Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mendel Beilis -- Stage 3 investigation

The third stage of the Beilis investigation developed out of government knowledge that it had no valid direct physical or eyewitness evidence against Mendel Beilis, but that such an admission would make it impossible to shed Jewish blood and satisfy the Black Hundreds.  So it added a charge of ritual murder, which was illegal both on the grounds that the penal code included no such crime, and because the Senate had decreed that no charges should be brought in court for which the penal code had no definition. 
Krasovsky indirectly, at first, was responsible for the third stage of the investigation.  In September, 1911, before he left Kiev for a new post in Konotop, he told Sergey Ivanovich Brazul-Brushkovsky, “The devil is in it but they’ve accused an innocent man.” 

Brazul, as he is often called, was a contributor to the newspaper Kievan Thought, a competitor to Vasily Shulgin and Dmitry Pikhno’s Kievlyanin which took a monarchist line.  Brazul had watched an ordinary murder, that nobody thought was important, blow up into a Federal case with detectives and prosecutors shipped in from St. Petersburg to make sure things went the way the government wanted.  He was a long-time friend of Arnold Margolin.  All three of these men – Krasovsky, Brazul, and Margolin – thought too much attention was being paid to the case, but then all three had lived through the 1905 pogroms in Kiev and they knew that the government had to be forced to mount an investigation then about the Jews murdered in the riots.
Brazul latched onto Krasovsky’s assistant, Vygranov, now ostensibly at loose ends through official disgrace, for help with a private investigation.  Brazul had also latched onto Krasovsky’s idea that Vera knew more about the case than she would tell, and he hoped Vygranov would convince her to tell, now that he was no longer part of the police force.  For three months – no, four, because it went into January 1912 – Vygranov and Vera entertained Brazul with stories about Vera’s failed relationship with Pavel Mifle, whose eyes Vera burned with sulfuric acid in a quarrel.  In October or November, Mifle repaid the compliment by knocking Vera down and out, so that when she went to be questioned by Fenenko, she was wearing a bandage that she explained by saying she had eczema.  As she was leaving, Margolin saw her and asked Fenenko what was going on, getting the story of the eczema lie.

Brazul wanted Margolin’s input on what Vera was telling him; Margolin wanted nothing to do with it but finally agreed to meet up in Kharkov.  Brazul paid 100 rubles for second-class train fare to go 500 kilometers and stay one night at the Grand Hotel, on Vygranov’s claim that Vera could meet up with a prisoner she knew and find out where Andrey was murdered.  A police certificate read at trial showed that this man, Lisunov, had never been jailed in Kharkov.  Another co-conspirator named Perekhrist verified that Vera never left the hotel, although she claimed she sent her husband a postcard and bought a vial of glycerine.
In Kharkov, Vera spun Margolin her old monologue.  When they all got back to Kiev, Margolin told Brazul that Vera was not an innocent bystander but knew about the murder or was possibly involved.

But by that time Brazul had believed Vera’s claim that Mifle had committed the murder, with the help of three other men including Andrey’s uncle and stepfather, something she also told Margolin.  Brazul got a meeting with Fenenko, who brought in a prosecutor and the regional deputy prosecutor for witnesses, and told him this story.  Brazul came back later with Vera’s much younger lover, Petrov, who told the same story.  Fenenko believed it was a lie.
For almost a month Brazul checked back to see what was going on with the case, with the deputy prosecutor telling him to calm down, nothing was happening.  On 16 January, 1912, Mendel Menachem Tevyevich Beilis was indicted for the March 12, 1911 murder of Andrey Yushchinsky, and Brazul felt betrayed.

On January 18, 1912, Brazul-Brushkovsky submitted to the prosecutor a document that accused Mifle and the others of Andrey’s murder, and then he published it in the newspapers from Kiev to the capital of St. Petersburg.   The submission to the prosecutor meant that if there was a trial, Brazul would be called to the witness stand.
Lt. Col. Ivanov contacted Brazul and told him his article was nonsense.

Krasovsky came back to Kiev in February 1912 and raked Brazul over the coals, then began his own investigation which pointed in the same direction.  On April 5, he met up with his former subordinate Kirichenko, told him what was going on, and Kirichenko, who was working for Ivanov, said forget that, you want the Cheberyak gang.  Krasovsky started working with Brazul instead of against him, and at the end of April, Brazul told Ivanov what he had.
Ivanov said, if you publish now, you’ll ruin the case.  It will all be over with by 1 May.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  May 1 came and went and nothing happened.  Brazul submitted a new document to the prosecutor on 5 May.  Three weeks went by, the government dithered, the trial was postponed indefinitely, but no new investigation began although Beilis’ attorneys formally requested it.
On 30 May 1912, Brazul’s results were published in the newspaper.  No, not in Kievan Thought.  In Kievlyanin.  Somebody leaked his work.  Nothing daunted, Brazul still published, in Kiev and throughout the nation, and he added pictures: of Vera Cheberyak; of the house she lived in as of March 1911; of her brother Pyotr Singaevsky; and of his two mates Boris Rudzinsky and Ivan Latyshev.  I told you to remember that name, didn’t I?

On June 22, 1912, Shcheglovitov at Justice assigned Nikolay Mashkevich to conduct a pre-trial investigation into Andrey’s murder.  By August 31, Mashkevich was convinced that Vera and her gang were involved in it, and probably committed it.  Once again, the government’s flunky had proven that the Jew was not the prime suspect in the murder.  Mashkevich refused to obey orders to find a Jew who would help him prepare a charge of ritual murder against Beilis.  He held out until November 1912.  Then the government got him out of Kiev and made him sit down with Justinas Pranaitis and work out the subject of ritual murder for inclusion in a new indictment.

You probably know the name Pranaitis and I’m not going to go into his history or character very much.  What I will point out is that Pranaitis was a Catholic priest who was exiled to Tashkent after embroiling the Catholic church with the Russian government.  Why did the government not assign a Russian Orthodox priest? 
One possible answer is that between March 22 and 26, 1911, the Kiev metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox church issued a circular based on the first autopsy, saying that Andrey’s death was not ritual murder.  When the government contacted Ambrosius, vicar of the Kiev Lavra (monastery), he refused to testify except by deposition.  In general, the Orthodox church refused to support the government in any way on the ritual murder charge, and three academics with positions high in the lay side of the church hierarchy provided scriptural expertise specifically for Beilis’ defense. 

The government paid a prosector 4,000 rubles to testify to forensic medical evidence of ritual murder.  The archives contain two receipts he submitted, one before the trial and one after the trial, each for half of the sum.  All the other medical personnel who testified in this phase of the trial refused even to have their expenses paid, including two surgeons and two psychologists who testified for the defense, one of whom was the dean of Russian psychology at the time.
No, not Ivan Sikorsky.  Sikorsky was the only psychologist testifying for the government side as to ritual murder, and he had been through the mill.  In May 1911, he wrote an opinion, based on the authorized autopsy report, saying he thought it showed ritual murder.  He contributed to the January 1912 indictment, citing to a book by French academic Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, Israel chez les nations, in support of the ritual murder claim.  Leroy-Beaulieu had a letter published in French newspapers in February 1912 saying Sikorsky had misquoted his book and that Jews did not commit ritual murder.  The German psychologists and others started an opposition campaign which brought Sikorsky to write a letter on April 7, 1912, trying to get out of testifying.  During the trial, in October 1913, a convention of psychologists held in London issued a formal announcement slamming Sikorsky’s views. 

On May 23, 1913, the government indicted Menachem Mendel Tevyevich Beilis for the March 12, 1911, murder of Andrey Yushchinsky, and for murder “upon grounds of religious fanaticism,” the blood libel.  The die had been cast.  The gauntlet had been thrown.  What happened from here on out depended on what the government did to support their case in court.  And that is mostly where the Cheberyaks come in.

The Cheberyaks

© Patricia Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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