Hilsner Case

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HILSNER CASE

HILSNER CASE , blood libel trial held in Bohemia at the beginning of the 20th century. When on April 1, 1899, the corpse of a murdered seamstress, Anežka Hrůza, was found in a forest near Polna, Bohemia, with a deep cut on the neck, the *blood libel spread immediately and was taken up by the Czech, German-National, and Christian-Social antisemitic press. Leopold Hilsner of Polna, a 22-year-old Jewish vagabond of ill repute and low intelligence, was arrested. The basis of the accusation was the statement of the investigating physicians that only a minute quantity of blood was found in and around the body. Both the investigation and the trial at the Kutna Hora court were conducted with a strong bias against Hilsner – though suspicion was voiced against Hrůza's brother, who immigrated to the United States – and many measures requested by his counsel were not admitted, such as a test of the chief witness' eyesight. The jury condemned Hilsner to death. As the medical faculty had doubted the first medical statement, Hilsner was retried in Pisek. On this occasion he was also charged with the murder of Mary Klima, who had been missing since July 1898, because her corpse was found covered with branches like that of Hrůza. Hilsner named two Jewish accomplices in the murder, but both had unassailable alibis. He was once more condemned to death.

The central antisemitic personality in both trials was Karel Baxa (1862–1938), counsel for the Hrůza family, who was financed by a joint German-Czech committee and whose invective was spread by the antisemitic press, which named him the "savior of Christendom." (He was later to refute his opinions, and in 1923 was elected mayor of Prague for Beneš' National Socialist Party with the support of the *Židovská Strana (Jewish Party); his later attitude in all Jewish matters was positive.) Of importance was the intervention of T.G. *Masaryk, later the first president of Czechoslovakia, who published two pamphlets demanding a revision of the trial "not to defend Hilsner, but to defend the Christians against superstition." Because of this action, Masaryk became the object of mob demonstrations and his lectures at the university were suspended. However, the popularity he acquired by his stand was to help his cause during World War i, mainly in the United States. Hilsner's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Repeated endeavors to renew the trial were unsuccessful, but Hilsner was pardoned when Charles i succeeded to the Hapsburg throne (1916). Until his death in 1927, he traveled as a beggar through the successor states of the Hapsburg monarchy under the name of Heller. When Masaryk, as president, declined to grant him an audience, he reproached him with ingratitude, as he considered that he had made Masaryk famous.

The affair was accompanied by an antisemitic campaign throughout Europe, conducted by the Vienna blood libel "specialist," Ernst Schneider. It led to riots in several towns in Bohemia and Moravia and was one of the main factors contributing to the increase of antisemitism in the Bohemian countryside and to the exodus of many small rural Jewish communities. Its repercussions were felt for many years. After the German invasion (1939), a Czech Nazi-sponsored Fascist organization opened an appeal for funds to erect a monument on the site where Hrůza's body had been found, but it met with no response.

In 1961, a rumor spread in Czechoslovakia that Jan Hruza, brother of the murdered Anežka, made a deathbed confession in the hospital of Havličkov Brod that he had killed his sister. He had wanted to receive the entire inheritance after their parents. After the murder, he allegedly left for the United States. The priest confessor allegedly refused to receive the confession. The Communist authorities, according to the rumor, did not publicize the case for fear that it would add popularity to the memory of the beloved late president Masaryk. There was no verifiable evidence to substantiate the rumor. The Czechoslovakian-born Israeli chargé d'affaires in Prague, Eliahu Kurt Livne (Liebstein), gathered a good deal of evidence about the rumor and sent it to the Israeli Foreign Office.

bibliography:

C̀ervinka, in: ylbi, 13 (1968), 142–57; E. Rychnovsky (ed.), Thomas G. Masaryk and the Jews (1941); A. Nussbaum, Polnaer Ritualmordprozess (19062); idem, in: hj, 9 (1947), 57–74; T.G. Masaryk, Notwendigkeit der Revision des Polnaer Prozesses (1899); idem, Bedeutung des Polnaer Verbrechens fuer den Ritualmordglauben (1900); M. Paul-Schiff, Prozess Hilsner (1908); B. Adler, Kampf um Polna; Ein Tatsachenroman (1934); K. Čapek, President Masaryk Tells His Story (1934), 187–9; H.L. Strack, Das Blut (19118), 163–7; R. Iltis, in: Vēstník żidovských náboženských obcí v československu, 30, no. 12 (1968), 5–6; B. Cerny, Vražda v Polné (1968). on baxa: Selbstwehr, 17 (Oct. 5, 1923), 1; 17 (Oct. 19, 1923), 1; 32 (Jan. 7, 1938), 8; Židovské zprávy, 21 (Jan. 7, 1938), 3. add. bibliography: M. Pojar, Milsnerová Afera A Českás Poločnost 18991998 (1999).

[Meir Lamed /

Milos Pojar (2nd ed.)]