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Drash Blood Libel | Notable Personalities, Part 2

Drash, By Morris Rodenstein, Given March 2011

Read the first part of the Drash – Blood Libel, Part 1



Image Beilis

Menachem Mendel Beilis (1874-1934) was a 37-year old brickyard foreman, army veteran and father of five when he was arrested for the March 1911 murder of a 13-year old Christian boy, Andrey Yushchinsky. His blood libel trial received worldwide attention. Just after his trial ended, Thanksgiving weekend 1913, the three largest Yiddish theaters in NYC all presented plays titled “Mendel Beilis” with the biggest stars. In 1914, when he arrived in Palestine, both Jews and Arabs greeted him in Haifa with cries of “Long live Beilis”. Life there proved hard. His family moved to America in 1921. In 1930 he visited his cousin Celia’s family in Revere, Mass., my beloved Grandma C. He was recognized wherever he went, hailed as the great Jewish hero who had defeated the despised Czar Nicholas II, but he felt unworthy, and later exploited, despite the adulation. Everyone wanted to meet him, shake his hand, be his “friend” and many times a day they would ask him to retell/relive his nightmare of torture and survival in the czar’s jail and the trial. From his 7/8/34 NYT obit: “No greater judicial farce has ever been acted on than the Beilis trial.” His funeral at the Eldridge Street Synagogue attracted over 4,000 mourners. His daughter Raya, now 102, is still alive, but in ill health, in the Bronx.


Image Saint William

Saint William of Norwich (1132 –1144). His sudden, unexplained death resulted in the first known medieval blood libel accusation against the Jews. William was an apprentice tanner who regularly came in contact with the town’s Jews and visited their homes as part of his trade. His death was ascribed to the Jewish community of Norwich by his parents, even though the local court did not convict any Jews. Many Christians believed the authorities either had colluded with, or been bribed by the Jews. This exemplifies the oft-repeated, “no-win” cases where deep-seated, blind hatred of Jews easily would trump mere facts once a ritual murder claim had been made. When his body was discovered near a Jew’s home, there was no sign of blood loss. He may have had a seizure. The local bishop immediately granted William “sainthood” and attributed “miracles” to him at the spot where his body had been found.


Image Pope Innocent IV

Pope Innocent IV (Papacy 1243-1254) He assigned prominent church leaders to study the blood libel accusation and then issued a 1247 papal bull declaring it to be false, and condemned any Christian who used the charge as a reason for killing Jews. Six subsequent popes, including his successor, Gregory X, issued similar, strongly-worded bulls. Even though the Vatican has spoken out forcefully against this anti-Jewish canard, when at various times local church leaders petitioned popes to designate their town’s blood libel “victim” as a holy martyr or even a saint (to attract pilgrims to boost the local economy), the popes have consented. During the past 200 years the Vatican has rescinded all of these special papal designations, but some cults devoted to these “martyrs” still continue.    



Image Czar Alexander II

Czar Alexander II (1818-1881) He abolished the serf system, developed a modern judiciary, fought corruption, reorganized and modernized the military, started the trans-Siberian railroad and supported local representative government rule while boosting Russia’s feeble economy weighed down by illiteracy and poverty. As a student in London in 1838, he tried courting Victoria before she became Queen. What if? He was the last Czar to receive his education in Western Europe, the last exposed to the ideas of freedom and democracy, values antithetical to Czarist Russia. Relatively beloved by Jews because they had more opportunities during his rule, he was actually the “good cop”, seeing if more moderate policies towards the Jews would result in more conversions and greater assimilation. Six conspirators from the “People’s Will”, one of them Lenin’s brother and another a Jewish woman, assassinated him on March 13, 1881 by throwing bombs under his carriage in St. Petersburg. 


Image Czar Alexander II

Czar Alexander III (1845-1894) He was a physically imposing man who was a bully as a child and ruled that way. He had received only token training to become the czar; his older brother Nicholas was raised to become the next czar, but died a few years before Czar Alexander II died. Suspicious of foreign influences, he wanted a homogeneous Russia in language, administration and religion. Alexander emboldened supporters to carry out brutal pogroms to force Jews to leave. Many more Jews would have left sooner, but only a small, rudimentary system existed to process emigrants thru land and sea routes to reach destinations willing to accept them. It took years to design, negotiate and implement a workable system. In 1891, he brutally expelled Moscow’s 30,000 Jews before moving the capital there. During President Benjamin Harrison’s December 1891 speech to Congress he said, "This government had found occasion to express in a friendly spirit, but with much earnestness, to the government of the tsar its serious concern because of harsh measures being enforced against the Hebrews."


Image Czar Nicholas II

Czar Nicholas II (1868-1918) As a youth, Nicholas showed little interest in learning about his future duties as the next czar.  He blamed an international Jewish conspiracy for Russia’s loss in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war. He was partially correct. Jewish financiers, seeking to help their fellow Jews’ plight, secured a $5 million war loan for Japan and ensured Russia got nothing. His regime’s ineptitude, corruption and an incomplete 6,000-mile supply route to the Pacific did not help his war effort either. He desperately wanted to find a Jew, any Jew, guilty of a ritual murder in the 1911 Yushchinsky case. He had the naive notion that desired outcome would allow him to retain power, giving the peasants a reason to rise up en masse to rally behind him. It was far too late for that, given the regime’s pervasive internal decay. After his humiliation with the Beilis trial, he hastily thrust a divided, economically fragile and ill-prepared Russia into World War I. The Germans easily destroyed most of the Russian army in less than a month. Before he abdicated in March, 1917, one of the Beilis prosecutors published, with funds from the Interior Minister and Nicholas’ consent The Murder of Andrei Yushinsky. They still insisted Beilis was guilty. He and his family were exiled to a remote area in the Ural Mountains. In July, 1918, Nicholas, his wife children and some servants were killed by a Bolshevik military hit squad. 


Image Russian Anti Semitic Flier

A flier distributed at Andrey Yushchinsky’s March 27, 1911 funeral. It was handed out by Russian antisemitic groups (Black Hundreds, Union of the Russian People, Union of the Archangel Michael). It reads in part, “The ‘Zhids’ have tortured Andrey Yushchinsky to death! Every year before their Passover, they torture to death several dozen Christian children in order to get their blood to mix with their matzos. They do this in commemoration of our Savior, whom they tortured to death on the cross. Russians, if your children are dear to you, beat up the ‘Zhids’! Beat them up until there is not a single ‘Zhid’ left in Russia. Have pity on your children! Avenge the unhappy martyr! It is time! It is time!” 



Image Nikolai Kravlovsky

Nikolai Krasovsky was the best detective in the Kiev Police Department. He refused to participate in the outright fabrication in the Beilis case. He was fired, yet continued his investigation, assisted by his former police colleagues. He concluded that Vera Cheberyak’s gang of thieves murdered Yushchinsky. After his findings were printed in a 1912 Kiev newspaper, he was arrested on a bogus charge. Supporters of the czar accused him of being bribed by the Jews. This knee-jerk, fact-free assertion is a key to hardcore Jew-haters. By their “logic”, Jews always are and have been guilty of any and all accusations regardless of facts or evidence. Anyone, Jew or particularly non-Jew, who asserts otherwise, must have been bribed or duped by the Jews.      


Image Vera Cherbayak

Vera Cherberyak was the head of the gang of thieves who murdered Andrey Yushinsky, her son’s friend, after he threatened to tell the police about all the stolen goods kept in her apartment. During the 1905 Kiev pogrom, her gang stole so much Jewish property and her apartment so overflowed with booty, she burned silk in the furnace for heat. As a key prosecution witness, she was obligated to attend the entire Beilis trial and often squirmed uncomfortably with her neighbor’s unflattering testimony about her. She was killed in 1919 in jail by fellow inmates.  



Image Vlaidimir Golubev

Vladimir Golubev was a student in Kiev and a local leader of the Black Hundreds. The Black Hundreds had been organized in 1900 under orders from Czar Nicholas II by the Interior Minister to provide additional street muscle, often groups of thugs, to freely bully groups, especially the Jews. They knew they never would be prosecuted for their actions. Golubev had excellent connections to top justice ministry officials. When he went to the Kiev police to accuse Beilis of the Yushchinsky murder, he possessed no real evidence, but was taken seriously by carefully name-dropping his contacts. In addition, given the intense pressure on the police from the justice ministry to find a Jew to charge with ritual murder, Golubev provided them a Jew to scapegoat. The Black Hundreds newspaper printed on the day of the verdict alleged Jews had spent 17 million rubles in bribes in Beilis' defense.


Image Oscar Gruzenberg

Oscar O. Gruzenberg (1866-1940) was Beilis’ lead defense attorney. He recruited a “dream team” of Russia’s best defense lawyers. He was strategic in having Christian lawyers question important Christian (and some expert Jewish) witnesses to minimize the jury’s known anti-Jewish biases. In 1917, he was given access to the former czar’s complete archives on the Beilis case. Even he was shocked by the extent of the regime’s treachery and subversion of justice. He wrote in his memoirs, “There was not a single person in those circles closest to the monarch who was not convinced of Beilis’ innocence. One can say without exaggeration that in the Beilis case the monarchial regime committed moral suicide. The nation saw that it had been stripped to its last thread and that it must either perish or do away with this power, so ruinous to the destiny of the country.”


Image Trial Panel

The four-judge panel for the Beilis trial. Feodor Boldyrev, seated second from the right, was known for his strong pro-czarist political views, adaptability, and special skill at avoiding unsightly scandals. He persistently badgered defense witnesses and almost always ruled in favor of the prosecution. During the entire trial, none of the other three judges said a word. Boldyrev had received his specific instructions directly from Justice Minister I. G. Shcheglovitov. 


Image Father Pranaitis


Father Justinas Pranaitis (1861-1917) was the prosecution's "star" expert witness. He was born a Lithuanian Jew. His 1892 pamphlet, "The Talmud Unmasked" was written in Latin, translated into Russian in 1911, and quoted extensively in Beilis' final indictment written by the justice minister. The Vatican had defrocked Father Pranaitis years earlier for blackmailing a fellow priest. Pranaitis then was banished to distant Tashkent in Central Asia. He became embroiled in more controversy there for refusing to stop proselytizing despite repeated warnings. He condemned the papal bulls refuting the blood libel as "frauds". The Vatican denounced his Beilis trial testimony in writing as false. His 1892 screed can still be found on the Internet, an antisemitic "reference guide" for extreme fringe religious groups seeking to defame and distort the Talmud. 


Image O.V. Vipper

O. V. Vipper was the state prosecutor in the Beilis case. He was given a leading role during the trial even though the prosecution team had more prominent lawyers. His deep contempt for Jews was his biggest “asset”. He was condescending to witnesses and arrogant. Despite Father Pranaitis’ highly questionable, checkered professional reputation coupled with the prosecution’s inability to find any Orthodox priest in all of Russia willing to testify the blood libel accusation was true, he told the jury “no one so learned, courageous and steadfast was to be found among the Orthodox clergy.” 


Image Yiddish Postcard in Memory of Beilis Trial

Yiddish Postcard. "In Memory of the Beilis Trial: Beilis Not Guilty, Jews Guilty." Yiddish postcard. Artwork by Mitchel Loeb. Printed by Progress Publishing Company, New York, ca. 1913. The card depicts the "Jewish people" with a ball chain labeled "Blood Libel" and Czar Nicholas II saying: "Go, Mendel. You're free! Rejoice with your American friends but I won't waste any time in getting even for your acquittal with your left-behind Russian brothers." (YIVO)