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January 18: Beilis Film Banned in Britain

January 18, 2014
Mendel-Beilis-237x300A film about the Mendel Beilis blood libel trial in Russia was banned by the London County Council “as the result of a communication from Russian authorities in London,” the New York Times reported on this date in 1914. Although the Times did not report the provenance of the film, it was presumably a documentary made in Russia in 1912, one of several films about the case (including The Mystery of the Mendel Beilis Case, made in Germany, and The Black 107, which was filmed in three parts and starred the great Yiddish actor Jacob Adler). Beilis had been arrested in 1911 for allegedly murdering for Jewish ritual purposes a 13-year-old gentile boy, Andrei Yushchinsky, near the brick factory that Beilis supervised. The case, and the anti-Semitism that attended it, caused an international outcry — including, in Great Britain, from the archbishops of Canterbury and York and the speaker of the House of Commons — until Beilis was acquitted after two years in prison. According to a 1930 Jewish Telegraphic Agency article, Lord Rothschild of Great Britain sent a letter to the Vatican asking for a denial of assertions made at the Beilis trial that the Church believed that Jews practiced ritual murder. Rothschild included copies of two ancient Church documents proving that the Roman Catholic high priests had always denied the blood libel, but the Vatican replied that “verifying the contents of the ancient church documents does not mean denying that Jews kill or torture to death Christians. This could never be denied by our Church.” See, however, the comment below by Andrew Lukianivka, who challenges the JTA’s accuracy. To read an article by Bennett Muraskin about the centennial of the infamous trial, published in the new issue of Jewish Currents magazine, click here. “The film (The Black 107) differs from previous works in that it chronicles the life of a real Jewish subject, the first such film since the spurious Dreyfus film made by the Lumiere brothers.” -Patricia Erens, The Jew in American Cinema