Menahem Mendel Beilis

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Menahem Mendel Beilis
Portrait of Beilis
Born1874 (1874)
DiedJuly 7, 1934(1934-07-07) (aged 59–60)
Resting placeMount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, New York
Criminal chargeRitual murder
Beilis with his family

Menahem Mendel Beilis (sometimes spelled Beiliss; Yiddish: מנחם מענדל בייליס, Russian: Менахем Мендель Бейлис; 1874 – 7 July 1934)[1] was a Russian Jew accused of ritual murder in Kyiv in the Russian Empire in a notorious 1913 trial, known as the "Beilis trial" or the "Beilis affair". Although Beilis was eventually acquitted after a lengthy process, the legal process sparked international criticism of antisemitism in the Russian Empire.

Beilis's story was fictionalized in Bernard Malamud's 1966 novel The Fixer, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.


Menahem Mendel Beilis was born into a Hasidic family,[2][3] but was indifferent to religion[citation needed], and worked regularly on the Shabbat and at least some of the holidays. In 1911, he was an ex-soldier and the father of five children, employed as a superintendent at the Zaitsev brick factory in Kyiv.

Murder of Andriy Yushchinskyi[edit]

One of the antisemitic fliers distributed in Kyiv before the Beilis Trial. The caption reads "Orthodox Russian people, commemorate the name of the youth Andriy Yushchinskyi who was martyred by Zhids! Memory eternal to him! Christians, guard your children!!! On March 17, the passover of the Zhids [an ethnic slur for Jews] begins."

On March 12, 1911 (under the old Russian calendar), a 13-year-old child named Andriy Yushchinskyi disappeared on his way to school. Eight days later, his mutilated body was discovered in a cave near the Zaitsev brick factory. Beilis was arrested on July 21, 1911, after a lamplighter testified that the boy had been kidnapped by a Jew. A report submitted to the Tsar by the judiciary regarded Beilis as the murderer of Yushchinskyi.[2][4]

Beilis spent more than two years in prison awaiting trial.[5] Meanwhile, an antisemitic campaign was launched in the Russian press against the Jewish community, with accusations of the ritual murder.[2]: Intro, citing newspapers, 1911  Among those who wrote or spoke against false accusations of the Jews were Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Korolenko,[6] Alexander Blok, Alexander Kuprin, Vladimir Vernadsky, Mykhailo Hrushevskyi and Pavel Milyukov.[7]: p.5 : p.118 

Beilis had already been in prison for over a year when a delegation led by a military officer came to his cell. In what might have been a ploy to get Beilis to incriminate himself or other Jews, the officer informed Beilis that he would soon be freed due to a manifesto pardoning all katorzhniks (convicts at hard labor) on the tercentenary jubilee of the reign of the Romanov dynasty. As related in his memoir, Beilis refused this overture:

“That manifesto,” said I, “will be for katorzhniks, not for me. I need no manifesto, I need a fair trial.”
“If you will be ordered to be released, you'll have to go.”
“No – even if you open the doors of the prison, and threaten me with shooting, I shall not leave. I shall not go without a trial.”[8]

This is one of many incidents from Beilis's memoir that Bernard Malamud incorporated in his novel The Fixer.[9]

The trial[edit]

Student Vladimir Golubev, the leader of Black Hundred organisation Two-Headed Eagle. He was the person who had fabricated the guilt of Beilis.
Vera Cheberyak with her husband Vasily and daughter Lyudmila (all three were prosecution witnesses at the trial.)
Nikolai Krasovsky, a detective who had found the true murderers of Yushchinskyi.

During the pre-trial period in 1911–1912 the investigation was conducted by Nikolay Krasovsky (Николай Александрович Красовский), the foremost investigator of the Kyiv Police Department. Krasovsky forsook any prospect of promotion and continued his investigation in spite of resistance and sabotage from the circles interested in railroading Beilis; he eventually refused to participate in the alleged falsification of the case and was fired.

Krasovsky continued his investigation privately, assisted by his former colleagues from the Kyiv Police Department. They eventually were able to determine the actual killers of Yushchinskyi: professional criminals with the names Rudzinsky, Singayevsky, Latyshev, and Vera Cheberyak, whose son Yevgeny was a friend of Yushchinskyi's.[citation needed] On 30–31 May 1912, reports were published in Kyiv newspapers. Immediately after this, Krasovsky was arrested on charges of official misuse committed in 1913 but acquitted by a court.

The Beilis trial took place in Kyiv from September 25 through October 28, 1913. The prosecution was composed of the government's best lawyers. Professor Sikorsky of Kyiv State University (father of Igor Sikorsky), a medical psychologist, testified as an expert witness for the prosecution that in his opinion it was a case of ritual murder.

Beilis had a strong alibi that resulted from his habit of working on the Jewish Sabbath. Yushchinskyi was abducted on a Saturday morning, and Beilis was then at work, as confirmed by his Gentile co-workers in trial testimony. Receipt slips for a shipment of bricks, signed by Beilis that morning, were produced in evidence. The prosecution was forced to argue that Beilis could have ducked out for a few minutes, kidnapped Yushchinskyi, and then returned to work.[7]

Internal police documents from 1912 subsequently revealed that the weakness of the case was known.[7]: pp.90–91 [10]

Prosecution expert[edit]

One prosecution witness, presented as a religious expert in Judaic rituals, was a Lithuanian Catholic priest, Justinas Pranaitis from Tashkent, well known for his antisemitic 1892 work Talmud Unmasked. Pranaitis testified that the murder of Yushchinskyi was a religious ritual, associating the murder of Yushchinskyi with the blood libel, a legend believed by many Russians at the time. One police department official is quoted as saying:

The course of the trial will depend on how the ignorant jury will perceive arguments of priest Pranaitis, who is sure about the reality of ritual murders. I think, as a priest he is able to talk with peasants and to convince them. As a scientist, who defended a thesis about this question, he will give props to the court and prosecution, though nothing can be guessed in advance yet. I became acquainted with Pranaitis and am firmly convinced that he is the person who knows the problem, about which he will talk, in depth... Everything, then, will depend on which arguments priest Pranaitis will furnish, and he has them, and they're shattering for the Jewry.[11]

Pranaitis' credibility rapidly evaporated when the defense demonstrated his ignorance of some simple Talmudic concepts and definitions, such as hullin,[7]: p.215  to the point where "many in the audience occasionally laughed out loud when he clearly became confused and couldn't even intelligibly answer some of the questions asked by my lawyer."[2] A Tsarist secret police agent is quoted, reporting on Pranaitis' testimony, as saying:

Cross-examination of Pranaitis has weakened evidentiary value of his expert opinion, exposing lack of knowledge of texts, insufficient knowledge of Jewish literature. Because of amateurish knowledge and lack of resourcefulness, Pranaitis' expert opinion is of very low value. Professors Troitskij and Kokovtsev, who were interrogated today, gave conclusions which are exceptionally positive for the defence, praising doctrines of the Jewish religion, and not accepting even a possibility of a religious murder by Jews ... Vipper thinks that acquittal is possible.[11]


A Beilis Defense Committee advisor, a writer named Ben-Zion Katz, suggested countering Father Pranaitis with questions like "When did Baba Bathra live and what was her activity" which he described as the equivalent of asking an American "Who lived at the Gettysburg Address?", a ploy that invites a purported expert witness unfamiliar with the subject matter to wrongly assume a word is used in one sense where it is in fact used in another, demonstrating the ignorance of the witness for the audience. In the Gettysburg example, an informed person will immediately recognise the term 'Gettysburg Address' refers to a speech (address) and not to a location (address). There were enough Jews in the court for the resultant laughter to negate Pranaitis' value to the prosecution.[7]: pp.214–216 

Beilis was represented by the most able attorneys of the Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kyiv bars: Vasily Maklakov, Oscar Gruzenberg, N. Karabchevsky, A. Zarudny, and D. Grigorovitch-Barsky. Two prominent Russian professors, Troitsky and Kokovtzov, spoke on behalf of the defense in praise of Jewish values and exposed the falsehood of the accusations, while Aleksandr Glagolev, philosopher and professor of the Kyiv Theological Academy of the Orthodox Christian, affirmed that "the Law of Moses forbids spilling human blood and using any blood in general in food." The well-known and respected Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yaakov Mazeh, delivered a long, detailed speech quoting passages from the Torah, the Talmud and many other books to conclusively debunk the testimony of the "experts" brought forth by the prosecution.[2][12]

Case summary[edit]

The lamplighter on whose testimony the indictment of Beilis rested confessed that he had been confused by the secret police.

The prosecution's case was further undermined after it had spent a great deal of effort to link the 13 wounds which Professor Sikorsky had discovered on a part of the murdered boy's body with the importance of the number thirteen in "Jewish ritual," only to have it revealed later that there were actually 14 wounds on that part of the body.[2]

The chief prosecutor A.I. Vipper made supposedly antisemitic statements in his closing address. There are conflicting accounts of the twelve Christian jurors: seven were members of the notorious Union of the Russian People, part of the movement known as the Black Hundreds. There was no representative of the intelligentsia in the jury.[13] However, after deliberating for several hours, the jury acquitted Beilis.

After the trial[edit]

Title page of the 1913 song "The Freeing of Mendel Beilis"

The Beilis trial was followed worldwide and the antisemitic policies of the Russian Empire were severely criticized. The Arabic newspaper Filastin published in Jaffa, Palestine, dealt with this trial in several articles.[14] Its editor, Yousef El-Issa, published an editorial titled: "The Disgrace of the Twentieth Century". He wrote on 13 October 1913:[14]

We said in the previous issue and repeat that their accusing the Jews of shedding blood to perform religious ritual is a fabrication with regard to those who believe it; an abomination with regard to those who spread it; and a disgrace to the twentieth century, during which, if minds are not liberated from the shackles of ignorance, God will never liberate them.

The Beilis case was compared with the Leo Frank case, in which an American Jew, manager of a pencil factory in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of raping and murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan.[15] Leo Frank was lynched after his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After his acquittal, Beilis became an enormous hero and celebrity. One indication of the extent of his fame is the following quote: "Anyone wanting to see the major stars of New York's Yiddish stage on Thanksgiving weekend in 1913 had three choices: Mendel Beilis at Jacob Adler's Dewey Theater, Mendel Beilis at Boris Thomashefsky's National Theater, or Mendel Beilis at David Kessler's Second Avenue Theater.”[16]

Due to his great fame and the adulation he received, Beilis could have become wealthy through commercial appearances and the like. Spurning all such offers,[5][17] he and his family left Russia for a farm purchased by Baron Rothschild[18] in Palestine, then a province of the Ottoman Empire.

Beilis had difficulty making ends meet in Palestine, but for years he resisted leaving. When friends and well-wishers pleaded with him to go to America, he would respond: “Before, in Russia, when the word ‘Palestine’ conjured up a waste and barren land, even then I chose to come here in preference to other countries. How much more, then, would I insist on staying here, after I have come to love the land!”[19]

United States[edit]

Finally, however, Beilis's financial situation became too desperate. In 1921 he settled in the United States[20][7]: p.254  where in 1925 he self-published[2][21] an account of his experiences titled The Story of My Sufferings. Originally published in Yiddish (1925 and 1931 editions), the book was later translated into English (1926, 1992, and 2011 editions), and also Russian.

Monument at Beilis' grave

Beilis died unexpectedly at a hotel in Saratoga Springs, New York[22] on July 7, 1934[23] and was buried two days later at the Mount Carmel Cemetery, Glendale, Queens, which is the burial place of Leo Frank and Sholem Aleichem.[24] Though Beilis's fame had faded since the trial in 1913, it returned briefly at his death. His funeral was attended by over 4,000 people. The New York Times noted that Beilis's fellow Jews “always believed that his conduct [in resisting all pressure to implicate himself or other Jews] saved his countrymen from a pogrom.”[25] A history of the Eldridge Street Synagogue, where Beilis's funeral was held, describes the scene at his funeral as follows: “The crowd could not be contained in the sanctuary. As many as a dozen policemen failed to establish order in the streets.”[26]

Around six months before his death, Beilis was interviewed by the English-language Jewish Daily Bulletin. Asked for “one outstanding impression” of the trial in Kiev, he paid a final tribute to the Russian Gentiles who had helped him to escape the blood libel, such as the detective Mykola Krasowski [uk] (Nikolai Krasovsky) and the journalist Brazul-Brushkovsky: “There was real heroism, real sacrifice. They knew that by defending me their careers would be ruined, even their very lives would not be safe. But they persisted because they knew I was innocent.”[27]

Controversy over depiction in The Fixer[edit]

While Bernard Malamud's novel The Fixer is based on the life of Mendel Beilis, Malamud transformed Beilis’ character, and that of his wife, in ways that Beilis's descendants found degrading. The actual Mendel Beilis was, supposedly, “a dignified, respectful, well-liked, fairly religious family man with a faithful wife, Esther, and five children.” Malamud's protagonist Yakov Bok is “an angry, foul-mouthed, cuckolded, friendless, childless blasphemer.”[28]

When The Fixer was first published, Beilis’ son David Beilis wrote to Malamud, complaining both that Malamud had plagiarized from Beilis’ memoirs and that Malamud had debased the memories of Beilis and his wife through the characters of Yakov Bok and Bok's wife Raisl. Malamud wrote back, attempting to reassure David Beilis that The Fixer “makes no attempt to portray Mendel Beilis or his wife. Yakov and Raisl Bok, I am sure you will agree, in no way resemble your parents.”

Nevertheless, The Fixer has caused severe confusion concerning Beilis. Some have credited Malamud for inventing aspects of the story that he took from Beilis’ memoir while others have confused Beilis’ character with that of Malamud's character Yakov Bok. As the historian Albert Lindemann lamented: “By the late twentieth century, memory of the Beilis case came to be inextricably fused (and confused) with... The Fixer.”[29]

Revival in 2006[edit]

In the March 2006 issue (No. 9/160) of the Ukrainian Personnel Plus magazine by the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (commonly abbreviated MAUP), an article titled Murder Is Unveiled, the Murderer Is Unknown? revived false accusations from the Beilis Trial, stating that the jury had recognized the case as a ritual murder committed by unknown persons, even though it had found Beilis himself not guilty.[30]

In film and literature[edit]

  • The Bloody Hoax (originally in Yiddish as Der blutike shpas), 1912–1913, a novel by Sholem Aleichem whose plot is largely based on details of Beilis Affair.
  • The Black 107, 1913 film[31]
  • The Mystery of the Mendel Beilis Case, 1914[32]
  • Delo Beilisa (aka The Beilis Case), 1917 film by Joseph Soiffer[33]
  • The Fixer, Malamud's 1966 novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award
  • The Fixer, 1968 film after the novel[34]
  • Scapegoat on Trial, 2007, Joshua Waletzky[35]
  • "Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis", 2013, Robert Weinberg
  • A Child of Christian Blood, Edmund Levin, 2014[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The top of his gravestone says "Martyr: 1862–1934".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Scapegoat on Trial: The Story of Mendel Beilis – The Autobiography of Mendel Beilis the Defendant in the Notorious 1912 Blood Libel in Kiev, Beilis, Mendel, Introd. & Ed. By Shari Schwartz, CIS, New York, 1992, ISBN 1-56062-166-4
  3. ^ father's name: Tuvia
  4. ^ also verbally: "Your Majesty, I am happy to inform you that the real culprit in Yushchinskyi's murder has been discovered. His name is Beilis, and he's a Zhid."
  5. ^ a b "Jew World Saved from Czar Dies". The Baltimore Sun. Baltimore, MD. July 8, 1934. p. 14. Retrieved March 4, 2022 – via open access
  6. ^ Title: "Call to the Russian People in regard to the blood libel of the Jews"
  7. ^ a b c d e f Blood Accusation: the Strange History of the Beiliss Case, Samuel, Maurice, Alfred A. Knopf, 1966.
  8. ^ Beilis, Mendel. Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis, ed. Jay Beilis et al. (2011), p. 64.
  9. ^ Malamud, Bernard. The Fixer (1966), p. 294.
  10. ^ "It is a probably assumption that the boy ... was a witness to ... evidence gathered against Beiliss will entirely fall to the ground."
  11. ^ a b "Царская Россия и дело Бейлиса, Tager, A., Moscow, 1934". Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  12. ^ A translation of an extract of his statement is at "In Defense of Chassidism".
  13. ^ "RUSSIANS ANXIOUS OVER BEILISS JURY; Peasants Sit Indifferent to Defense Efforts and May Render Verdict Against Evidence. MURDER LEGEND PERSISTS ..." The New York Times. 2 November 1913. Special Cable to THE NEW YORK TIMES .NOV. 2, 1913"
  14. ^ a b Beška, Emanuel (Summer 2016). ""The Disgrace of the Twentieth Century": The Beilis Affair in Filastin Newspaper". Jerusalem Quarterly (66): 99–108. Retrieved 2016-08-17.
  15. ^ Fay S. Joyce (December 23, 1983). "PARDON DENIED FOR LEO FRANK IN 1913 SLAYING". The New York Times. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  16. ^ Berkowitz, Joel, “The ‘Mendel Beilis’ Epidemic on the Yiddish Stage,” Jewish Social Studies 8, no. 1 (Fall, 2001), p. 199 JSTOR 4467624
  17. ^ Mendel Beilis Coming,” The New York Times, January 25, 1921
  18. ^ “Mendel Beilis Goes To Palestine,” Omaha Daily Bee, January 16, 1914
  19. ^ Beilis, Mendel. Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis, ed. Jay Beilis et al. (2011), p. 200.
  20. ^ "In 1922 he came to America, where he tried his hand first as printer, then as insurance salesman, with no success as either."
  21. ^ sponsor/donors paid for the first printing: 2,300 copies
  22. ^ "Redemption on East Tremont | the Jewish Week". Archived from the original on June 17, 2010.
  23. ^ Saturday, 24 Tamuz 5694
  24. ^ Read English translation of the epitaph on Beilis' footstone.
  25. ^ Beiliss Funeral Attended by 4,000,” New York Times, July 10, 1934.
  26. ^ Annie Polland and Bill Moyers, Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue (2008), p. 128
  27. ^ Beilis, Mendel. Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis, ed. Jay Beilis et al. (2011), p. 285
  28. ^ Beilis, Mendel. Blood Libel: The Life and Memory of Mendel Beilis, ed. Jay Beilis et al. (2011), p. 229
  29. ^ Lindemann, Albert S., “Beilis Case,” in Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, ed. Richard S. Levy (2005), p. 63
  30. ^ Yaroslav Oros, ВБИВСТВО РОЗКРИТО. ВБИВЦЯ НЕ ВІДОМИЙ? [MURDER disclosed. Unknown killers?] (in Ukrainian), ПЕРСОНАЛ ПЛЮС, То есть изуверское убийство было совершено с ритуальной целью, но не Бейлисом, а кем-то другим. Кем?
  31. ^ The Jew in American Cinema, Erens, Patricia, p. 59-
  32. ^ "...the trumped-up charges of ritual murder...", Evening Post, 17 June 1914, Page 3
  33. ^ "Delo Beilisa (1917) - IMDb". IMDb.
  34. ^ "The Fixer (1968) - IMDb". IMDb.
  35. ^ Scapegoat on Trial (2007), IMDb
  36. ^ "Home".
  • The Beilis Transcripts. The Anti-Semitic Trial that Shook the World. by Ezekiel Leikin ISBN 0-87668-179-8
  • The Beilis Case. Modern Research and Documents. ISBN 5-7349-0016-8

External links[edit]