At last, the day arrived when the final bout would begin, when the fight for my liberation, for my very life, would draw to a conclusion. This was the day when once and for all the accusations against the Jewish people would be addressed. This was the day when both my lawyers and the lawyers for the prosecution would have the opportunity to make their closing arguments to the members of the jury.
The Prosecuting Attorney went first. He got straight to the point.
“I have spent about thirty years in the service of the Czar,” he began. “It is now my task to prove, on the basis of the facts, that this man Mendel Beilis who is sitting before us on the defendant’s bench, murdered Andriusha Yustchinsky, and I shall demonstrate it so clearly that there will be no doubt left whatsoever. The world awaits the truth, the world must know the truth, and it fell to my lot to demonstrate this truth to you the jury and to the world that is watching. You gentlemen of the jury are also facing a great task. It is your duty to deliberate carefully and weigh all the testimony you have heard. You must then decide what will be the punishment for a man who has committed so horrible a crime. I am not telling you that all the Jews are guilty and that pogroms should be instituted against them, but it is true that there is a religious sect among the Jews, the so-called chassidim-tzaddikim, who commit crimes that the non-Jewish world knows nothing about. It is they who are secretly murdering Christian children, and Mendel Beilis is one of them.
“Even though the whole world has been deeply shocked by this crime, part of the world is in an uproar. And why? Because Mendel Beilis, a Jew,” he emphasized, pointing his finger at me, “is sitting on the defendant’s bench. You catch one Jew, and all the Jews get busy exercising their control and influence and untold millions to get him out. Do you remember the Dreyfus case in France? The whole world was turned upside down because one single Jew was arrested and convicted.
“But let us Christians not forget the other person who is involved. It is Andriusha, who is lying in his grave, forlorn and forgotten. It is Andriusha, whose murder has not been avenged for over two and a half years. Yet who is playing the lead and getting all the attention? It is Mendel Beilis,” he shouted, again shaking his finger at my face. “If such a case had involved a Christian, would anyone have said a word? Would the whole world have come to watch? Do not forget, gentlemen, that Andriusha was one of us, he was our own. It is our job not to forget him. We cannot forget him! We orthodox Christians who are wearing the cross must have the courage to avenge the Christian blood that was shed by this man.”
By now the Prosecuting Attorney’s performance had reached the point where a semblance of weeping was deemed appropriate, so he paused to dab at his eyes as if overcome with emotion. “Collecting” himself, he continued with a renewed fervor.
“Just imagine how scandalously this dastardly deed was done! In broad daylight, in this holy city, where there are so many cathedrals and monasteries with all the holy shrines of Russia, here of all places, the murderers seized a young child, a saintly child, a boy who had been preparing for the priesthood and butchered him. It was a Jew, motivated by his religious fanaticism, who seized this poor child, gagged his mouth, tied him hand and foot and inflicted forty-nine wounds upon one part of his body, and thirteen wounds upon another in order to draw out five pints of human blood. I do not understand how you can be so charitable, so soft and unmanly, so afraid to avenge the blood of this innocent child.
“Do you remember the beginning of the trial when the Presiding Judge asked Beilis to what religion he belonged? Do you remember how Beilis defiantly proclaimed, ‘I am a Jew’? You know what he meant? He meant to tell the world that he was a Jew, and he is laughing at us Christians. He feels that, as a Jew, he can do as he pleases.”
Throughout this tirade, the Prosecuting Attorney kept drinking water. At one point, he was so exhausted and drained, he asked for an intermission. I had sat completely transfixed. Every word was like a knife at my throat, stabbing me over and over. Surely, this was the kind of speech that would move the jury. These were the words they could understand. Mr. Maklakov, the famous lawyer, came over to me and heartily slapped me upon the shoulder.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Beilis,” he said. “Keep your spirits up. It isn’t as terrible as it seems. He speaks well, but we’ll speak much better.”
Within minutes, the Prosecuting Attorney was again continuing his harangue. It seemed to me that there was no end to his oration. He was desperately attempting to prove that it was I who had committed the murder, only I and no one else. Of course, Vera Tchebiriak couldn’t possibly have had anything to do with it, and only a wretched liar would even suggest that she did.
Among other things, he noted, “Even the worst of men have some good moments. On this very table lay the bloody corpse of the murdered boy. When Beilis was brought in to look at it, he wept. Why did he weep? Surely, it was because he felt a pang of remorse for murdering an innocent child. At that moment, Beilis was lamenting his guilt.”
It was with this speech by the Prosecuting Attorney that the court session of the day came to a close. And it was with a heavy heart that many in the audience, myself included, filed out of the room for the night.
Bright and early the next morning, it was our turn to have a say. The lawyers, Messrs. Gruzenberg, Karabchevsky, Maklakov, Grigorovitch-Barsky and Zarudny, as well as the experts, Rabbi Mazah, Professor Troyitzky, Kokovtzeff and others, all delivered splendid discourses refuting each and every aspect of the Prosecuting Attorney’s arguments. Not only was Mr. Maklakov a widely respected lawyer, but he was also a Christian, and as such, he vigorously took issue with some of the Prosecuting Attorney’s most inflammatory assertions.
“I listened with special attention,” he calmly retorted, “to that part of the procurator’s speech wherein he bemoaned the way the Jews always create a ruckus whenever one of their own is caught. Well, gentlemen, I would like for you to tell me how you would behave if, for instance, we orthodox Christians were to find ourselves amongst the Chinese, and the Chinese were to accuse one of us of a crime similar to that ascribed to Beilis. Wouldn’t we leap to his defense and try to arouse heaven and earth to come to his aid? Why should the procurator be so surprised at that? How could it be otherwise? How else can they protect themselves? By sitting quietly and keeping silent? Nor must you forget that we Christians have no fear of pogroms. The Jews, however, are in a constant state of fear. Should they do nothing to prove their innocence?
“And there’s another thing I want to say. We heard the procurator reproaching Beilis for having wept at the sight of the pitiful corpse. We know why he wept. He was weeping because there had been a time when he was a man like all of us, free and unconcerned, and today he is living a nightmare. Are you surprised that he should weep? Why didn’t the prosecutor instead speak about his celebrated witness Golubov, who was brought in with such ceremony, yet fainted outright and couldn’t say a word? Why did he faint? Was it because he didn’t want to make a fool of himself by being caught in a lie?”
It is difficult, of course, to recount fully all of the speeches. Some of Gruzenberg’s words, however, deserve special mention, for they made a particular impression on all who heard them.
“Not long ago,” he said, “I studied together with Christians. I lived with them, ate with them, enjoyed and suffered life together with my Christian friends. And now, all of a sudden, my co-religionists and I are faced with this shameful, disgraceful accusation. I am telling you now, once and for all, and you know my words will be heard by all my co-religionists, that if I found out our Torah or other religious literature taught us or even allowed us to use Christian blood, I would not remain a Jew for one moment. I am certain that Mendel Beilis must not be convicted and will not be convicted. But should he be convicted through some terrible miscarriage of justice, then so be it. Why should he be spared the misfortune that has befallen so many of our innocent brethren who have in the past lost their lives as a consequence of these indescribably evil falsehoods and lies? Mendel Beilis, if ever you are convicted, proclaim, ‘Hear, O Israel, God is our Lord, God is One.’ Be of stout heart and good cheer.”
The audience was mesmerized by the power of his message. There could be no doubt of the strong impact this speech had upon the jury. They had listened to his every word. Indeed, they had paid close attention to the statements given by all my lawyers. It seemed as if the efforts by the prosecution were doomed to a disgraceful defeat. But who could foretell the thoughts within a juror’s mind?
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