Synopses & Reviews
A Jewish factory worker is falsely accused of ritually murdering a Christian boy in Russia in 1911, and his trial becomes an international cause célèbre.
On March 20, 1911, thirteen-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky was found stabbed to death in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev. Four months later, Russian police arrested Mendel Beilis, a thirty-seven-year-old father of five who worked as a clerk in a brick factory nearby, and charged him not only with Andrei’s murder but also with the Jewish ritual murder of a Christian child. Despite the fact that there was no evidence linking him to the crime, that he had a solid alibi, and that his main accuser was a professional criminal who was herself under suspicion for the murder, Beilis was imprisoned for more than two years before being brought to trial. As a handful of Russian officials and journalists diligently searched for the real killer, the rabid anti-Semites known as the Black Hundreds whipped into a frenzy men and women throughout the Russian Empire who firmly believed that this was only the latest example of centuries of Jewish ritual murder of Christian children—the age-old blood libel.
With the full backing of Tsar Nicholas II’s teetering government, the prosecution called an array of “expert witnesses”—pathologists, a theologian, a psychological profiler—whose laughably incompetent testimony horrified liberal Russians and brought to Beilis’s side an array of international supporters who included Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Anatole France, Arthur Conan Doyle, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Jane Addams. The jury’s split verdict allowed both sides to claim victory: they agreed with the prosecution’s description of the wounds on the boy’s body—a description that was worded to imply a ritual murder—but they determined that Beilis was not the murderer. After the fall of the Romanovs in 1917, a renewed effort to find Andrei’s killer was not successful; in recent years his grave has become a pilgrimage site for those convinced that the boy was murdered by a Jew so that his blood could be used in making Passover matzo. Visitors today will find it covered with flowers.
(With 24 pages of black-and-white illustrations.)
"Good Morning America writer/producer Levin makes a century-old murder case come to life in a suspenseful true crime thriller that had broad implications at the time. The March 1911 discovery of the butchered corpse of 13-year-ol Andrei Yuschinsky in a cave near Kiev led, four months later, to the arrest of a brick factory clerk, Mendel Beilis, who was accused of committing the murder as part of a barbaric ritual in which the Christian victim's blood was drained to be consumed by Jews. That the evidence against the defendant was nonexistent was no bar to his prosecution, even as witnesses provided compelling testimony pointing to more likely murderers. Although the 1913 trial 'surely one of the most bizarre ever tried in an ostensibly civilized society' was an international cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre, prompting the largest Jewish-Christian solidarity protests in the U.S. to that time, the story and its details remain obscure today. Levin's stellar recreation of the personalities and events places them into the context of Russia during the last years of the tsar, and makes good use of records unavailable before the fall of the Soviet Union. Agent: Renee Zuckerbrot, Renee Zuckerbrot Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Edmund Levin is a Writers Guild and Emmy award–winning writer/producer for Good Morning America. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Slate, among other publications, and was included in The Best of Slate: A 10th Anniversary Anthology.
Table of Contents
A Note on Dates and Terminology xviii
Cast of Characters xix
1. “Why Should I Be Afraid?” 3
2. “The Vendetta of the Sons of Jacob” 22
3. “A Certain Jew Mendel” 49
4. “Andrusha, Don’t Scream” 79
5. “You Are a Second Dreyfus” 104
6. “Cheberyak Knows Everything” 128
7. “Who Is a Hero?” 152
8. “The Worst and Most Fearful Thing” 179
9. “Yes, a Jew!” 204
10. “We Have Seen the Killer” 237
11. “Gentlemen of the Jury!” 259
12. “The Smell of Burning, Blood, and Iron” 291
Source Notes 315