After two years of brutal imprisonment, Mendel Beilis was acquitted on this date in 1913 of charges of murder in a Kiev “blood libel” trial that drew the world’s attention. Beilis was an army veteran and the father of five children who worked as a superintendent at a brick factory. When a 13-year-old boy was killed and left in a cave near the factory, Beilis was arrested based on the testimony of a lamplighter who claimed that the boy had been kidnapped by a Jew (the testimony was elicted by the Tsar’s secret police). Despite having a strong alibi, Beilis was arrested and subjected to an intense anti-Semitic campaign that extended to the trial, when prosecutors attempted to prove the blood-libel charge (that Jews ritually murdered Christians to obtain their blood for the making of matse). Following his ordeal, Beilis became an enormous hero to Jews worldwide, and his story was celebrated in at least three Yiddish theater productions. He and his family left Russia for Palestine, where they lived for several years before settling in the U.S. in 1921. In 1925 he published The Story of My Sufferings in Yiddish. He died in 1934, and his ordeal was recounted in Yiddish on his gravestone. For details about the case, click here.
“Pay attention to this grave/ Here lies a holy person, a chosen man/ The people of Kiev made him a victim/ And upon all Israel spread the travail/ Falsely accused him and his community of taking the blood of a/ Christian child as demanded by him and his faith for the festival of Passover/ They bound him in chains and lowered him into a pit/ Many years he did not see the light of dayOn behalf of all Israel he was harshly tortured/ Pay tribute to this pure and guiltless soul/ Who dwells in the shadow of the Lord in the heights of Heaven/ Until those who slumber shall awaken to life…” Translation of Beilis’ gravestone