I had genuinely believed that once I regained my freedom, I would be able to go home and have my life return to normal, that I would be able to go back to work and live a quiet, private life with my wife and children. Yet again, however, it was circumstances and not my wishes that were to govern my daily existence. I was not allowed to be the man I once was. I had become Mendel Beilis the celebrity.
Daily, my house was besieged by people who came to see me and express their jubilation at the outcome of my trial. Not only did individuals come by, but at times, entire groups of fifty and sixty people stopped in, as if on a sightseeing tour. Cab drivers would wait at the railroad station, and upon seeing groups of Jews descending from the platform, they would run to them and ask, “Are you going to see Beilis?” A new business had developed—driving people to my house!
Dozens of automobiles always stood in front of my house. No sooner would one party leave than another would come. People brought me small gifts, mostly flowers and chocolates. It seemed that everyone wanted to bestow upon me some token of his warm regards. It wasn’t long before the house resembled a candy shop in a flower garden.
I was truly touched by this outpouring of compassion. It boosted my morale tremendously and gave me a great sense of personal satisfaction. I saw that the entire world had taken an immense interest in my ordeals and had empathized with my plight. They wanted me to know that they now rejoiced with me as well. I was, of course, most grateful for their kind expressions of sympathy and good will. My hands, however, suffered greatly from the continuous handshaking and became swollen and sore.
One day, two gentlemen came to visit me. One was from St. Petersburg, the other a doctor from Lodz. Neither of them spoke, and after a few moments, the gentleman from St. Petersburg began to sob, as if he couldn’t contain his emotions any longer.
The doctor chastised him, saying, “Don’t cry. It might upset Mr. Beilis.”
Yet just a few minutes later, the doctor had to excuse himself and walk over to the window where his own handkerchief was kept quite busy.
It didn’t take long for scenes such as this, repeated day in and day out, to affect my health. I desperately needed to recuperate, both physically and mentally, from the ordeals that I had suffered over the past years. I needed a good rest, but the constant flood of visitors made that impossible. I finally went to Zaitzev’s hospital.
The problem was that many of the visitors who came to my house and did not find me there became hysterical with disappointment. Some even insisted that if they could not see me, they would commit suicide. Some people had become obsessed with the need to see me in person and refused to leave without achieving their goal. They had despaired with me and couldn’t relieve their distress until they saw with their own eyes that I was safe.
So I went back home, and the daily pilgrimages resumed. The police captain in charge of the guards stationed around my house used to jest that after another month of such duty he would be able to retire with all the money he had received as tips from visitors who wanted to be allowed in.
One day, a Russian priest came to see me. He entered the house and, without saying a word, fell on his knees and made the sign of the cross.
Weeping like a child, he cried, “Mr. Beilis, you know that I have endangered myselfby coming here. I should not have come to meet you at all. I could have sent my good wishes in a letter, but I decided to come in person. My conscience would not let me do otherwise. I have come to ask your forgiveness in the name of my people.”
He kissed my hand, and before I even had the chance to overcome my shock and respond, he quickly ran out. This incident affected me profoundly. I could not have envisioned a high Russian clergyman ever kneeling before a Jew and kissing his hand.
What strange creatures these Russian people are! On the one hand, there are the Zamislovskys, the Schmakovs and the despicable bands of Black Hundreds, and on the other hand, one can find a Russian priest coming to beg forgiveness from a Jew for the persecutions to which he has been subjected.
On another occasion, a military colonel accompanied by a college student came to my house. The colonel was a massive man with a fierce and forbidding military appearance. He greeted me and introduced the student as his son. He began pacing the room in silence, with his spurs clicking. The entire house shook with every step he took. I was overawed. At last, he stopped and turned to me.
“Permit me to congratulate you on the outcome of your trial. I am stationed with my regiment and my family in the Far East, but I took a special leave for a month in order to come here. I had to see you in person.”
This just further illustrates how difficult it is to judge the soul of a Russian. Who would have believed that this huge, gruff military officer who carried himself with the air of an executioner was capable of such a kind, noble gesture?
We exchanged a little idle talk, but for the most part, he was silent. Conversation was not his forte. It seemed as if there was something he wanted to say yet was incapable of saying. Finally, he arose, bid me farewell and left with his son.
A moment later, the bell rang. It was the colonel once more.
“You must forgive me, Mr. Beilis,” he said. “Please allow me to spend a few more minutes with you. I am going to be returning to very distant lands, and I know we probably won’t ever see each other again.”
Before he left, he asked for one of my cigarettes. I was sorry to see him go.
The famous Russian writer and friend of the Jews, Vladimir Korolendo, also came to my home.
“You know,” he confided, “I have been envious of you. I would have gladly donned your prisoner’s uniform and sat in jail for you. You must have suffered greatly, but you suffered defending the truth.”
Among the letters I received was one from a lady in St. Petersburg. “I am a Christian, from an illustrious military family,” she wrote, “but the militaristic mentality has not affected me. Jews have always been dear to me, and I know it is a treacherous lie to say that your people want our blood. The truth is that we want your blood. It gives me great joy to know that you are free. My child also shares my feelings. During your trial, he used to look at your picture and exclaim, ‘That poor man. How much he must unjustly suffer, all on account of that murderess Vera Tchebiriak.’”
During this time, the rumor began to circulate that I was receiving substantial sums of money. The truth is that some ordinary people did, on occasion, send me a few rubles, although I don’t know why they did. But the papers reported that I was becoming a millionaire. The result was that I was deluged by hundreds of requests for financial aid. Talmud Torahs, rabbis, hospitals, charitable institutions and innumerable committees all beseeched me for money. Students sought funds for tuition, and people even asked for dowries to help marry off their daughters. Other people expected me to rescue them from some dire financial predicament. And these requests were for considerable sums, often thousands of rubles. I don’t recall anyone asking for less than a few hundred.
The truth is, I needed help for myself. All my savings had been exhausted, and I had no idea what the future held in store for me. To live the life of an ordinary worker, as I had lived before, seemed out of the question.
Among the numerous letters of sympathy that I received, were also a number of death threats from anti-Semites like the Black Hundreds. I could not feel secure about anything, not even my personal safety.
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