Russia: Blood Libel and Persecution in Late-Tsarist and Stalinist Russia

by Jasmine Percell-Thompson


The topic of exploring a connection between blood libel in late-Tsarist Russia and the Stalinist Terror is important because it identifies how resonant themes from blood libel trials and accusations persisted in the Soviet consciousness and reappeared in the Terror.  These themes are those such as a mob mentality, the creation of two groups in society: one included and accepted group which is staunchly opposed to the presence and ideals of “the Other” which threatens their sense of national identity, the accumulation and fabrication of evidence, the importance of witness testimony, the influence of the media, the use of the accusation for personal gain, and the influence of the agenda of the ruling power.  The major sources in this annotated bibliography are the following:  Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis by Robert Weinberg, “Empowerment, Defiance, and Demise: Jews and the Blood Libel Specter under Stalinism” by Elissa Bemporad, “The “Ritual Murder” Case in Kiev” by George Kennan, and Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953 by Jonathan Brent and Vladimir P. Naumov.  The existing existing historiography on these topics explores more often the perception of Jews in late-Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union; most of the sources written about blood libel in Russia focus mainly on the influences which led to the blood libel accusation rather than providing much information on individual blood libel cases, in the exception of the Beilis case, which is mentioned and discussed in detail in nearly all of the sources in this annotated bibliography.  Although some of the sources date from 1927 to give the topic of the Terror and antisemitism in Soviet Russia context, in regards to Stalinism, the specific scope of this annotated bibliography for the paper is from the late 1940s to 1953, while the scope for the blood libel in Tsarist Russia is from the 1870s to 1911.  This guide is separated into two themes: the Stalinist Terror and Late-Tsarist Russia; within these themes there are sections for books and journal articles, the books being separated into subsections for primary and secondary sources.


Topic: the Stalinist Terror and Antisemitism in Soviet Russia


Secondary Sources

  • “The Biro-Bidzhan Project, 1927-1959″ focused on the perception of Soviet leaders that the Jews were not a nation, rather they viewed the Jewish population as a group which would eventually be assimilated into Soviet society.  Thereby, they underlined the differences between their form of settling Jews with the Biro-Bidzhan Project versus the Zionist method in Palestine.  Stalin made a speech, “On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R.” in which he outlined his three requirements for autonomous regions to exist within the constituent Soviet republics.  “Soviet Theory on the Jews” first examined the traditional Russian sense of cultural identity, Russian Orthodox Christianity, then compared this with the idea of Soviet Marxism, and aligned the two ideals based on their insistence of mental homogeneity.  It was the perception of the Soviet public that Jews voluntarily removed themselves from the homogeneity of society and therefore they were a group about which one should be suspicious.  The ultimate goal for the Soviet Union for the Bolsheviks was to create a for universality in the Bolshevik state: in order to accomplish this, all citizens must have homogeneous mental and cultural identity.  Therefore the Bolsheviks were sensitive to anything ethnically or culturally opposed to them, in this case, the Jews, who were characterised as the outsiders within the empire and are therefore, were a danger to the state.  Furthermore, explored was Marx’s theory on the Jewish community as the cause of society’s issues because they represent a monopoly over money and therefore have ruined the cohesion of society.  Marx believed there should be an elimination of Judentum, which has conquered Christendom.  Stalin’s Marxism and the National Question argued against the Bund and a nationhood for the Jews, stating that the Jews should be assimilated into Russian society.  What further separated the Jews into the category of the enemy was that the Gentiles associated Jews with exploiters and when the Bolsheviks took power, they created a national culture out of the working class as being separate from and opposed to the exploiters.  The remaining books in this annotated bibliography provide information on the Purges and the Doctors’ Plot.  During the Purges, as relationships formed between interrogators and victims, multiple interrogators had to be removed from their cases since they began to speak against the government’s proceedings.  Used in certain phases of the interrogation process was torture, the use of which eventually made those accused truly believed they were guilty because of the ingrained belief that the party was always right.  There were no witnesses for the defense; witnesses were only allowed for the prosecution, who signed statements which listed their crimes so that they could be trusted.  In Czechoslovakia, the Purge became anti-Semitic in nature and Stalin spread this to the rest of the Soviet empire.  Stalin’s campaign against the Jews was initiated as an anti-cosmopolitan campaign as a disguise to persecute the Jews which culminated into the Doctors’ Plot, which operated under the guise of “unmasking” the Jewish threat to Russia.  The terror did not focus on one member of the party or state hierarchy, it spread and reached higher echelons, targeting all members of the party.  Also important was the use of false evidence which lead to arrests and therefore, personal gain to the benefit of the accuser.  The idea of the Purges became culturally ingrained in society and many victims of the main show trials were Jewish men who were of visible status in society, such as those who were integral in the creation of the first Communist state.  Additionally, many witnesses used in trials were Jewish.  Influential to birth of the Doctors’ Plot was Stalin’s despise of doctors, who, in his mind, were those who invaded the body and characterised psychoanalysis as “Jew science.”  Stalin’s paranoia against the Jewish population created a “pseudo-community” of the enemy, thereby isolating the Jewish community from the rest of Soviet society.  Of utmost importance throughout the Purge and the Doctors’ Plot was the concept of a communist nationality, the communist view of religion, Soviet ethnocentrism and suspicion of those who have contact with or are foreigners which embodied the dichotomy of Stalin’s Great Russian patriotism of the 1940s versus the “Jewish nationalism.”

Abramsky, Chimen. “The Biro-Bidzhan Project, 1927-1959.” In Jews in Soviet Russia Since 1917, edited by Lionel Kochan, 64-77. London: Oxford University Press, 1978.

This chapter addresses the Jewish settlement in the Biro-Bidzhan region.  Soviet leaders viewed and argued this project as being distinct from the Zionist project in Palestine because they believed the Jewish community as being able to be assimilated into the Soviet Union in the future.  Stalin also commented on the implementation of an autonomous region which would become constituent Soviet republics and outlined his three requirements for an autonomous regions to exist within the constituent Soviet republics in his speech, “On the Draft Constitution of the U.S.S.R.”

Brent, Jonathan, and Vladimir P. Naumov. Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

This book outlines in immense detail the Doctors’ Plot and its origins with the death of Andrei Zhdanov and the subsequent letter by Lydia Timashuk, who worked at the hospital where Zhdanov was treated, claiming that not enough had been done to prevent Zhdanov’s death.  The accusations against doctors made during the Plot, fueled by Timashuk’s letter, were part of a predetermined crime and since most of the victims of the Plot were Jewish, the Christian Russian community believed in the idea that Jews were destroyers to Christian society and brought harm to those within the community.  Stalin’s government used the Doctors’ Plot as a distraction from its inefficiencies and as a means of legitimating its rule.  Also focused on extensively is Stalin’s obsession of Jewish spies who were providing information for foreign powers.  This idea of doctors, most often Jewish, who harm those within the community and are anti-Soviet spies culminated into the interrogation of the Jewish Dr. Etinger, who was visible within the community and one of the doctors who was consulted when treating Zhdanov.  Characteristic of the Doctors’ Plot was the high amount of citizens involvement in the act of accusing, as exemplified by Timashuk’s letter which began the investigation of doctors involved in treating Zhdanov.  The belief in the necessity of the accusation spawned from the Government’s instilling the idea in the public of the constant presence of enemies and that the act of denouncing was promoted by the government as a means of expressing patriotism and nationalism.  This book also focuses on the government investigators’ involvement in perpetuating the Doctors’ Plot and how a narrative of accusation was created which could be used for personal gain, in particular Mikhail Ryumin, the MGB member who was also Dr. Ettinger’s interrogator.  Ryumin’s interrogation followed a specific agenda: to torture Ettinger until he admitted to having committed an anti-Soviet crime which he did not in actuality commit.  The goal of the interrogation of Dr. Ettinger was to find evidence which was already presumed to exist to bolster a presupposed idea.  After Ettinger died under Ryumin’s interrogation, Ryumin needed to redeem himself to his fellow Party members so using the system of denunciation, he duplicates what he has seen other people do successfully so that he can have a member of the Party dismissed for a false charge of anti-Soviet activity.  This book focuses on how the possibility for personal gain and self-interest was how the fictitious crime during the Doctor’s Plot was perpetrated: the crime during the Doctor’s Plot originated from the idea of the constant presence of Jewish infiltrators within the Soviet community representing foreign dangers to the Soviet Union during the Cold War which manifested itself into the physical danger of killer doctors.

Hodos, George H. Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 1948-1954. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1987.

This book focuses on multiple show trials during the Purges.  The themes throughout these trials were that government officials were dismissed if they did not promote and find fabricated evidence to support the government’s narrative, torture was used against witnesses and those against whom the case was being built, and the use of witness manipulation through torture, blackmail, and rehearsal of what was to be said in court.  This book also focuses specifically on the Slansky trial which used as defendants visible citizens in the community with known anti-Soviet affiliations.  Themes of the Slansky trial and other show trials were that there was an emphasis on antisemitic characterisation of the Jews, such as the idea of a Jewish obsession with money, and the Jewish background of the defendants.  Furthermore, the prosecution promoted the idea of Jews as being in league with foreign nations and therefore of Jews aiding in the attempted campaign to destroy of the Soviet Union by sentencing the Jews on trial with having committed anti-Soviet crimes.

Miller, Jacob. “Soviet Theory on the Jews.” In Jews in Soviet Russia Since 1917, edited by Lionel Kochan, 46-63. London: Oxford University Press, 1978.

This chapter of Jew in Soviet Russia Since 1917 seeks to explain where Jews resided in the Russian national identity and why the Christian populace of Russia dissociated themselves from the Jewish community.  The reason Miller provides as to why Jews in Russia were not considered Russian was because the cultural identity of Russia was that of Orthodox Christianity and anything outside of this was viewed as foreign.  Miller argues this idea of mental homogeneity was instilled in the Christian Russian populace through the ideas of Marxism and the communist ideal of the collective, which insisted there existed one group against another.  Using this logic, the Jews of Russia considered infiltrators in the community, or collective, of Russian Christians.  Also focused on in this chapter are Marx and Stalin’s ideas on the Jews: Marx openly believed that Jews were the destroyers of society while Stalin wrote an essay entitled Marxism and the National Question in which he addressed his ideas on the Jews in Russian society.

Rapoport, Louis. Stalin’s War Against the Jews: The Doctor’s Plot and the Soviet Union. New York: The Free Press, 1990.

This book separates into sections, such as the Great Purge and the Slansky trial.  In the section detailing the Great Purge, themes included the use of visible Jews within the community as victims and focused on was Stalin and his reasons for enacting the Purge.  The author of this book focuses on Stalin’s paranoia, obsessive tendencies, and his personal contempt for science and therefore doctors.  Since in the Soviet Union, Jews were the overwhelming majority in the profession, Stalin also despised and had an inherent distrust of Jews.  This logic was used during the Slansky trial and Stalin’s personal fear of death and therefore suspicion towards doctors, especially those who were Jewish, who he believed were trying to kill him fueled the persecution of doctors.  Also addressed was the personal agenda Lydia Timashuk had for sending her letter accusing the doctors who treated Andrei Zhdanov of improperly treating him.  Pervasive in Soviet society during this time was a distrust of the Jews, even those whose origins were Jewish, as having anti-Soviet affiliations.  During the Slansky trial, Rudolf Slanksy’s Jewish background was constantly alluded to during the trial as a means of manipulating the court through an antisemitic characterisation of the person on trial.  The characterisation of Jews during this time in the press were as destroyers or those who harm, secret infiltrators who seek to kill those within society and destroy the Soviet Union.  The antisemitic press also promoted the Christian Russian populace’s fear of the Jewish community and the idea of the Jews as being an alien nation which would literally and figuratively poison the community.  Jews were further portrayed by antisemitic propaganda as being in league with foreign powers to destroy Soviet Union.  The falsified information released by those involved in the press was seen as acts of patriotism and national duty by those not being persecuted.  The result of antisemitic propaganda was that an intense fear was ignited in the Christian Russian public of the Jewish community and there was an increase in the number of the reports of purported Jewish plots.

Weinryb, Bernard D. “Antisemitism in Soviet Russia” In Jews in Soviet Russia Since 1917, edited by Lionel Kochan, 300-332. London: Oxford University Press, 1978.

This chapter focuses mostly on subject matter outside of the scope of the Stalinist Purges.  What was useful in this source is that Weinryb addresses the idea of the communist nationality in the Soviet context as being defined through an inherent sense of suspicion for outsiders.  Furthermore, in the context of the Stalinist Purges, Russian patriotism was defined by being anitsemitic.

Journal Articles

  • These sources address Stalin’s idea of contamination and subsequent danger within the Soviet Union of different ideals.  Pervasive was the notion of Russians versus non-Russians and the use of language to associate labels to the positive attributes of being Russian and the negative, anti-Russian labels being associated with non-Russians, who were perceived as a threat to Russia.  Using language proliferated through the media, a crucial factor in creating the identities of a Russian and a non-Russian, the “Other,” or enemy, versus society narrative was created.  The Russian government under Stalin sought a group to blame for the hardships within the Soviet Union in the late 1940s.  Crucial during this time was one’s loyalty to the regime, which was the leading reason why Stalin turned against the Jews: the agenda was to “expose” the non-Russians, the Jews, and remove them from the Soviet Union to leave in society only those who were faithful to the regime.  During the anti-cosmopolitan campaign, the idea of being Jewish was conflated with the label of being a cosmopolitan; therefore anti-Semitism and anti-cosmopolitanism came to have the same definition, an idea which was proliferated to the Russian public by Stalin and his government through newspapers.  An important theme of the post-war Russian government was that it supported anti-Semitism, which was strengthened by the public’s already inherent anti-Semitic mindset.  During World War II, the Russian government attempted to temper popular anti-Semitism.  One tactic used during this time was that when blood libel accusations were made and found to be false, those accused would seek justice from officials who would use the importance of the war effort as an excuse not to pursue the punishment of those who made the ritual murder accusation.  Those who sought truth in these situations were “dismissed” from their occupations.  In the post- World War II period, and from the Black Years of the early 1940s to 1953, when Stalin promoted anti-Semitism, there existed a “brotherhood of peoples” which characterised the Jewish population as the dangerous foreign presence in the Soviet Union.  Crucial during this time period was the media, which nearly entirely stopped reporting anti-Semitic outbreaks.  The 1953 Doctors’ Plot altered the narrative of the ritual murder into a secular form of blood libel: resonant themes from blood libel accusations in the accusations made against Jews during the Doctors’ Plot were of Jews harming children and the use of the media to promote the idea to the public that the Jewish population were responsible for harm that befell children.  During the Doctors’ Plot, the Soviet Union’s problems, in this case the high child mortality rate, was blamed on the Jews.  Imperative to the proliferation of the conspiracy of the modern blood libel which manifested itself in the Doctors’ Plot was the media, which influenced and fomented an already negative popular opinion of the Jews.

Azadovskii, Konstantin and Boris Egorov. “From Anti-Westernism to Anti-Semitism: Stalin and the Impact of the “Anti-Cosmopolitan” Campaigns on Soviet Culture.” Journal of Cold War Studies 4, no. 1 (2002): 66-80.

The authors of this article trace the beginning of Stalinist anti-Western sentiment to the belief that troops returning from World War II were contaminated by Western ideals and therefore were anti-Soviet.  During this time, anti-Western propaganda in conjunction with Russian nationalism was proliferated by the press through campaigns and imagery as an attempt to protect Soviet society from pro-Western sentiment.  Through this new focus on nationalism and Russian national identity, the idea of patriotism was reconstructed in the redefining of the word patriot, which was equated with being Russian.  The idea of what it meant to be Russian and how one would exhibit acts of patriotism was defined against being non-Russian; if one was non-Russian then they were suspected of trying to destroy the Soviet Union.  Also focused on in this article was the influence of propaganda such as articles, decrees, theatre productions, and film to define the Russian culture.  Stalin’s goal before and during the Purge was to rid society of “non-Russian” values or ideas.  Eventually, the idea of the community versus the “Other” was created: society was separated into those who were considered Russian and those who were considered to be non-Russian.  This fabricated distinction encouraged rampant suspicion and created the idea of the omnipotent, faceless enemy which was responsible for problems within society to provoke fear within the community of people who were considered Russian.  During the Anti-cosmopolitan campaign, the language of anti-cosmopolitanism eventually became conflated with antisemitism as Stalin sought to use prominent Jewish figures within Soviet society as proof of the existence of an anti-Soviet group within society.  Stalin believed that if there was any evidence of embracing Western ideals, this could potentially provide evidence for arrest.

Bemporad, Elissa. “Empowerment, Defiance, and Demise: Jews and the Blood Libel Specter under Stalinism.” Jewish History 26, no. 3-4 (2012): 343-361.

This article outlines various ritual murder accusations which support the claim that antisemitism was the defining characteristic of Tsar Nicholas II’s rule.  After Tsar Nicholas II’s rule, there was a shift from what was considered a primitive antisemitism, which included a belief in the ritual murder accusation, to a modern antisemitism, which did not blatantly use the blood libel accusation.  Despite this, during the late 1920s and the 1930s, the blood libel accusation persisted.  Bemporad argues that the timing of a particular ritual murder accusation during the late 1930s was significant because it took place during Stalin’s terror campaign, during which there was a focus on uncovering enemies which were supposedly present in society.  Bemporad further argues this mentality facilitated the public’s acceptance of Stalin’s characterisation of the Jews as being the untrustworthy group in society during the anti-cosmopolitan campaign.  Also argued is that the Doctor’s Plot was the reinvention of the ritual murder accusation for a modern audience through using the Jewish community as a means of physically portraying the public’s fears during the Cold War.

Topic: Late-Tsarist Russia


Secondary Sources

  • Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia explores the Beilis case, which is characterised as an attempt by the Tsarist government to avoid international scrutiny and justify its regime’s anti-Semitic policies while distracting the public from turning against the regime.  The Beilis case instead inspired criticism of the regime.  Important themes were that the defense team for the victim’s mother was chosen by the state and were anti-Semitic, the state increased the number of police, and the state controlled the information released regarding the trial which it perceived could incense relations between Jews and non-Jews to protect against protests or a pogrom during the trial.  Also important was citizen involvement in the form of letters meant to assist the government in the trial and the sense of the public to help the government as a responsibility of national identity to be against the “Other,” in this case, the Jews.  Prevalent was the populace’s belief in mysticism and the occult, which was revealed in the letters sent to the government.  Jews were seen as a threat to Russia and its sense of national identity.  Important was the media and anti-Semitic caricatures to incense public hatred of the Jews.  The reason why the government failed in its pursuit of the Beilis case was because of the lack of physical evidence and the issue of unreliable and inconsistent witnesses which caused the case to become dismantled.  Also prevalent was police brutality against witnesses in an attempt to force them to adopt a government approved narrative of the murder, to which witnesses admitted.  After it was proven that the case could not target one person, Beilis, the entire Jewish community was then on trial.  In this expanded trial, experts and expert testimony which ignored evidence and were clearly anti-Semitic were used by the government.  Important was that the Pope condemned ritual murder accusations while the laity of Christian society believed it to be true and supported the accusations.  Also influential was that the Tsarist government was criticised throughout the world and within Russia because the trial information was accessible.  Imperial Russia’s Jewish Question explores the occult influence in and the origins of the blood libel accusation and Judeophobia, which viewed the Jews as a threat to Christians.  The occult was present in ritual murder accusations as part of the conspiracy believed by the Russians that the Jews were attempting world domination and the destruction of Christian society.  Klier explains the traditional idea of blood libel and how it was used to explain unsolved murders.  In one of the first cases of a ritual murder accusation in Saratov, use of a converted Jew as part of the government’s commission to investigate the truth of the Blood Libel.  The pervasive idea in Soviet society was that because Christians knew nothing about Judaism or Jews, their culture and ideals were therefore suspicious.  Following this logic, when the Russian Jewish intelligentsia rejected the blood libel claims, this raised suspicion within the Christian community and validated their idea of the truth of the blood libel.  Klier focuses on N.P. Giliarov-Platonov, who was one of the first to endorse the idea of the blood libel and because of his social and academic credentials, gave the accusation credence.  He wrote articles about the supposed origins of blood libel in 1873 and wrote a report in 1875 that stated the Jews had kidnapped a Christian child for ritual murder purposes, which resulted in the public believing the claims made about Jews in ritual murder accusations, therefore highlighting the importance of the media in influencing public opinion.  Also focused on was Ippolit Liutostanskii, who was a main figure of proliferating Judeophobia through literature.  In 1876 Liutostanskii published The Question of the Use by Jewish-Sectarians of Christian Blood for Religious Purposes in Connection with Questions of the General Attitudes of Jewry to Christianity in which he promoted the idea that the Talmud was an anti-Christian document and provided a series of narratives of ritual murder cases.  He claimed that the persistence of the charge meant that the accusation must be at least somewhat truthful.  This book created uproar in the Russian press, inspiring reviews and imitators of his work, and therefore the work came to be regarded one of serious scholastic merit.

Klier, John Doyle. Imperial Russia’s Jewish Question, 1855-1881. Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

The chapter “The Occult Element in Russian Judeophobia” in this book addresses the occult, the idea of mysticism in the Orthodox Christian Russian community, and the origins of the ritual murder accusation in Russia during tsarist rule.  The obsession with the occult culminated into a Christian Russian fear of the Jews, which became the basis of the ritual murder claim and where the ideas for the fabricated crime originated.  Jews were characterised as destroyers to Christian society and therefore the blood libel was used as an explanation for unsolved crimes within the Christian community.  This source also includes the first accusation of ritual murder in modern Russian history to occur outside of the Pale region in 1860. Furthermore, this source goes into great detail explaining the influence the press had in swaying public opinion and discusses the two major figures who helped to give credence to the ritual murder accusation: N.P. Gilianov-Platonov and Ippolit Liutostanskii.  The antisemitic themes in Gilianov-Platonov’s articles written in the late 1800s were that what he presented as facts were based on rumour, he presented the idea of a historical innate Jewish obsession over vendetta, and that Jews were involved in violence.  Liutostanskii took advantage of the popularity of the ritual murder accusation by using his publications on blood libel to foment fear and therefore attain recognition for himself by establishing himself as an expert on the topic.  Antisemitic themes in Liutostanskii’s writings were that he claimed the Jewish religion taught and promoted an anti-Christian hatred which encouraged Jews to persecute Christians, he focused on the Talmud as proof of the origins of anti-Christian sentiment, and he used the following cyclical argument to provide proof for his claims: because ritual murder accusations kept being made, there must have been some truth.  The consequence of articles such as these were that the Jewish community said vehemently that the accusation was false, which further bolstered the antisemites’ claim since they reasoned that adamant denial was proof of the ritual murder claim being real.  Furthermore, the Christian Russian public was successfully frightened by these articles as more reports of ritual murder appeared and Christian parents feared for the safety of their children after the publication of these writings.  This source also studies briefly the March 5, 1879 Kutais District Court case which suffered bias as a result of the ritual murder uproar in society.

Weinberg, Robert. Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014.

This source explores the many factors which influenced the outcome of the Mendel Beilis Trial and attempts to piece together evidence to find who truly murdered Andrei Iushchinskii.  Initially, this murder case began with a police investigation which sought to uncover what actually happened to Andrei then the Right-wing groups label the murder as being a ritual murder killing, which led to the hunt which consistently ignored evidence to find a Jewish victim on whom the murder could be pinned.  This source delves into describing the use of propaganda in the form of imagery by the antisemitic groups and press to instill fear into the Christian Russian populace by associating Jews with blood, ritual murder, and the devil and publishing emotional and violent appeals which warn Christian parents to keep their children safe from the Jews.  The antisemitic press used imagery to illustrate their message that the Jewish population was a threat to society and used caricatures which contained Jewish stereotypes and focused on the supposed Jewish worship of money and idols and a physicality that made them distinct from the Christian Russian community; this source also includes a number of the caricatures to supplement the descriptions.  An additional powerful propagandistic tool used by antisemitic groups was the press: despite the lack of evidence, the idea of Andrei’s murder being of a ritual murder nature was proliferated through the press.  This source also focuses on the perception of Jews throughout society: the belief by the government that Jews were a threat to Russian society, the campaign led by the antisemitic group the Black Hundreds which proliferated the belief that Jews were set on destroying stability in Russian society, and the superstitious and supernatural ideas pervasive in Russian society and also in the jury of the Beilis trial which influenced the way gentiles viewed Jews in society.  What is additionally addressed is the government’s involvement in the manipulation of the Christian Russian public for its own gain: the tsar used the Beilis trial to distract the Russian public from inefficiencies of the government and thereby forestall the regime’s inevitable collapse.  This source also extensively studies the involvement of the Tsar’s ministers in either furthering the manipulation of the evidence presented for the case or attempting to discover who truly murdered Andrei.  Also described in detail is the investigation process, during which letters were sent to investigators by the Christian Russian populace, which expressed a belief in ritual murder and therefore attempted to direct the police to the Jews as the murderers.  These letters were sent by Russian citizens to the government because their authors believed it was part of their civic duty to help in the government’s investigation.  In the end, the government’s case against Beilis failed because of a lack of physical evidence and discrepancies with witness testimonies.  Beilis was acquitted, yet instead of this being a failure for the government, it proved to not be an issue.  The goal of the government was to put the entire Jewish community on trial rather than Beilis specifically and make the ritual murder accusation into a reality, which it succeeded in doing by making the Christian Russian populace suspicious of the Jewish community.  Finally, this book includes multiple primary sources from various sources dating from before the Beilis trial to after the trial.

Journal Articles

  • These sources address the Beilis case and focus on the use of newspapers and the media to influence popular opinion and the popular belief in the supernatural.  An important theme of the blood libel accusation was the the Soviet people knew what ritual murder was and how it looked and used this not only to evade punishment for crimes, but also for personal gain by framing the Jews.  An important aspect of the ritual murder accusation was that not one member of the Jewish community was accused, but the entire Jewish community was held suspect.  A major influence in the Beilis trial was the knowledge by one of the murderers that letters would be used in the case against the Jews in a ritual murder trial and used this to his advantage.  Although the letter contained information that clearly only one of the murderers would have, this information was dismissed by authorities in favour of sustaining a narrative which could be used against the Jews in a ritual murder trial.  What was interesting about the Beilis trial was that this type of murder in its context was usual for the area in which it was committed, but once the idea of ritual murder was associated with the crime by the author of the letter, the story of the murder was used by anti-Semitic groups and the Tsar in an attempt to persecute the entire Jewish community.  There existed a dichotomy between the liberals, who considered ritual murder accusations a disgrace and the common people, who were initially not swayed by anti-Semitic organisations to engage in pogroms.  Crucial in the investigation of the ritual murder accusation was that the Tsar and his ministers supported and attempted to give credence to the accusation.  An important theme to the ritual murder trial was that the existence of evidence did not matter since the Tsar could find means of conjuring whatever supporting evidence needed for the case.  There also existed a dichotomy between the Kiev police who were intent on discovering what truly occurred versus the government, which had already decided to place blame on Beilis for the crime and ordered his arrest.  The government created a trap in which detectives pursuing the truth of the case could be accused of and arrested for fabricating evidence, and even when there was evidence proving that this accusation was false, it was dismissed.  Finally, the blood libels of Tisza Eszlar in Prague, in which an entire Jewish community rather than one Jew was accused, the Dreyfus affair, the blood libel of Polna, in which the media was heavily used to influence public opinion, are analysed.

Band, Arnold J. “Kafka and the Beiliss Affair.” Comparative Literature 32, no. 2 (1980): 168-183.

This article explores the Beilis trial and the government’s involvement in not only creating a case against Mendel Beilis, but also attempting to foment the Christian public’s hatred of Jews for political advantage.  Also addressed is that this trial was subject to an international audience and criticism of the perversion of justice within Russia.  The article also includes short synopses of other blood libel accusations, which exhibit the same themes as the Beilis trial, such as the accusation of the entire Jewish community rather than one individual and the influence of the press to manipulate public perception of the truth.  Most valuable in this source is the addition of an article written during the period of the Beilis trial, which writes about the idea of there being in Russian society a pervasive idea of the community versus the “Other.”  The author writes that the Beilis trial is not just about the prosecution of one man, but it is about the Jewish community being ostracized from gentile society.  Also analysed by the author is the use of language and accusation to threaten the safety of the Jewish community which stands apart from the Gentile society.

Bekhterev, V. M. “The Iushchinskii Murder and the Expert Psychiatric-Psychological Opinion.” Translated by Lydia Razran Stone. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology 41, no. 2 (2003): 7-70.

This article outlines the Beilis trial and explores the use of expert testimony, specifically from psychiatrists, during the end of the Beilis trial in 1913.

Berkowitz, Joel. “The ‘Mendel Beilis Epidemic’ on the Yiddish Stage.” Jewish Social Studies 8, no. 1 (2001): 199-225.

This article focuses on the international audience the Beilis trial gained through theatre and the dramatisation of the trial as it was happening.  The Yiddish press attacked the use of Beilis’s story for personal and monetary gain as the exploitation of Mendel Beilis.  Also included in this article are caricatures published during the time the plays were being performed which criticised the theatre’s taking advantage of Mendel Beilis.  In the theatrical productions of the Beilis trial, often events were fabricated and added to the story, which was also criticised.  These critics nevertheless went to these productions of the Beilis trial, revealing that they did not have a problem with a play being made out of Beilis’s trial, but they had an issue with the irreverent sort of play that attempted to mix humor with serious content instead of presenting what was actually occurring.

Giffin, Frederick C. “American Reactions to the Beilis Case.” Social Science 55, no. 2 (1980): 89-93.

This article outlines the Beilis trial and the American protests against Russia’s trial against Mendel Beilis.

Kennan, George. “The “Ritual Murder” Case in Kiev.” The Outlook 105 (1913): 529-534.

This article explores the Mendel Beilis trial and its origins.  Focused on are the many failed attempts by the Right-wing antisemitic press to incite the Christian Russian populace into pogroms against the Jews by proliferating the idea of Andrei’s murder being an act of ritual murder before the Beilis trial.  The reason why the blood libel accusation was able to come to fruition was because Tsar Nicholas II and his Ministers saw the narrative being promoted by antisemitic groups as a means by which to attain political advantage for themselves if supported. One of the reasons why the case against Beilis was manipulated by reactionary, antisemitic groups and the tsarist government to justify the government’s repressive measures against the Jews and because it fit with the Tsar’s antisemitic perception of the Jews.  Additionally, as a result of the Christian public already knowing how ritual murder was supposed to look and the power the accusation held, the ritual murder accusation was used by Christian Russians to evade punishment and for personal gain by framing the Jews; an important distinction to note is that there is not one Jew in question, but all Jews.  In the area where the Andrei Iushchinkii murder occurred, this type of murder was usual for the area; but, once the idea of ritual murder was associated to the case by the author of a letter sent to the government’s investigators, the letter was used as proof in the investigation of ritual murder by antisemitic groups and the tsarist government.  This article focuses on the systematic ignoring of evidence by investigators who insisted on supporting the Tsar’s interest in supporting the ritual murder claim while two Kiev police, Chief Mishchuk and Detective Krassouski, actually attempted to find who the true murderer of Andrei was and were dismissed from the government altogether in order to continue the unchallenged pursuit of the ritual murder narrative within the government.

Kieval, Hillel J. “Death and the Nation: Ritual Murder as Political Discourse in the Czech Lands.” Jewish History 10, no. 1 (1996): 75-91.

This article explores the proliferation of the ritual murder accusation in Czech territory and how Jews did not fit into Czech society.  Jews in this territory were defined as being neither German nor Czech and because they could not be categorised, therefore, were viewed as a group with no nationality and no patriotic ties.  For this reason, the Jews were seen as a suspect group to Czech society which allowed for the ritual murder accusation to gain credence in the region.

Klier, John. “Cry Bloody Murder.” East European Jewish Affairs 36, no. 2 (2006): 213-229.

This article outlines the blood libel accusation in the Beilis trial and the influence of the Right-wing organisations in the trial.

Murav, Harriet. “The Beilis Ritual Murder Trial and the Culture of Apocalypse.” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 12, no. 2 (2000): 243-263.

This article outlines the Beilis trial and juxtaposes it against other cases which were characterised as the Christian populace fighting against the “uncivilised” of society, such as the Multan case.  Murav argues the Beilis trial is still significant in the study of culture and law.  The Beilis trial was legally important because it simultaneously tried one man, Mendel Beilis, and the entire Jewish community.  Murav states that the trial was pursued on a medical, historical, anthropological, and psychological basis.  Focused on in this article is the antisemitic idea during the Beilis trial that the Jewish religion and study was steeped in violence and anti-Christian sentiment.  Further analysed is language and symbolism used in the Beilis trial and the representation by non-Jews of ritual murder and its supposed meaning to the Jewish community.

Rogger, Hans. “The Beilis Case: Anti-Semitism and Politics in the Reign of Nicholas II.” Slavic Review 25, no. 4 (1966): 615-629.

This article analyses the Beilis trial as being the source of the divide in the Russian populace during the early 1900s and analyses Tsar Nicholas II and his Ministers’ involvement in the trial and their building of a case against Mendel Beilis.  Rogger also takes into account that the Tsar and his Ministers knew that Beilis was not guilty and therefore questions why the Tsarist government promoted the ritual murder narrative.

Zeitlin, S. “The Blood Accusation.” The Jewish Quarterly Review 59, no. 1 (1968): 76-80.

This article outlines the nature of the ritual murder accusation and outlines the Beilis trial.  Zeitlin also analyses the tsarist government’s involvement in the trial against Beilis and the murder of Stolypin as a tool used by Tsar Nicholas II to give credence to his support of the ritual murder narrative for the murder of Andrei Iushchinskii.  Also analysed are the public’s reactions to the blood libel accusation.