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HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND - S.M. Dubnow




jewish genealogy in Argentina

HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN RUSSIA AND POLAND

FROM THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER I UNTIL THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER III

by S.M. Dubnow

A Project Gutenberg EBook

4. THE RITUAL MURDER TRIAL OF SARATOV

One more detail was lacking to complete the dismal picture and to bring out the full symmetry between the end of Nicholas' reign and its ominous beginning: a medieval ritual murder trial after the pattern of the Velizh case. And a trial of this nature did not fail to come. In December, 1852, and in January, 1853, two Russian boys from among the lower classes disappeared in the city of Saratov, in central Russia. Their bodies were found two or three months later in the Volga, covered with wounds and bearing the traces of circumcision. The latter circumstance led the coroners to believe that the crime had been perpetrated by Jews. Saratov, a city situated outside the Pale of Settlement, harbored at that time a small Jewish settlement consisting of some forty soldiers of the local garrison and several civilian Jewish tradesmen and artisans who lived in the prohibited Volga town by the grace of the police. There were also a few converts.

The vigilant eyes of the coroners were riveted on this settlement. An official by the name of Durnovo, who had been dispatched from St. Petersburg to take charge of the case, began at once to direct the inquiry into the channel of a ritual murder case. Needless to say there were soon found material witnesses from among the ignorant or criminal class who were under the hypnotic influence of the ritual murder myth. A private, called Bogdanov, who had been convicted of vagrancy, and an intoxicated gubernatorial official by the name of Krueger testified that they were present at the time when the Jews squeezed out the blood from the bodies of the murdered boys. They also mentioned by name the principal perpetrators of the murder, the "circumcision expert" in the local Jewish settlement, a soldier called Shlieferman, and a furrier named Yankel Yushkevicher, a devout Jew. The incriminated Jews were thrown into prison, but, despite excruciating cross-examinations, they and the other defendants indignantly denied not only their complicity in the murder but also the ritual murder accusation as a whole.

The investigation became more and more involved, drawing into its net a constantly growing number of persons, until in July, 1854, a special "Judicial Commission" was appointed by order of Nicholas I. for the purpose of disclosing not only the particular crime committed at Saratov but also "of investigating the dogmas of the religious fanaticism of the Jews." The latter task, being of a theoretic nature, was entrusted, in 1855, to a special commission under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior. Among the theologians and Hebraists who were members of that Commission was also the baptized professor Daniel Chwolson who had scientifically disproved the ritual legend. In 1856, after a protracted inquiry of two years, the judicial commission, having failed to discover evidence against the accused, decided to set them at liberty, but "to leave them under strong suspicion."

In the meantime, Alexander II. had ascended the throne of the Tzars, and the dawn of Russian renascence began to disperse the nightmares of the past era. Yet so deeply ingrained were the old prejudices in many bureaucratic minds that when the conclusion reached by the judicial commission was submitted to the Senate the votes were divided. The case was transferred to the Council of State, and there the high dignitaries managed to effect a compromise between their medieval prejudices and their involuntary concessions to the spirit of the age. They refused to enter into a discussion of "the still unsolved question as to the use of Christian blood by the Jews," but they "unhesitatingly recognized the existence of the crime itself," which had been perpetrated at Saratov--this in spite of the fact that the only ground on which the crime was ascribed to alleged fanatical practices and laid at the door of the Jews were the traces of circumcision on the dead bodies. Ignoring this inner contradiction and setting aside the weighty objections of the liberal Minister of Justice Zamyatin, the Council of State brought in a verdict of guilty against the impeached Jews, the soldier Shlieferman and the two Yushkevichers, senior and junior, sentencing them to penal servitude.

The sentence was confirmed by Alexander II. in May, 1860. The representatives of the St. Petersburg community, Baron Joseph Guenzburg and others, petitioned the Tzar to postpone the verdict until the scholarly commission of experts should have rendered its decision with regard to the compatibility of ritual murder with the teachings of Judaism. But the president of the Council of State, Count Orlov, presented the matter to the Tzar in a different light, asserting that all that the Jews intended by their petition was "to keep off for an indefinite period the decision on a case in which their coreligionists are involved." He, therefore, insisted on the immediate execution of the sentence, and the Tzar yielded.

After eight long years of incarceration, in the course of which two of the impeached Jews committed suicide, the principal "perpetrators" were found to be physical wrecks and no longer able to discharge their penal servitude. The innocent sufferer, old Yushkevicher, languished in prison for seven more years, and was finally liberated in 1867 by order of Alexander II., who had been petitioned by Adolph Cremieux, the president of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, to pardon the unhappy man. In this way the heritage of the dark past protruded into the increasing brightness of the new Russia, which in the beginning of the sixties was passing through the era of "Great Reforms."



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