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Leopold Hilsner, Tragic Figure in Ritual Murder Accusation Case, Dies

January 12, 1928
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

(Jewish Telegraphic Agency)

Leopold Hilsner, the tragic figure of the Polna ritual murder accusation which stirred public opinion in Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century, died here today at the age of 51. He died ten years after he was released from prison, having served eighteen years of a life sentence. He was released on the pardon of the late Emperor Francis Josef in the spring of 1918. The following year the organization for combatting anti-Semitism in Austria made an appeal for a new trial for Hilsner in order to clear his name, but nothing came of this attempt.

The Leopold Hilsner affair, which was the center of anti-Semitic intrigue in the former Austro-Hungarian empire, was the background of the fight between liberal and reactionary public opinion, with Masaryk, now president of the Czechoslovakian Republic and at that time professor at the Czech University in Prague, leading the fight for Hilsner. The affair led to a general rise of anti-Semitism and to anti-Jewish outbreaks in Holleschau and Nachod. The “Deutsches Volksblatt,” an anti-Semitic newspaper of Vienna,was particularly instrumental in spreading the accusation.

On April 1, 1899, at Polna, Bohemia, there was found in the forest near the town the body of Agnes Hruza, a seamstress, nineteen years old, with a gash in the throat. Leopold Hilsner, twenty-three years of age, was accused of the deed, and in the same year was sentenced to death by the court at Kuttenberg for complicity in the murder. The public prosecutor, Schneider-Swoboda, and the advocate, Dr. Baxa, averred, the former indirectly, the latter openly, that a ritual murder was involved. But the medical faculty of the Czech University of Prague demonstrated that the obtaining of blood must be excluded as a motive for the deed. No blood was missing.

After the Court of Cassation at Vienna had set aside the first verdict, Hilsner, in Oct., 1900, was condemned a second time by the court at Pisek, and again upon the charge of complicity, although there was no evidence that more than one person had been engaged in the murder. This decision was again attacked, but was upheld, May, 1901, by the Court of Cassation at Vienna.

In the meantime Hilsner was accused of another murder. Maria Klima, a servant, had disappeared July 17, 1898, and a female body found Oct. 27 following in the same forest where that of Agnes Hruza had been discovered had, with great probability, been identified as that of the missing girl. Decomposition was so advanced however, that not even the fact that the girl had been murdered could be established. Hilsner, charged with this crime also, was tried for both murders in Pisek, (Oct. 25-Nov. 14, 1900). The witnesses at this trial became more definite in their statements. Those who at the first trial had spoken of a knife which they had seen in Hilsner’s possession, now asserted distinctly that it was such a knife as was used in ritual slaughtering. The strange Jews who were supposed to have been seen in company with Hilsner were more and more particularly described. When witnesses were shown that the testimony given by them at the second trial differed from that given at the first trial they said either that they had been intimidated by the judge or that their statements had not been correctly recorded.

The verdict pronounced Hilsner guilty of having murdered both Agnes Hruza and Maria Klima. He was sentenced to death Nov. 14, 1900, but the sentence was commuted by the Emperor to imprisonment for life. Owing to the agitation of the anti-Semites, various attempts to prove Hilsner’s innocence were futile, especially that made by Professor Masaryk of the Bohemian University in Prague, who advanced the theory that Agnes Hruza was not killed at the place where her body was found and that she was most likely the victim of a family quarrel, and the efforts made by Dr. Bulowa, a Jewish physician.

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