Exhausted by all the unwarranted insults to which I had been subjected at the Okhrana and weakened by the long march through the city under the escort of the policemen, I could hardly reach the district court. Upon our arrival, I was brought into a large hall where Investigating Attorney Fenenko, District Attorney Karbovsky and his assistant Loshkareff all awaited me.
They gave each other knowing looks, as though the outcome of the meeting was a foregone conclusion. I felt despondent, especially when I remembered the questions Fenenko had mockingly asked me at my home.
Ordinarily, the police who bring an arrested person to the Sliedovatiel, the Investigating Attorney, are supposed to remain on guard during the interrogation. They are not permitted to let the prisoner out of their sight. Now, however, something unusual happened. My guards were told to leave the hall. This only increased my apprehension. I knew these deceitful officials were up to some trick, but I had no choice in the matter. My feelings vacillated between hope and despair. The hope was inspired by the knowledge of my innocence, and the despair was born of my acquaintance with the Russian bureaucracy. Soon Fenenko turned to me.
“Did you know Andriusha Yustchinsky?” he asked.
“No,” I replied without hesitation. “I work in the office of a large factory; my daily relations are with merchants and adults, not young children, especially street children. I might have seen him at one time, but one meets quite a few people on the street. I am certain I could not have distinguished him from any other boy.”
District Attorney Karbovsky had been leaning back on his chair, watching me intently. Suddenly hunching forward over the table, he began interrogating me.
“They say there are people among you Jews who are called tzaddikim, pious men, and that when one wishes to do harm to another man, one goes to the tzaddik and gives him a pidion, a fee. Then the tzaddik uses the powers of his word to bring misfortune upon the other man.”
Whenever he used Hebrew words like tzaddik and pidion, he first consulted a notebook he was holding.
“I’m sorry,” I answered, “but I know nothing about tzaddikim, pidionos or any of those other things. I am a man entirely devoted to my business, and I do not understand what you want from me.”
“And what are you?” he continued, as he again consulted the notebook in his hand. “Are you a chassid or a misnaged?”
“I am a Jew,” I replied. “I don’t know the difference between a chassid and a misnaged.”
“What is the thing that you Jews call an afikoman?”
“I tell you, I don’t know,” was all I could respond.
I began to regard these men as somewhat unbalanced. What could they possibly want? What had Yustchinsky’s murder to do with the afikoman? And furthermore, how did the difference between chassidim and misnagdim concern them? I could only imagine that they were poking fun at me and some of the Jewish rituals.
Unfortunately, they were not jesting. On the surface, they appeared to be sincere, but I thought that surely they realized that Vera Tchebiriak had murdered the boy and were only directing these questions to me on orders from some higher authority.
After the questioning, Fenenko ordered the gorodovoys to escort me back to the Okhrana. Although my hopes were again dashed, I believed they would soon realize their mistake and send me home.
When we reached the Okhrana, I was led into a room where I found three political prisoners, two Jews and one Russian. At that time, the Okhrana was particularly crowded because Czar Nicholas was about to come to Kiev, and it was necessary to rid the city of all the disloyal elements. When my fellow prisoners discovered who I was, they began to tell me I would soon be released and not to lose hope. Fate, however, seemed against me. I felt more despondent than ever. What could I, a helpless, friendless man, do against an organized, autocratic bureaucracy? This was not the first time the government had attempted to instigate a pogrom through some of its agents. The only thought that comforted me was knowing they did not have a vestige of proof against me.
A few days later, I was again summoned to the Sliedovatiel. These inquiries both intrigued and agitated me. On the one hand, I felt encouraged, for if they wanted to question me, then maybe it was a sign that they were seeking the truth. On the other hand, their bizarre questions frightened me. I suspected the questions were only designed to confuse and entangle me and were not relevant to the facts of the case. My apprehensions were further heightened when I was told by some of my fellow prisoners that the whole case smelled of politics and that the chief purpose of the whole affair was to incite pogroms against the Jews. The Minister of Justice himself, it seems, was interested in creating a Jewish case and was extending the protection of the government to the real criminals. For some strange reason, I feared Fenenko the most, although I discovered later that he had been the least hostile towards me.
When I was brought to the District Court, I found Fenenko there alone. Again, he dismissed my guard. He sat absorbed in thought for a while, then he abruptly turned towards me.
“Beilis, you must understand that it is not I who am accusing you,” he said curtly. “It is the District Attorney. He is the one who has ordered your imprisonment.”
“I’m going to go to prison?” I stammered in numbed disbelief. “Will I have to wear prisoner’s clothes?”
“I don’t know what is going to happen to you. I only want you to know that the orders are the District Attorney’s and not mine.”
This message was the last thing I wanted to hear. I broke out in a cold sweat and sensed that all was lost. They were putting me in prison. Terrified by the thought, I forced myself to speak up.
“May I remind you of something?” I interjected, trying to remain composed. “This is the first time in my life that I have had to deal with an official of your rank, but I know it is the duty of an Investigating Attorney to research the facts and determine the truth. When the Investigating Attorney collects all the possible evidence, he prepares an indictment and turns it over to the District Attorney. And if the evidence incriminates the suspected person, then he is imprisoned. But if there is not enough evidence, the man is set free. If you send me to prison now, that means you have found something against me. But what have I done? For what crime have I been indicted?”
“Ask me no questions,” was all that Fenenko would answer. “I have told you more than enough. It is the District Attorney, not I.”
I could tell from Fenenko’s manner of speaking that something was going on. The whole incident seemed part of some insidious plot. I was not given much time to reflect upon the matter, for the gorodovoy was called in and I was taken back to the Okhrana, together with the sealed indictment.
Shortly afterwards, I was prepared for transfer to jail. At least the officials granted my request to be allowed to spend the night with the Jews whose acquaintance I had made earlier.
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