Good-bye, Kiev. Good-bye, Mother Russia. Farewell my native land and all the friends I’ve lived with my whole life! I am leaving for the land of our fathers, for the Holy Land, where once flowed milk and honey, and which has always been dear to my heart. I am going to rest my body and soul in the Land of Israel. These were the thoughts that occupied my mind.
On the evening I was scheduled to leave, a party was staged by a friend of mine to camouflage my exit. Dr. Bikhoffsky went to the station ahead of me to buy the tickets so I could go directly into the train and be seated at once without being seen. Black Hundreds were prowling everywhere.
I did not even say good-bye to my brother and sister; they hadn’t been told I was going.
As a coach drove up to my house in the dark, I put on glasses and a huge cloak so I wouldn’t be recognized. My wife and children had left on an earlier train and were waiting for me in Kazatin. From there, we were all to take another train directly to the Austrian border. The manager of Zaitzev’s factory, Mr. Dubovik, accompanied us.
We spent the whole night cooped up in the cab as if in a dungeon. We couldn’t let anyone see us, for fear of being recognized. At the break of day, I went out into a passageway for a minute.
I noticed two Russians strolling by. The moment they saw me, they came over and asked, “Aren’t you Mr. Beilis?” I became very nervous and suspected that these Russians were spies. For all I knew, the Black Hundreds had sent people out to assassinate me. Either way, I had to be careful.
“I wish I were Beilis,” I tried to joke. “He’s probably in America by now. Do you know him?”
“Oh, yes,” one of the men exclaimed. “I was in his house.”
When some of the Jewish leaders in Berlin learned of my plans, they sent two men to the Austrian border to facilitate our crossing. These men arrived at the station ahead of us and told the officials whom they were expecting. When we pulled into the border town of Podvolotchisk, two Austrian officials came on board the train to check passports. The instant they saw ours, we were told to proceed. They didn’t even check our baggage.
Once we were on the other side of the border, we had to wait a short while for a train to Lemberg. During the interval, a rumor spread through the little town that I was there. Jews came running from all directions, and a great many tears of happiness were shed.
The news of my arrival reached the Jews of Lemberg just before we did. As our train slowly pulled into the station, I looked through the car windows and could hardly believe my eyes. The whole platform, the station house and the adjoining streets were lined with people. The cheering was deafening.
Had the train pulled out immediately, it wouldn’t have been so bad. The problem was that there was a brief scheduled layover. The crowd insisted that I come out and show myself. I really didn’t want to make a public appearance, but the stationmaster entered my car and begged me to come out, if only for a minute. He seemed to fear that the crowd might somehow damage the station. Besides, a number of people had threatened to stand on the rails and block the train. I had no choice but to go out and address the people. A few minutes later, we were on our way to Vienna.
We reached Vienna in the early hours of the morning. There we were met by Adolph Stern, a Mr. Kaminka and other representatives of the Jewish community. We had tea in the train and were driven to our hotel, where we expected to have a little rest. We were there but a few minutes when there was a knocking at the door.
It was Mr. Stern announcing that some of the foremost Jews ofVienna had come to pay their respects. Mr. Stern engaged an additional suite of rooms as a reception area to accommodate the many people who came to visit me during my stay. That first day brought an assemblage that included professionals, lawyers, professors and doctors. Some of the doctors mentioned they would like to examine me, to make sure I was well. I gave them permission, and they gave me a clean bill of health. They did note that I was suffering from extreme exhaustion, which was understandable considering the circumstances and all I had endured.
A special dinner was arranged for that day and about sixty people were in attendance. Some of the most prominent men in town came, including the editor of the Neue Freie Presse, a Viennese newspaper.
Between the official receptions and the barrage of visitors, we were kept busy. I was taken in an automobile for a tour of Vienna, which was a wonderful city with many engaging sights. We drove to the Jewish Musical School, where the cantor sang appropriate chapters from Psalms and the choir enchanted us with a performance.
After two days, it was time to leave and continue south, on to Trieste, where we were to be met by Rabbi Chajes, who would eventually become the Chief Rabbi of Vienna. It was decided that my stay there ought to be kept confidential. Since all the hotels were required to have their guests register their passports, Rabbi Chajes found a special place for me that was willing to waive this stipulation.
We ate our meals in the home of a certain shochet who lived in the community. We made it quite clear to our children that my name must not be mentioned. That first Friday night, when we were having Sabbath dinner with the shochet and his family, the conversation shifted to the Beilis case. There were about thirty people gathered around the table, and one person reported that Beilis had been in Trieste but was forced to continue his journey incognito so that the Black Hundreds could not find him.
Upon hearing these words, one of my children could not refrain from bursting out in laughter. Some of the men looked at the child, and one of them asked why she had laughed. Everyone began whispering and exchanging glances. It didn’t take long before the entire town knew I was there. Bedlam abounded, and I was besieged with requests for autographs.
In the end, Rabbi Chajes was duly reproached for having kept my whereabouts a secret, and a formal reception was held for me in the ballroom of a big hotel. It seemed like thousands attended. I ended up staying in Trieste for a whole month.
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