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Thu Oct 10, 2013, 12:24 AM

The Last Blood Libel Trial

One hundred years ago today, in a courtroom in Kiev, then part of the Russian Empire, the most famous accused murderer on Earth rose to declare, “I am innocent.” Mendel Beilis, a 39-year-old father of five, had spent more than two years in squalid prison cells waiting to say those words. The Russian and world press had been waiting, as well, to cover one of the most bizarre cases ever tried in an ostensibly civilized society. The Russian state had charged Beilis, a Jew, with the ritual religious killing of a Christian child to drain his blood for the baking of Passover matzo.

Beilis’ 34-day trial in the fall of 1913 made international headlines. The frame-up of an innocent man on a charge seemingly out of the Dark Ages provoked widespread indignation and drew the attention some of the era’s greatest personages. Leading cultural, political and religious figures such as Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Anatole France, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Archbishop of Canterbury rallied to Beilis’ defense. In America, the Beilis case made for inspiring collaboration between Jews and non-Jews. Rallies headlined by the likes of social reformer Jane Addams and Booker T. Washington drew thousands. The New York Times headlined an editorial “The Czar on Trial.”

The blood libel—the notion that Jews commit ritual murder to obtain Christian blood, generally the blood of children—originated in Western Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries. The historian Anthony Julius has called the blood libel the “master libel” against the Jews. It directly inspired the rampant metaphor of the Jews as economic “bloodsuckers.” More subtly, it underlies the slander of the Jews as a disloyal, conspiratorial, and parasitical force that exploits its hosts, sucking society’s energy.

It has been a remarkably persistent infection, sometimes lying dormant for decades, then erupting violently. In the latter decades of the 19th century, the blood libel experienced a rather mysterious revival in Central Europe, with upward of 100 significant cases in which specific allegations of ritual murder were made to the authorities or at least gained wide popular currency. Most of the cases were in Germany and Austria-Hungary. The accusations resulted in a half-dozen full-fledged ritual murder trials, some of which sparked anti-Semitic riots. (With the exception of an ambiguous case in Bohemia—in which the defendant was convicted, but the state officially rejected the ritual motive—all the suspects were acquitted.) Historians have reached no consensus on the precise causes of this phenomenon. But the wave was undoubtedly linked to the rise of modern anti-Semitism that culminated in some of the worst horrors of the 20th century.

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This is a x-post from GD (hat tip ashling).

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Behind the Aegis Oct 2013 OP
Mosby Oct 2013 #1

Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Thu Oct 10, 2013, 10:48 AM

1. 100 years later and the Russians are still framing people.

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