The great day came at last. It was the 28th of October, 1913, the thirty-fourth day of my trial, and the day the jury was to render its verdict. It was also the day when I almost lost my life.
At eight o’clock in the morning, I was called, as I usually was, to the prison office. It was from there that I proceeded to the Court House. Each time, my escorts would search me and immediately depart for the courthouse. The moment the prisoner was handed over to his escort, no one else had any authority over him. Since the escort signed a receipt acknowledging that the prisoner was in his possession, the escort alone was responsible for him, and no one else could touch him.
On this particular morning, after I was already in the custody of the escort, the Deputy Warden sent word that I should be brought back for another search. The searches were emotionally and physically humiliating and amounted to an inquisition of my body and soul. In accordance with the law, my escort refused to obey the order to hand me over. However, the warden insisted, stating that a special telegram had come from the Imperial Court, from the Czar himself, ordering that I be searched with extra stringency. Naturally, my chaperone felt compelled to comply.
Though the warden could easily have asked my escort to conduct the search, he chose to use his own men, the prison guards, to carry out his wishes. I was told to undress, which I promptly did. Whenever I was searched, I had always been allowed to leave on my undershirt. This time, the official ordered me to remove my undershirt as well. I became annoyed and ripped off the shirt, throwing it in his face. He grabbed his pistol and was preparing his aim. He was so infuriated that he looked like an enraged beast.
Fortunately, my escort heard the noise and came running in. If he had not been responsible for my safety, he never would have dared intervene; but since he had already signed for me, he was afraid not to get involved. He snatched the revolver out of the Deputy Warden’s hand and sounded the alarm. There was an instantaneous deluge of officials. The Chief Warden came in. He was very agitated.
“What are you doing?” he said to me. “Isn’t this the last day of your trial? Why are you starting up new trouble?”
“What do you want from me?” I cried out. “Why does this man have to subject me to new insults? I’ve already been searched once. Why do I have to be searched again and in such an abusive manner?”
The Deputy Warden left. A few minutes later, he returned with some papers that he ordered my escorts to sign as witnesses. He intended to press charges against me.
“Don’t think you’ll get away free, Beilis,” he growled. “I’ll square my account with you yet. You’ll never escape from our grasp. You will see. We will again put you in chains.”
“That is something you’ll never live to see,” I said.
“Oh yes, I will,” he yelled back. “Even if you’re acquitted, I’ll see that you get a month in prison for this!”
That was, so to speak, my breakfast, a breakfast after which I might not have survived for another meal. The Deputy Warden would have been entirely within the law had he shot me. My action constituted an “assault,” and he was fully within his rights to shoot. I ended up, however, with a scare and nothing more.
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