Chapter 9        A Taste of Prison Life
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One day in January, in 1912, I was summoned to the District Court to receive my indictment. My joy knew no bounds for now I would know what I was being charged with and where I stood.

I was escorted to the District Court wearing shoes so worn they lacked soles and dressed in a brownish red Russian sheepskin. Even though my wife and brother, whom I had not seen for a very long time, were sitting in the courtroom, I wasn’t allowed even to talk to them. That morning, prior to leaving for court, I had received a letter from my wife and brother telling me that I should announce in court that I had retained Messrs. Gruzenberg, Grigorovitch-Barsky and Margolin as my lawyers.

Once in court, I was handed the indictment. When I realized what it contained, I was stunned. I was not actually charged with the crime of “ritual murder.” I was, however, accused of having murdered Yustchinsky or having been an accomplice with others in his murder.  I was charged in accordance with the statute that dealt with premeditated murder. The indictment stated that the death of the victim was caused by bodily torture, that before he was murdered the victim had been subjected to cruel torment. In either case, if convicted, the statute called for a confinement of fifteen to twenty years of katorga, imprisonment with hard labor.

Of course, had the investigation been carried out as it should have been and the murder treated as an ordinary crime, this absurd indictment could have been considered just a case of a personal frame-up. It would only have constituted the libeling of an individual. However, since from the beginning the investigation of the case had been undertaken only in order to prove a case of religious ritual murder, it turned out to be an indictment of the entire Jewish people.

I was amazed at Fenenko. He had told me that he was not the one indicting me, yet he was the one who had composed the indictment. As I learned later, he had intended to quash the indictment, since there was no proof whatsoever against me. That is what he himself had said. But the Prosecuting Attorney of the Kiev District Court, together with the notorious Zamislovsky and the whole band of the Black Hundreds, forced Fenenko to draw up an indictment. It should be borne in mind that, in the beginning, Fenenko had not even intended to arrest me. Everything that subsequently happened was the work of the procurator, whose name was Tchaplinsky.

Nevertheless, the higher authorities were still not satisfied with the indictment. It didn’t do what they wanted it to, and what it did do, it didn’t do well. Not only was the foundation for its premises still too weak to gain a murder conviction, but nowhere in the indictment was there mention of a ritual murder charge. The procurator exerted all of his efforts to have this phrase inserted into the indictment. He wanted it to say that Yustchinsky had been murdered for religious purposes. I was told that Fenenko had been summoned before the Minister of Justice in St. Petersburg several times. He had refused, however, to budge. Finally, Fenenko won on this point. The indictment merely accused me of torture and murder without mention of ritual murder. Heartbroken, I was led back to my dark and dingy cell.

Around this time, my feet swelled and were infested with sores. This condition developed because I had been forced to walk around on snow and ice wearing shoes that had no soles. The skin had split open and blood was oozing out. I couldn’t bear the excruciating pain, but those around me had little sympathy for my suffering.

One morning, I asked for the doctor to come in and examine me.  I was in agony. The officials were finally merciful and sent me to a feldscher, a surgeon’s aide. The feldscher looked at the sores and said I needed to be transferred to the hospital.

Later, a guard came in. “Hurry up,” he shouted. “Let’s go.”

I could not move. My feet were so swollen that I couldn’t even stand up. The guard refused to listen to reason and just kept shouting, “Move on!”

One of the prisoners who happened to be in the hall brought me some rags and wrapped them around my knees. I was thus able to drag myself to the hospital by crawling over the snow and ice on my hands and knees. When I entered the hospital, I was seen by another feldscher who had lived on the Yurkovskaya, not far from our factory. When he recognized who I was, he turned pale and trembled with surprise and pity. He ordered that I be undressed at once and given a warm bath. Afterwards, I was given fresh linen and put into a warm, clean bed. I needed rest so desperately I slept for thirty-six hours straight. I just couldn’t get out of bed.

After I awoke, the doctor operated on my feet. However, the feldscher who was my friend was not present. When the doctor started to open the sores, I screamed from the pain. The doctor just smiled.

“Well, Beilis, now you know for yourself how it feels to be cut up,” he smirked. “Now you can imagine how Andriusha must have felt when you were stabbing him and drawing his blood, all for the sake of your religion.”

It is impossible to fathom how I felt, lying there and listening to my doctor speak this way. He leisurely continued cutting on my feet, and I had to bite my lips to stifle my screams. After the operation was over, two prisoners carried me to bed where I lay for three days. As a matter of simple decency, I should have been allowed to stay there for a longer period of time, but the doctor was not inclined to make it any easier for me. My old clothes were put back on me, and I was sent back to prison. When I got back to my room, I found that my former companions were no longer there.

The loneliness again began to get to me, so I asked for some companionship. A second prisoner was brought in. At first I feared that he would prove to be a spy like Kozatchenko. However, he turned out to be a very honest peasant. He also was an inveterate smoker. The problem was that smoking was of course forbidden in my room. He felt greatly deprived. Therefore, after a couple of days, he asked to be transferred back to his former quarters, since he could not live without smoking. The warden granted his request, and he was about to go back. However, when the guard came for him, he hesitated.

“No, I have pity on this Jew,” he said. “He is a very honest fellow. I like his company, so I’ll stay with him.”

And so he did. He stayed with me for two weeks, until he was subsequently released from prison. Before departing, he embraced me and wept.

“I know,” he said, “that you are suffering unjustly. Trust in God. He will help you, and you will be released. The Jews are an honest people.”

Again, I was left alone. I was so obsessed with the depressing thoughts that preyed on my mind that I was driven to the point of melancholy.

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