Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mendel Beilis -- The Finding

This is the summary of the third day of the Mendel Beilis trial, which occurred on 27 September, 1913 on the Julian calendar (“O.S.” which stands for Old Style), 10 October, 1913 on the Gregorian calendar (“N.S.” which stands for New Style). 
This day occupies pages 81 through 121 of Volume I, part 1, of the transcript.
See the transcript translation for the third day.
When you start today’s transcript, you see prosecutor Vipper declaiming against stenographic accounts of the proceedings in newspapers.  Remember, this is 1913.  Reporters have to take information down in shorthand or longhand.  They have to get it to the office.  Somebody there writes it out longhand.  The editor fixes it for space and match to editorial policy.  It goes to typesetting; a full-size page of newspaper takes up to 16 hours to typeset by hand, a tabloid half that time.  A galley is printed to check up on the typesetting and a proofreader has to go over it and all the mistakes have to be fixed in the set type.  Only then can it be turned into a newsstand edition.
But on day 3 of the trial, the morning newspaper had the previous day’s testimony printed, exactly as it occurred, except possibly with notes for gestures and raised or lowered voices.
Now understand this.  The jury was sequestered but the witnesses were not.  What’s more, the witnesses were crowded into one area of a packed courtroom.  They were there from the start of day 1 until the judge specifically released them, with the agreement of the parties.  The witnesses had the opportunity to see the newspaper accounts and discuss them in the streets although they weren’t supposed to talk about them in the witness room where they gathered before being marshalled to their seats.
Maybe you thought Vipper was talking about censoring the newspapers.  In fact, journalist Vladimir  Bonch-Bruevich, who covered the trial, said in the 1919 edition of his book that the statutes Vipper referred to deal with witness tampering, not the government right to censor the news.
In reality, it was a case of sour grapes.  Newspapers that supported the Tsar, like Kievlyanin, might be printing material about the trial that the government handed to them – although Dmitry Pikhno, the editor, fought the ritual murder charge.  Newspapers with a centrist or left slant, like Kievan Thought, Latest News, and Pravda (which started publishing in 1903 and evolved into the main paper of the Communists), published what they wanted.  Probably they were the papers Vipper was complaining about.  This sour grapes issue will pervade the case, getting worse and worse as the government theory disintegrates.
The prosecution’s image of the Prikhodko/Nezhinsky/Yushchinsky clan as a close-knit family that takes care of each other crumbles a bit.  The mother said on the first day of testimony that Andrey was never out of sight of one of the family for more than a few minutes.  Her sister Natalya’s deposition (she has died in the interim) says that Andrey liked to stroll among the monuments and memorials on the west bank of the Dnepr, and that clearly is at least 15 minutes’ walk from Slobodka where he lived.  From the time Andrey supposedly went to school at 6 in the morning on 12 March until 8 that night, none of his family knew where he was or worried about him.  Everybody assumed that he was at the other person’s home. 
On the other hand, we begin to get a picture of the sort of abuse the police inflicted on the family, their first suspects in the murder.  If Fyodor Nezhinsky’s testimony about the furnace repairman seems to be disjointed, remember a couple of things.  It has been two years since the murder.  He has forgotten most of what he knew then.  Second, he is suffering under a certain amount of guilt.  The furnace repairman, Yashchenko, gave a description of a man he saw in Kiev early on the morning of March 12, that could have fit numbers of Christians as well as Jews in Kiev.  In fact, it will turn out about day 15 that it could actually have been one of the murderers.  But the police arrested Fyodor’s brother-in-law, subjected him to forced shaving of his beard and head, blacked and curled his moustache, and presented him to Yashchenko to see if the description matched.  If Fyodor hadn’t gone chasing after the furnace repairman, maybe none of that would have happened and the real murderers would have been arrested earlier.  It doesn’t mean Beilis would have escaped trial.  But at least Luka Prikhodko wouldn’t have suffered police abuse.
The government’s attempted identification of all Jews as having black beards begins to break down today.  Fyodor Nezhinsky is questioned by Durasevich, Shmakov’s subordinate, in an attempt to move to this topic, but he says “black moustache” which is the exact translation of the Russian, when it should have been “black beard.”  Further, either he wasn’t in court the night before or he didn’t read the newspapers reporting on the trial from stenographic records (he is probably illiterate), and he didn’t realize that the schoolboys have given Beilis an alibi. 
Vipper’s taunting of Nezhinsky is distastefully disingenuous; it proves that Vipper has no concept that historical class differences in the way he and the rest of the system deal with people involved in the legal system has produced the attitude Nezhinsky displays on the stand.  And then, hypocritically, the judge criticizes Nezhinsky for lying when the government theory of the murder is a lie from beginning to end.
The “papers with punctures” issue will turn up over and over during testimony.  The answer will come on day 15, but for now, the important thing is that Ehlansky is one of two boys who found Andrey’s body – and  Ehlansky says the papers were not at the crime scene when he found the body.
Judge:  Fyodor Boldyrev
            Criminal Prosecutor, Oscar Vipper
            Civil Prosecutor Georgy Zamyslovsky
            Private Civil Prosecutor Aleksey Shmakov
            Oscar Gruzenberg
Nikolay Karabchevsky
Dmitry Grigorevich-Barsky
Alexandr Zarudny
Vasily Maklakov

Hershke Arender
Andrey’s friend in Slobodka
Moishe Arender
Hershke’s father
Olimpiada Nezhinskaya
Andrey’s grandmother,
Aleksandra Prikhodko’s mother
Natalya Yushchinskaya
Andrey’s aunt,
Sister of his mother
Fyodor Nezhinsky
Andrey’s uncle,
Half-brother of his mother
Vasily Simak
Held bill of debt
To Andrey’s biological father
A. Nezhinskaya
Fyodor’s wife
Luka Prikhodko
Andrey’s stepfather
Twice suspected of the murder
One of two boys who found Andrey’s body.
Note the “papers with punctures” issue
Reported the body to
Lukyanovka Police Station, medic at that station

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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