Though fourteen years have passed since those dreadful days, the old scenes stand out with remarkable vividness, as if they had been etched on my brain. It was the 20th of March, and everything seemed perfectly normal. The dawn had not yet broken when I got up and went to the office. The window which I used to face while at my desk overlooked the street.
As I looked through the window on that cold, dark morning, I saw people hurrying somewhere, all in one direction. It was not unusual to see individual workers coming to the factory at that time of the morning, and sometimes there was even an occasional passerby. But on that particular day the people appeared in large groups, walking rapidly, coming from various streets. I went outside to discover the cause of the commotion, and I was told by one of the crowd that the body of a murdered child had been found in the vicinity.
Within a few hours, the papers carried the news that the body of a Russian boy named Andriusha Yustchinsky had been found within a half mile of the factory. The mutilated body of the murdered boy was discovered in a cave, where it had apparently been deposited.
That evening, one of my Russian neighbors, a member of the Black Hundreds, came to visit me. He declared that according to the newspaper published by his organization this was not the usual kind of murder, that the Yustchinsky child had been murdered by Jews for purposes of a religious ritual. The newspaper, which went by the name of the organization, was patriotically dedicated to saving Russia from the Jews.
The ordinary Russians, however, unconcerned with such fanatical plans for the salvation of Russia, were saying that the murder had been committed by Yustchinsky’s mother and a certain woman whose name was Vera Tchebiriak. Suspicion at once centered on Yustchinsky’s mother because she had not displayed any anxiety about her son’s disappearance. The Yustchinsky boy had disappeared on the 12th of March and was found on the 20th. How could she, his mother, explain her failure to notify the police at once of his disappearance? She had also failed to show any interest in finding him. Furthermore, she hadn’t displayed any signs of grief when her son’s murdered body was discovered. The neighbors were quick to comment on these peculiarities, and as time went on, their suspicions increased.
There was another reason why the boy’s mother was suspected of having been involved with the murder. Andriusha Yustchinsky’s father had been killed in the Russo-Japanese War and had left his son five hundred rubles, which the bank had been holding in trust for the boy until he would come of age. In the meantime, Andriusha’s mother had found a mate for herself, and this fellow was rather upset that he could not get his hands on those five hundred rubles. These were just some of the reasons that caused people to suspect that Yustchinsky’s mother was involved in the murder.
This Vera Tchebiriak, who was notorious around Lukianovsky, was also the focus of much suspicion. Her husband was a clerk at the telegraph office and was seldom home, even at night. She was known to have dealings with a gang of thieves who were not ordinary lawbreakers. They used to dress royally, sometimes even appearing in officers’ uniforms. Her brother Singayevsky and two other friends, named Latischeff and Rudzinsky, were members of this gang. They would do the stealing, and she would sell the loot. The neighbors were fully aware of her nefarious activities, but no one dared interfere.
It was known that Vera’s own son Zhenia was Andriusha’s schoolmate and that they were both thirteen years old. They would often spend the night together at the Tchebiriak house. If on one of these overnight visits Andriusha had witnessed some criminal act, then the thieves might have felt the need to silence him. The police had another reason for suspecting Tchebiriak of complicity. Hundreds of people had come to see Yustchinsky’s body, and because of his swollen face, not one of them had been able to recognize him. However, Vera Tchebiriak recognized him at once, and this immediately aroused further suspicion.
Tchebiriak lived in a house that belonged to a Russian by the name of Zakhartchenko, who lived close to our factory and was himself a member of the Black Hundreds. Zakhartchenko often used to confide in me how happy he would be to get rid of Tchebiriak. He was, however, afraid to start trouble. He told me several times after the murder that he felt certain it had taken place in Tchebiriak’s house, a veritable den of crime.
Vera Tchebiriak was finally arrested. A few days later, the Moscow police arrested three suspicious young men. Since they were found to be residents of Kiev, they were sent to that city. Upon examination, it was found that they had left Kiev on March 12, the day of Yustchinsky’s disappearance and that, on the same day, they had spent some time in Vera’s house. As a matter of fact, these men were actually the leaders of her gang.
When the policemen of Lukianovsky were brought to Kiev to identify the apprehended trio, the police were terribly frightened. They realized that these arrested men were the same men that they had often seen parading in officers’ uniforms. They had believed that these men were genuine officers and had even extended to them the officers’ salute. The police had known that these “gentlemen” used to visit Tchebiriak’s house, but they had never doubted their authenticity.
By the time the funeral took place, which was just one week after the body was found, handbills calling upon Christians to exterminate the Jews were already being circulated. The Jews were accused of having slain Yustchinsky, because his blood was needed for the Jewish Passover. The pamphlets proclaimed that his blood must be avenged. This was the first attempt to direct attention away from the real culprits and to start the religious pot boiling in order to divert well-founded suspicions.
When these three gang leaders were arrested, a powerful group within the Black Hundreds organization named the Double-Headed Eagle continued their incendiary activities and issued a loud cry of indignation.
“What a public scandal!” they proclaimed. “Is it possible that the Jews who have murdered Yustchinsky should be allowed to go scot-free, while such innocent persons are imprisoned? Let the child be taken out of his grave, and let the world see how the body was stabbed by the Jews.”
The uproar caused by the Black Hundreds had its effect. The boy’s body was disinterred, and after examination, the notorious Professor Sikorsky declared that it was no usual murder. He concluded that the murder had been committed for religious purposes. He based this on the discovery of thirteen stab wounds, which, he said, was a religiously significant number.
In the beginning, it all seemed so ludicrous. Everyone had been certain that the crime was the work of Tchebiriak’s gang. There was more than enough proof to support that contention. Then people came along with fantastic tales of thirteen stab wounds and mysterious religious rituals.
Unfortunately, it soon proved to be no joke. The Black Hundreds had devised a devilish plot against the Jews, and since these pogromists exercised a powerful influence at the time, they energetically proceeded to implement their scheme.
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