Death of Beiliss Recalls Tragic Ritual Trial of 1911
Menu JTA Search

Death of Beiliss Recalls Tragic Ritual Trial of 1911

Download PDF for this date

Funeral services for Mendel Beiliss, the Kiev brickyard superintendent who in 1911 was tried and acquitted, after a sensational, world-famous trial, of an alleged “ritual murder” charge, and who late Saturday afternoon died at Saratoga Springs at the age of sixty-three, will be held at two o’clock this afternoon from the Zion Memorial Chapel, 41 Canal street. Burial will be at the Mount Carmel Cemetery, Cypress Hills.

Beiliss, who came to this country in 1921, ten years after the trial, had since been supporting himself in various ways. Chiefly, members of his family at his home, 107 Eliot Place, the Bronx, said, he has been a life insurance salesman. For the last five years he had been suffering from cardiac and kidney ailments, for which he had been taking the mineral water cure at a Saratoga Springs resort. The immediate cause of his death, it was announced, was pulmonary edema and acute dilation of the heart.

The case that brought Beiliss into the world spotlight developed out of the discovery in a small cave near Kiev of the mutilated body of Andrew Yushinsky, a small Christian boy. Forty-seven knife wounds were found in his back, behind which his hands had been bound by the murderer.

An acutely anti-Semitic state of mind, prominent in the Kiev section as well as in other parts of Russia at that time, immediately prompted a revival of an age old and sporadically recurrent “ritual murder” myth, to the effect that the boy had been killed so that his blood could be used in the preparation of Passover matzoh.

Except for the fact that the Russian government at the time was facing a crisis, the Beiliss case might never have developed.

About a month before the murder was discovered the Duma had evidenced a desire to abolish the Jewish pale and give the Jews the right to enter any Russian city. In this attitude the government saw a somewhat revolutionary trend that had to be checked. It seized on the “ritual murder” charge against the Jews to keep the Duma from executing the change in the “pale” laws and is alleged to have pushed the arrest and trial of Beiliss with all its power.

Against Beiliss himself there was not a shred of evidence. The Kiev Chief of Police, indeed, resigned his position in protest against the government’s arrest of Beiliss over his head. He was convinced, he said, that the murder had been committed by a notorious woman of the section and her gang in retaliation for the boy’s activities in bearing tales to the police about their malefactions. The only apparent reason for Beiliss’ connection with the case was that he lived near the scene of the crime’s discovery.

The trial brought newspaper correspondents from all over the world to report its progress for the press. At the trial the government’s witnesses, including a Kiev University professor and a priest, completely failed to establish a case for the prosecution. Beiliss’ lawyer, backed by many of the city’s residents and the evidence of the police themselves, proved to the satisfaction of the presiding judge Boldirieff, that the accused could not possibly have committed the crime of which he was accused and he was acquitted.

Beiliss is survived by his widow, Esther; two sons, Teddy and David, and two daughters, Mary and Ray. Members of the family yesterday pointed out that Beiliss often became embroiled in arguments with friends of the family because he had consistently refused to capitalize on the reputation he had made from the trial.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund