Beilis, Menahem Mendel

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BEILIS, MENAHEM MENDEL (1874–1934), victim of a *blood libel charge in Russia in 1911. On March 20, 1911, the mutilated body of Andrei Yushchinsky, a 12-year-old boy, was discovered in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev. The monarchist rightist press immediately launched a vicious anti-Jewish campaign, accusing the Jews of using human blood for ritual purposes. At the funeral of Yushchinsky, leaflets circulating the blood libel were distributed by members of the reactionary "Black Hundred" ("*Union of Russian People") organization. Meanwhile the police investigation traced the murder to a gang of thieves associated with a woman, Vera Cheberiak, notorious for criminal dealings. However, the reactionary antisemitic organizations led by the "Black Hundred" pressured the antisemitic minister of justice, I.G. Shcheglovitov, to conduct the investigation of the crime as a ritual murder. Accordingly, the chief district attorney of Kiev disregarded the police information and instead looked for a Jew on whom to blame the crime, through whom the entire Jewish people could be publicly indicted.

In July 1911, a lamplighter testified that on March 12, the day Yushchinsky disappeared, he had seen him playing with two other boys on the premises of the brick kiln owned by a Jew, Zaitsev. He also alleged that a Jew had suddenly appeared and kidnapped Yushchinsky, pulling him toward the brick kiln. On the strength of this testimony, Mendel Beilis, the superintendent of the brick kiln, was arrested on July 21, 1911, and sent to prison, where he remained for over two years. A report was submitted to Czar Nicholas ii that Beilis was regarded by the judiciary as the murderer of Yushchinsky.

The case attracted universal attention. Protests and addresses by scientists, public and political leaders, artists, men of letters, clergymen, and other liberal-minded men were published in all the civilized countries of Europe and the United States affirming that the blood libel was baseless. The trial of Beilis took place in Kiev from September 25 through October 28, 1913. The chief prosecutor A.I. Vipper made anti-Jewish statements in his closing address and defended the Cheberiak gang against the charge of Yushchinsky's murder. Beilis was represented by the most able counsels of the Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev bars: Vassily Maklakov, Oscar O. Grusenberg, N.P. Karabchevsky, A.S. Zarundy, and D.N. Grigorovitch-Barsky. The lamplighter and his wife, on whose testimony the indictment of Beilis rested, when questioned by the presiding judge, answered, "We know nothing at all." They confessed that both had been confused by the secret police and made to answer questions they did not comprehend. "Scientific" foundation for the blood libel was supplied at the trial by a Catholic priest with a criminal record, Justin Pranaitis, who stated that the murder of Yushchinsky had all the characteristics of ritual murder enjoined by the Jewish religion. His arguments were refuted by the rabbi of Moscow, Jacob *Mazeh, who proved that Pranaitis was ignorant of the talmudic texts cited. Two Russian professors of high standing, Troitsky and Kokovtzoff, also spoke on behalf of the defense in praise of Jewish values and exposed the falsity of the ritual murder hypothesis. The jury, composed of simple Russian peasants, after several hours of deliberation unanimously declared Beilis "not guilty."

Beilis, who still remained in danger of revenge by the "Black Hundred," left Russia with his family for Ereẓ Israel. In 1920, he settled in the United States. Bernard *Malamud's novel The Fixer is based on the Beilis case.


M. Samuel, Blood Accusation: the Strange History of the Beiliss Case (1966); M. Beilis, Story of My Sufferings (1926); ajyb, 16 (1914/15), 19–89; A.D. Margolin, in: Jews of Eastern Europe (1926), 155–247; A.B. Tager, The Decay of Czarism: The Beiliss Trial (1935); M. Cotic, Mishpat Beilis (1978); Z. Szajkowski, in: paajr, 31 (1963), 197–218.

[Chasia Turtel]