play to the spot where “the Jew with the black beard” was supposedly sighted. The cave where the body was found was so dark that we needed to light lanterns to find our way. The factory was inspected as well.

Standing near the kiln, Schmakov, the lawyer for the prosecution, turned to the jury and said, “Look. There is a straight road from here to the cave where Andriusha’s body was found.”

Mr. Karabchevsky quickly interjected, “But permit me to point out that the road from Tchebiriak’s house to the cave is shorter and straighter.”

We went to Tchebiriak’s house next. The police had brought along a little Christian boy to re-enact the murder. They took him to Vera’s rooms on the top floor, held him tightly and told him to scream. The lawyers Zamislovsky and Grigorovitch-Barsky remained downstairs and said that the screaming could be heard quite distinctly.

It had taken about two hours to stage this scene. Afterwards, I was sent back to the jail, and the others went home.

Since the beginning of the trial, the prison officials had treated me with unexpected consideration, respect and friendliness, eagerly fulfilling, instead of insolently ignoring, my every request. This time, when I returned to the jail from the outing, the officials tried to outdo each other in extending to me every courtesy. Whether my jailers were metamorphosized into sensitive human beings because of orders from their superiors, or because they realized from the testimony that I was innocent, I could not tell, nor did I care. The results were what mattered most.

The next morning in the prison coach on the way to the trial, a bomb exploded. There was a mad rush of confusion outside, and I was petrified that the attack had been directed at me and would be repeated. The coach immediately halted, but the officers ordered the driver to continue quickly and take me away. The authorities never discovered the reason for the assault or the people behind it, but I later learned that a cavalry soldier who was one of the escorts assigned to protect me had been so badly wounded by the blast that his leg had to be amputated.

This day was to be spent hearing the testimony from the various scientists and religious experts. The previous witnesses had only been asked to tell what they knew about the murder. The first part of the trial had been devoted to trying to ascertain what had actually happened. Now the emphasis was on the motive. The  experts were to shed light on the hows and whys of ritual blood murders. It was for them to prove either that the Jews made a practice of using Christian blood in the baking of the Passover matzahs, or that all these stories were infamous lies.

The star witness for the prosecution was the Catholic priest Pronaitis. He was not a reputable Russian Orthodox priest; indeed, one could not be found to do such “dirty work” at the bidding of the authorities. They were lucky to have found someone like Pronaitis at all. He was presumably well versed in both the Talmud and Kabbalah. In short, he presented himself as a great Hebraist and was introduced to the court as such. But when this “expert” began to speak, it was obvious to all that he was nothing short of an ignoramus, his only talent being the ability to talk a good game. However, since the authorities needed his long-winded verbiage to carry some weight, they feigned to respect him as a holy man of great stature.

He began his lecture by stating matter-of-factly that the Jews offered human sacrifices and the Jewish religion commanded its adherents to murder gentiles. He even “interpreted” a sentence from the Talmud that supposedly said, “Murder the best of the gentiles.” In the same vein, after finishing with the Talmud, he went on to the Kabbalah.

However, in spite of all this, when the procurator asked him if he had any direct knowledge of Jews using Christian blood, he said he did not. His expert opinion had made an impression on no one. In fact, many in the audience occasionally laughed out loud when he clearly became confused and couldn’t even intelligibly answer some of the questions asked by my lawyer.

A minor sensation was produced when the testimony dealt with the number thirteen, a number which was supposed to have great significance when used in a Jewish context. The prosecution insisted that the thirteen wounds which Professor Sikorsky had discovered on Andriusha’s body proved that they had been inflicted in accordance with “Jewish ritual.” When it was discovered afterwards that there were actually fourteen wounds, the ritual murder charge lost even more credibility.

Furthermore, all the perverse and ridiculous lies that Pronaitis had postulated were completely refuted by the brilliant, decisive testimony given by the well-known and universally respected Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Mazeh. He delivered a long, detailed speech quoting passages from the Torah, the Talmud and many other books to conclusively reveal both the absurdity and the stupidity inherent in the testimony of such “experts” as Pronaitis. Any intelligent person could see that the priest had no knowledge whatsoever of the Talmud and could hardly even read a passage in Hebrew.

The problem was the intellectual level of the jury. They had listened attentively to all that had been said, but there is no doubt that they were unable to comprehend what they heard. Such things as Gemara, Kabbalah and rabbis were beyond the grasp of plain, simple peasants. I watched the jury intently throughout the day. It was they who were to be my judges. They would ultimately base their verdict on all the explanations and arguments contained in this testimony.

One thing bothered me. Pronaitis had alleged that the Jews had secret books, and Rabbi Mazeh confirmed that this was so. Well, if it were true that there were secret books, then why shouldn’t they believe that secret things were written in them? Why shouldn’t they believe that what Pronaitis and other Christian priests said was true and that it was the Jewish experts who were lying? I concluded that if they came to the trial with a prior belief that Jews murdered Christians for their blood, then nothing could change their minds. This realization made me all the more aware of the depth of the centuries-old tragedy that had been perpetrated upon our people by black-hearted villains like Pronaitis.

Picture Picture
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