Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mendel Beilis -- Violating the Law

Russian law was violated to enable trying Mendel Beilis for murder and ritual murder.  The trial transcript shows that the prosecution understood basic legal principles, which were violated by the government to avoid derailing the process.
Two fundamental legal rules that applied in Russia at the time were violated in the Beilis trial.

First, nobody should be tried or punished for something that isn’t on the books as a crime.  This was explicitly adopted by the Tsarist judicial council, the Senate, before Andrey Yushchinsky was murdered.  It has been adopted by every country trying to run its legal system Western style since it was first explicitly included in the reform of the Bavarian penal code in 1813.
Second, a Russian law penalizing “murder on motives of religious fanaticism” (ritual murder) was repealed in 1906.  In 1911, there was no such crime to try Beilis on. 

The defense made two motions in court to dismiss this charge, one at the start of testimony about it, and one at the start of closing arguments, based on both issues.  The judge rejected both motions.
Why?  Because Russia was an autocracy; the only way to advance was to make the Tsar feel good.  There was no constitution.  There were no checks and balances between the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of government.  It was a monolith with the Tsar at the top.  He hated the reforms forced on him after the 1905 revolution.  The powers of the national Duma legislature depended on the Tsar’s will, and Nikolay II weakened the powers of each successive session of the national Duma on his way to repealing the reforms.  In 1910 and 1911, the plan was to get rid of the remaining reforms, and eliminate the Jewish Pale of Settlement as a step toward eliminating Jews from the country.  Getting back the crime of “murder due to religious superstition” would have helped justify that.  One step toward that was to try a Jew on that charge so that the law could be reinstated as a protection against such crimes in future.

The Minister of Justice, Shcheglovitov, and his protégés, believed they could gain the Tsar’s favor by prosecuting Beilis for ritual murder, due to the life-long anti-Semitism of Nikolay II, which is documented online with a substantial bibliography.

Andrey’s body was found March 20, 1911, and identified no later than March 21.  The agitation to accuse a Jew of Andrey Yushchinsky’s murder began with a speech in the Duma on March 22, 1911 that called it “ritual murder”.  The prosector assigned to perform the autopsy on Andrey, Karpinsky, finished his work about 4 in the afternoon on March 22, while 1200 miles away in St. Petersburg, a Duma member was fully prepared to speak on the murder as “ritual” in nature, if he hadn’t already started speaking.  The fastest way to get information from Kiev to St. Petersburg was the telegraph, and that could take hours.  From the beginning, Andrey’s murder was co-opted to inflict harm on the Jews.
When I was translating the transcript of the trial, I came across a problem with the Russian legal system.  The prosecution of the case seemed to believe they were operating on principles similar to American or British law, while at the same time the history of the case ran counter to such principles. 

For example, the Russian and British systems ostensibly were alike in that the police could take people into custody on suspicions that are much less pronounced than in the American system.  People who seemed to be answering legitimate questions falsely, for example, could be taken into custody long enough to get the truth.  In America, police have to follow a stricter standard; they have to see the infraction or have reason to believe the person they arrest was involved.  The prosecution in the Beilis trial asked questions which suggest that they believed the witnesses had been treated according to the American system.  It was either witness abuse to get an admission in court, or it was ignorant, or it was disingenuous.
The prosecution seemed to understand the concept that nobody should be tried until the bulk of the evidence weighed against that person and nobody else.  Five different investigations, three of them official, pointed at Vera Cheberyak and three members of her gang as the murderers, but it didn’t stop the government from arresting Beilis or cause them to drop the charges.  None of the officials involved in the case, who were in Kiev when Andrey was murdered, believed that Beilis was guilty; they all suspected Vera and her gang.  This includes Krasovsky, a Kievite who was working outside of Kiev when Andrey was murdered. 

The prosecution behaved as if the evidence against Beilis was genuine.  Chaplinsky, a protégée of the Minister of Justice, orchestrated not only Beilis’ arrest, but also the faking of evidence against him, which was all the evidence there was against him.  I mean what I say.  Documents were forged; physical evidence was planted by the government; false alibi claims were coerced; the Cheberyaks committed perjury using tales created by the government.  Tsarist archives contained evidence supporting these conclusions, and were used in A.S. Tager’s book from 1934.
I have been around a few blocks in my time and have watched bigots crash and burn, with more or less glare, both in the history books and the newspapers.  Sometimes one gets into a position giving the opportunity to destroy a nation, such as Hitler.  The Jew-haters who forced the arrest and trial of Beilis abused every class of the Russian people they came in contact with, from the criminal world through the day laborers and small shopkeepers, to the police and city officials, through academe to the top of the business world.  Famines may only affect the poor; what Rasputin gets up to inside the palace is the Tsar’s business.  But when the entire judiciary machinery is perverted to falsify criminal charges and evidence, that threatens everybody because it means the government is not operating rationally.  For the Russians, that was underlined by the waste of lives and resources in World War I, and that is why Russia was so divided at the time of the revolution, that even the addition of foreign forces could not save the Romanovs or their government.

The Investigation

© Patricia Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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