BLOOD ACCUSATION by Maurice Samuel


Email this review


In 1911 a schoolboy was brutally murdered on the outskirts of Kiev. At the funeral leaflets were scattered: ""The Yids have tortured Andryusha Yuschinsky to death! Every year, before their Passover, they torture to death several dozens of Christian children in order to get their blood to mix with their matzos...Russians! If your children are dear to you, beat up the Yids!"" So began the medieval nightmare. Against the obvious claims of his innocence, Mendel Beiliss, a Jewish laborer, was brought to trial. The case, which attracted world-wide condemnation generally, had the support of Russia's most reactionary elements, including the Minister of Justice and the Czar. The intent was to stifle pre-revolutionary liberal stirrings by raising the crazy specter of Jewish ritual murder, the ""blood accusation."" Adhering closely to the trial transcript, as well as Beiliss' own account and other contemporary documents, Maurice Samuels has written a sharp-tongued, finely-drawn study, fully appropriating the horror, farce, and drama of the case. There are elegant and biting descriptions of all the principal conspirators (the sequence devoted to Nicholas II and his odd menage is the best in the book), and the dignified characterization of Beiliss, who despite so much chicanery was ultimately acquitted, is quite moving. The ironic touches are a bit heavy-handed at times, and the historical correspondences and contrasts with Dreyfus, the Nazis, and Soviet anti-semitism are rather sketchy, as is the Czarist political scene. Still, a highly satisfying blend of scholarship and storytelling, almost the In Cold Blood of another era with an obvious parallel to Malamud's novel, The Fixer (p. 639).

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1966
Publisher: Knopf