The coach stopped at the prison gate. A door opened, and an entourage of prison officials and guards came out. In the past, these same people jeered and treated me in a rough, surly manner. Everyone had felt it his duty to make a significant contribution to my suffering.
“Move on,” ordered one.
“Don’t crawl,” barked another.
“Walk like a man, you blood-drinker,” yet another would say.
This time the transformation was immediately noticeable. Yesterday, I had been a villain. Today, however, I was a free man, worthy of being treated respectfully as a paragon of virtue. Not only did the officials refrain from shoving me through their gauntlet, they actually behaved like true gentlemen, even addressing me with a title completely unheard of in those halls: “Mr. Beilis, sir.” The politeness increased in proportion to the distance I advanced into the prison.
A guard rushed forward with a chair. “Sit down, Mr. Beilis,” he said. “You must be tired.”
The warden then came over to me. This man was a cold, ruthless bureaucrat who never missed an opportunity to inflict pain. I was always referred to as the “murderer” and “bloodsucker.” He often “consoled” me with the thought that I shouldn’t have to wait too much longer for my appointment with the gallows. Today, however, I had a difficult time recognizing him.
“Mr. Beilis,” he said, with an effusive, sickly smile. “I would like to congratulate you most heartily and extend to you my best wishes. Please allow my wife and children to meet with you.”
With that, not only did he shake my hand, he also brought in his wife and son who greeted me with genuine cordiality. The whole office staff had gathered around and were vying with each other to express their warmest best wishes. Everyone seemed to be so pleased. The prison official who had threatened me with instant death that very morning, now appeared more frightened than anything else. He had no authority over me whatsoever, and he knew it.
“By the way, Mr. Beilis, did you know that we have some of your money?” the warden mentioned casually. “There are about nine rubles and fifty kopeks in your account that we’ll get for you at once. We also have some of your personal belongings in the storehouse. You’ll receive them later.”
I was given the money and a few personal possessions. The warden read the application that I had signed in the judge’s chambers asking for permission to spend the night in prison.
“No, no, that won’t do,” he said, shaking his head back and forth. “Guards, take this man home. He has spent enough time in prison. Let him go home and see his family.” When I heard this, I forgot all about the Presiding Judge’s lecture justifying the need for precautionary measures. For some reason, the danger of an out-of-control mob now seemed remote.
“Yes, I want to go home,” I said softly.
Apparently, pressure had been applied on the judge from some higher authority to persuade me to return to prison. However, since the application stated that “I, myself” had sought permission to remain in prison, the warden had the right to refuse my request. He gave orders for a cab to be summoned, and a policeman was brought in to accompany me home.
It was the law in Kiev that any Jew released from prison, who did not possess the right to live in Kiev, had to first report to the police station so that he could be adequately supervised while passing through the district. I, however, enjoyed the great privilege of possessing the right to reside in Kiev because my son was a student at the gymnasium there. This was a special exception that only pertained to the city of Kiev. In all of the other cities in Russia outside of the Pale, children acquired the right of residence on account of their parents. In Kiev, however, it was the parents who acquired this sacred right of residence based on the location of the child’s school. The rationale behind this ruling was that children should not be left without parental care.
Since Zaitzev’s factory was situated in two police districts, Plossky and Lukianovsky, I had to go to both of their police stations. I was driven along in an impressive procession. A contingent of calvary troops rode ahead of the cab to clear the way, with two gendarmes poised on the driver’s seat. When we reached the Lukianovsky police station, I was greeted by the captain of the station, who was a notorious Black Hundred anti-Semite. He let it be known that he could not stomach the sight of a Jew. He was the one who had barged into my house on the unforgettable night of my arrest.
Much to my surprise, he also suffered from a remarkable change of heart. All the authorities, including the captain, were friendly and helpful. No sooner had I entered the police station than the captain welcomed me with outstretched arms.
“I am so very happy to see you,” he exclaimed, vigorously shaking my hand. “May I please ask a favor of you Mr. Beilis? I do hope you won’t refuse me.”
I was afraid to ask, but the words came out. “What can I do for you?”
“My daughter would like to see you. She wants to congratulate you. Will you permit her that pleasure? She is a gymnasium student who was terribly disturbed throughout your trial. Every time she read the papers and saw that events had taken an unfavorable turn, she wept like a child. She even neglected her studies because of you. She used to go around moaning, ‘Oh, my God, how the poor man must be suffering.’ Please, you must allow her to come and meet you.”
During the delivery of this oration, the other policemen in the station stared at their captain as though he had totally lost his senses. It was a singular sight for them to witness their savage captain humbling himself, begging a Jew for a favor. It was usually the other way around. The captain obviously considered it an honor for his daughter to converse with me.
Of course, I was only too glad to accede to his request and said that I myself would be pleased to meet his daughter. The captain dashed to the phone.
“Marcia, is that you?” he said hastily. “Your friend Mr. Beilis is here, and he will see you. Come quickly.”
While waiting for his daughter, he tried to ingratiate himself. “Would you like something to drink? Tea or beer? I’ll prepare the necessary papers while you’re waiting.”
Tea was brought in. The policeman who offered me the cup, saluted me.
Within a few minutes, the captain’s daughter arrived, joined by a girlfriend. The two seemed quite bashful, hesitating to come over.
“Come on, don’t be shy,” urged the captain. “Come say hello to your friend Mr. Beilis.”
The girl finally came over and asked very timidly, “Are you really Mr. Beilis? You must forgive me for being so bold. My friend and I both used to cry for you and pray for your salvation.”
The two girls seemed to have been sincerely overjoyed at the news of my liberation. I did not expect to see such honest and genuine sympathy.
“We grieved so much because of you,” the girl continued. “There were whole nights when we could not sleep and instead spoke of what you must have been going through. Of course, what we imagined was probably nothing compared to reality. But now, justice and truth have prevailed. I wish you and your family all the peace and happiness in the world.”
I recall this episode because this was my first encounter after my release with pure, innocent children who were the targets of all the false propaganda about the Jewish people. It was their minds that the anti-Semites hoped to poison. At that moment, I remembered the words spoken by my gentile friend Zakhartchenko, who had said, “The stones of the bridges will crumple. The truth must and will prevail.”
When all the formalities were over, the captain accompanied me to the street and helped me to my seat in the cab. We now had to go to the Plossky police station. A large crowd composed of thousands of Jews who had learned that I was on the way had assembled there. The streets were packed, and the police had a difficult time keeping order. No sooner had we reached the station than a police lieutenant ran out and embraced me. He took me by the hand and led me inside. The papers had been prepared in advance, and the whole proceeding did not take more than three minutes.
The lieutenant smiled at me and offered to take me home. “I must have the honor of bringing you safely to your wife and children and seeing that your house is properly guarded. Come, let’s go!”
I recognized the old neighborhood in which I had lived for so many years, but I could not have identified my own house. The one I would have remembered burned down during my imprisonment.
The minute I walked through the door, it seemed as if it had been only yesterday that I was so unexpectedly wrenched away. My heart raced with excitement and joy.
Once inside, the children fell all over me, shouting, “Father, father!” That was all they could say. They clung to me as if to insure that I wouldn’t be stolen again from the protection of their arms. Together with my wife, they cried and danced.
On the day that the verdict was expected, emotions in and around Kiev ran high. They were especially volatile in my district. The Jews were understandably afraid that a conviction would unleash a terrible massacre The threat of an imminent pogrom was real. In Kiev, the Black Hundreds and other pogromist groups were poised to strike, ready to avenge themselves against the Jews as soon as possible. For them, a guilty verdict was a foregone conclusion.
The danger of an incident occurring was greatest at the factory, for this area had served as the hub for those who had been coordinating activities against me. As a precaution, my wife had decided to send three of the children away to another part of the city, and therefore, three of my children were not able to join the reunion.
Some of the neighbors began to gather. The crowds had been kept away from the yard, so there were only a few people around, most of whom were the usual residents of the factory. There were, however, many guards stationed around my house and at the gate, and they would not let anyone enter without my permission. The lieutenant who had accompanied me home took charge and sat in one of the front rooms with two other policemen. Every half hour or so, the telephone would ring from the governor’s palace for an update on the situation.
After a while, the telegrams began to flood in from all parts of Russia. There were greetings from a group of intellectuals in Czarskoye Selo, from the Jewish deputies of the Duma, from the famous Russian writer Korolenko, from the student bodies of the Universities of Moscow and St. Petersburg and from a number of private persons, Jew and gentile alike. I tried to go to bed about two that morning. I was completely exhausted by the events of the day, not to mention the anxiety and tension of listening to the Presiding Judge’s speech, of waiting for the verdict. Everything had taken its toll. I gave the lieutenant three rubles as a tip for the police messengers who were bringing the telegrams and then lay down; but I couldn’t fall asleep.
The excitement of the day had been so great that sleep would not come. This was my first night of freedom. Who could sleep on such a night? Who could waste such precious free moments for sleep? I got up, had some tea and continued my conversations.
No sooner did the dawn of the next day break than virtually thousands of people began to amass in and around the house. The streetcar, which ordinarily stopped two blocks from our house, now came all the way to our front door. Somebody had rigged a big sign up in front of my house that read, “Beilis Station.” It was to this stop that the street car came bringing what seemed like thousands more.
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