A page-turning history/true-crime story surrounding the myth of blood libel, the idea that “Jews commit ritual murder to obtain Christian blood” to use in Passover rites.
The fiction of blood libel can be traced precisely to Thomas of Monmouth, who first published the accusation in 1150. No matter how many bishops, popes and monarchs unreservedly rejected the accusation, it has managed to pop up with alarming regularity. The late 19th century was particularly virulent, with 79 cases alleging ritual murder in Eastern Europe. At that time, Russia maintained nearly 1,500 anti-Semitic statutes on their books. The 1911 case of Mendel Beilis, who was accused of the murder (and supposed blood libel) of teenager Andrei Yushchinsky, is a perfect fit for the talents of Emmy Award–winning Good Morning America writer and producer Levin. His easy narrative style makes the book read like a novel as he points out the absolute absurdity of the baseless accusation. His comprehensive research uncovered proof that just about every security official involved found no reason to charge the young factory worker. The obsessive anti-Semite Vladimir Golubev was the first to accuse Beilis, and his fellow right-wing groups took up his cry for blood and threats of pogroms. Those who felt most strongly that it was a Jewish plot were, unfortunately, those who had the most influence: Czar Nicholas II and the chief prosecutor for the Kiev Judicial Chamber, Grigory Chaplinsky. The primary witnesses for the prosecution were three alcoholic derelicts who were primed with vodka before their statements were taken. “The ordeal of Mendel Beilis stands as a cautionary reminder of the power and persistence of a murderous lie,” writes the author. “In the twenty-first century, the Blood Libel is still with us.”
Levin manages to tell the story clearly without provocative bias while pointing out how the entire world demonstrated their incredulity at the absurdity of the entire episode.