Jews in Russia - The Bailis Affair

The Bailis Affair

Most of the pogroms in Russia took place at the beginning of this century. The result of these pogroms was a still much greater solidarity of the Jewish ethnic group and strengthening of its conviction of the necessity of carrying on the struggle against the regime in every possible way. Besides the Jewish pogroms, there occurred still one more event that rocked not only all of Russian society but also the whole world. This was a trial in Kiev dealing with the accusation of Bailis in a ritual murder.

The possibility itself of such a trial in the enlightened Twentieth Century raised a storm of indignation and protests in the world press. The press did not spare any ink in describing everything that took place in connection with this trial, and, at the same time, making many uncomplimentary comments about Russia and its regime. The words "pogrom" and "trial of Bailis" were linked with Russia in the most uncomplimentary manner, raising ideas and feeding imaginations about the nation and the country as wild, uncultured and lawless. Accusations of Jews in ritual murders, with the aim of obtaining the blood of Christians for Jewish religious ceremonies are just as old as the history of the Jewish sojourn in dispersion. There is no country or nation (where Jews lived) in whose history there was not a case of accusations and trials in ritual murders.

Among the dark and unenlightened national masses of the Christian world, there existed throughout the centuries a conviction that the Jews do indeed commit the ritual murders, in spite of the fact that not a single religion can carry the responsibility for the deeds of its individual sects and that all kinds of religious cruelties are always condemned by religions.

It is not incidental and not without foundation that even in the Sixteenth Century (in 1564) in Poland it was most strictly forbidden by the decree of the King Sigismund-August to provoke accusations against the Jews of ritual murders. This decree was issued at the request of the Jews themselves. At that time they enjoyed great influence in Poland and had the widest "personal-national" autonomy.

And when in Kiev, in 1911, the body of a murdered boy was found, rumor ascribed the murder to the Jews; a judicial process, known as "The Bailis Affair", commenced.

The pages of the Russian and the world press were filled with reports of the trial, creating an unhealthy atmosphere, and, directly and indirectly, accusing the Russian Government of everything. And the government indirectly pointed an accusing finger not to any cruel faction or sect who may have committed the murder but to all Jews in general.

Here is what we read about this trial in the book by S. S. Oldenberg, "The Reign of Emperor Nicholas II", published in 1949 in Munich by the "Society for the Dissemination of Russian National and Patriotic Literature".

"From the 24th of September to the 28th of October in the court of Kiev, the examination of the trial – the famous Bailis Affair ­– took place, attracting hundreds of foreign correspondents and observers.

Even in March 1911, when a twelve year-old boy, Andrey Ushchinsky, was found killed in Kiev, whose body turned out to be bloodless and had 47 pricked wounds, the rumor was at once spread that the boy allegedly had been killed by the Jews, with the aim of using his blood in some kind of secret ceremony.

Some representatives of judicial power, in particular the public prosecutor of the Judicial Chamber, Chaplinsky, undertook the task of proving this version. The local police investigation, however, had indicated something completely different — there were findings indicating that the boy was killed by a gang of thieves. But the advocates of the "ritual" version stated that the police had been bribed by the Jews. In the Duma, the right-wingers even introduced an inquiry in connection with this (in May 1911).

Ignoring the criminal investigators who did not believe in the "ritual" version, the prosecutor, at last, found witnesses testifying that Ushchinsky had allegedly been kidnapped by an office employee of the brick factory, Mendel Bailis, and, along with other unidentified persons, killed him. In August 1911, Bailis was arrested. Contrary to Russian custom the investigation dragged on for over two years until finally, in the autumn of 1913, the affair was brought to court.

The Russian and foreign press showed their unusual interest in this affair. Notable Russian writers and publicists of left orientation protested against the "bloody calumny" on the Jews. The most distinguished lawyers of Russia gathered to defend Bailis. They were N. P. Karabchevsky, V.A. Maklakov, O. O. Gruzenberg and others.

From its side, the right-wing press, led by the "Novoe Vremia" was out to prove the ritual character of the murder. And in assistance to the prosecutor, G. G. Zamyslovsky, a member of the State Duma, and the well-known Moscow lawyer, A. S. Shmakov, author of several anti-Semitic investigations, were appearing as public plaintiffs.

From the very first days of the court, a weakness manifested itself in the validity of the accusation. An article, written by V. V. Shulgin in the old rightist organ, "Kievlianin", (on Sept. 27, 1913) provoked a big uproar. Shulgin wrote that he swore on the coffin of the deceased editor of the newspaper, D. I. Pikhno, to write only the truth. He recounted, from the words of police officials, how it was suggested to them from the top to find a "Jew" by all means: he cited the words of the investigator himself who said that it is not important whether Bailis is guilty or not — what is important is to prove the existence of the ritual murders.

"You yourself commit human sacrifices", Shulgin wrote. "You treated Bailis like a rabbit which is placed on a vivisection table." This issue of "Kievlianin" — for the first time in its existence — was confiscated. The nationalist action reproached Shulgin, though in a mild manner, which after this shifted to the group of center.

Police officials in their reports to St. Petersburg noted, day after day, weaknesses in the testimony of witnesses of the prosecution and conviction of experts of the defense. Among the experts of the prosecution were prominent professors of judicial medicine, but they could prove only that the body was intentionally exsanguinated — which was not an evidence that this was done with the "ritual" aim.

The composition of the jury was, as the saying goes, "gray"-peasants, lower middle class and one postal official. Leftist newspapers accused authorities beforehand of the wish to take advantage of the "people's darkness". V. G. Korolenko wrote that the decision of such a jury cannot be authoritative.

But these simple people treated their task seriously. "How can we judge Bailis when in the court no one talks about him?" — Thus spoke the jurors among themselves, as the police reported.

Speeches of the plaintiffs did not change this impression: a lot was said in them about ritual murder s in general and that the "Jews will ruin Russia", and almost nothing about Bailis.

On October 28, the jury acquitted Bailis. They replied affirmatively to the question that the murder was committed in the brick factory, belonging to a Jew named Zaiatsev, and that the body was exsanguinated there. And although the "Novoe Vremia" attached great importance to this question, it itself stated after two days, in the article written by Menshikov, that "Russia suffered defeat".

The exultation of the leftist press in the failure of this trial is understandable. But the very possibility of such an outcome, in the first place, is a striking illustration of the freedom and independence of the Russian Court and jury, and refutes the rumors about power pressure on the court".

With such words, the monarchist Oldenberg describes the much discussed trial of Bailis. He himself acknowledged that in this case the proof and evidence in the accusation and proof of the "ritual" murder did not carry enough weight.

The majority of Russian periodicals and all the foreign press, reported the Bailis trial in much harsher terms, throwing the shadow on those who stood at the head of the Ministry of Justice; and the shadow extended to the whole regime and system of pre-revolutionary Russia.

Rightist and extreme rightist Russian circles unconditionally supported not only the version of the "ritual" murder, the guilt of Mendel Bailis, but also extended the accusation to all Jewry. They were dissatisfied and disappointed with the outcome of the trial. It was clear to all that the acknowledgement of the bloodless body did not mean yet that the body was exsanguinated for any "ritual" purpose, and less so, that all Jewry was guilty in this.

There were quite a few people among the Russian community who assumed on purely theoretical grounds the existence among Jews of some kind of cruel sect, as for example, Scoptsy in the Orthodox religion. However, it can by no means be concluded that for the activities of a cruel sect, all members of such a sect can be responsible. And the government was reproached that at the trial this circumstance was not sufficiently emphasized and co-religionists were not protected at once from spreading interpretations.

But the ignorant national masses perceived the court's decision in their own way: the acknowledgement of the bloodless body was interpreted as a confirmation that the Jews indeed do commit ritual murder. And newspaper boys, after the announcement of the court's decision, shouted on the streets of Kiev: "Bailis acquitted, Jews are accused!"

In general the whole Bailis affair left a heavy feeling of resentment and contributed to discrediting the régime. Especially when it was discovered at the court that pressure was exerted from the side of Ministry of Justice on the conduct of the investigation. This provoked the disapproval and even indignation of those who considered themselves advocates of the regime, especially among the "rightists".

An immense interest in this affair was shown by ambassadors of foreign countries in St. Petersburg in their conversations with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sazonov. The minister assured them that "Bailis will be acquitted". This statement is confirmed by documents (in ambassadorial reports). It further obscures and complicates the already obscure and complicated affair that brought so much harm to Russia.

In conclusion it should be mentioned that the Bailis trial took place at a time when the Jewish pogroms and the Dreyfus Affair, which agitated the whole world for many years, were still fresh in people's memories. There had been also, comparatively recently, the Mutansky trial in Russia, where heathens were accused of making human sacrifices. The heathens were Cheremis, later acquitted by the court.

The result of the trial was that all six and one half million Russian Jews, even the well-to-do and loyal classes, became united still more closely in their negative attitude towards the Russian regime, along with their numerous fellow tribesmen in the USA and in Europe.

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A few months after the trial, World War I started and the feelings of Russian Jewry changed to a considerable degree. All understood that Russia’s coming out in alliance with democratic countries against the monarchies of Germany and Austria-Hungary, would, in the case of the latter’s defeat, inevitably lead Russia into the democratic camp and bring about the democratization of the Russian régime itself. This is why Jews in an overwhelming majority became, if not Russian patriots, in any case, the “defenders”, hoping that a Russian victory would bring benefits also to Russian Jewry.

However, these "defending" feelings were characteristic only of the majority of those Jews, who, having received a Russian education, joined the ranks of the Russian intelligentsia and well understood questions of international relations, and therefore could consider what victory or defeat would bring to Russian Jewry. These "defending" feelings had a different meaning to the Russian Jewry than to the native population, and were far from those patriotic feelings, which embraced all of Russia at the beginning of the war.

In essence, the calculation was thus that in case of a successful defense, that is, victory over the Central Powers, a change would also occur inevitably in the internal politics of Russia, in the direction desired by Jews. The "defending" feelings, expressed in support of participation in the war, did not mean at all that the same feelings were expressed in support of the regime and its internal politics. All Jews, without exception, had a definitely negative attitude to the regime, and did not make a secret of this.

The main body among the many millions of Russian Jews was far from patriotic and "defending" feelings, even though it cannot be asserted that all Russian Jews, one and all, were "defeatists" and wished German or Austro-Hungarian victory.

But neither can it be forgotten that the condition of the Jews in Germany and Austria was well known to the Russian Jews, and, naturally, they could not refrain from wishing that in Russia also Jews might occupy the same positions in public and political life, as well as in the army, without changing their religion. This wish cannot be considered unfounded. Moreover, in the Russian army were many Jews who not only fulfilled their duties loyally but a so showed bravery in the war and received decorations. But they had no hope whatsoever to be promoted to officer's position due to their Judaic faith.

Not much was said during the war about these contradictions, but they influenced the feelings of both all Russian Jewry and of those many thousands of Jews who served in the army. There is no need to doubt this; these contradictions could not generate special patriotic enthusiasm.

It would be appropriate to recall here, that in the pre-war years in Russia the question was seriously discussed of releasing all Jews from military duties. But no decision was made, although many articles were written and many speeches were made in dedication of this important question. Statements were made by the opponents and by the advocates of the "exclusion of Jews from the army". Both sides gave their reasons and considerations in confirming correctness and justification of their viewpoint. Whole books were even dedicated to this question, such as, for example "War and the Jews", written by Gessen and published in 1912, in St. Petersburg. This book consisted of 300 pages with numerous statistical data and a detailed account of Jewish conditions in foreign armies.

The size of this work does not permit the elaboration of this question, but what is said in the concluding chapter deserves attention: "The Jewish rôle in future wars in general, and on Western theatre in particular".

As subsequent events have shown, this rôle was not small, both during the war up to February of 1917 and after February, particularly in the years of the civil war, when the Jew, Bronstein-Trotsky, was in command of the Red Army and the fleet, and the Jew, Gamarnik, managed and ruled the political part of the armed forces, to say nothing of countless other Jewish high commanders.

But besides the loyal Jews and the Jews valiantly fighting on the front, there were quite a few Jews incited with "defeatism", which kept their feelings to themselves and in no way manifested or spoke about them. These were the broad Jewish masses, lacking culture, which in their tradition were disposed negatively to that regime which, according to their conviction, "persecuted" them. They carried over their negative attitude to all activities and measures of the regime, including here also the defense of the country. In their opinion Russia was not their motherland, but only a temporary sojourn till that moment when they would return to their Promised Land. This is why there could not be in them a patriotic gust of passion and uplift, peculiar to those whose past, present and future was inseparably linked with Russia.

There was still one more group among Russian Jewry which was openly "defeatist". The group was not large, but quite active, educated, well grounded in politics and able to conduct propaganda. These were Jewish members of revolutionary and socialist currents, groups and parties. A considerable number of them were either in exile or in emigration and, up to the February overthrow, were not able to act openly. This, however, does not mean that the group did not have any influence on the feelings of some part of Russian Jewry which formally remained loyal during the war years. This group had its influence not only on their fellow tribesmen but also on many Russian socialists and revolutionaries who believed that only in the event of losing the war could there be any hope for the overthrow of the regime.

Summarizing the foregoing, it is possible, without a. fear of making a mistake, to assert that all six million Russian Jews, in the years of the First World War, were unanimous in their negative attitude towards the regime of the Russian Empire. And if the Jewry supported some of the regime's beginnings during the war, then this was only in so far as these beginnings could bring benefits to the Jewry sooner or later, always putting the interests of Jewry in first place.

These attitudes were not secrets to the Russian Government and the supreme command, and provided grounds for doubts of Jewish loyalty; an overwhelming majority of Jews lived in the Jewish Pale, where military actions were taking place.

Without the possibility, in the conditions of war time, of investigating each separate case and verifying the loyalty of the Jews living in the areas of military actions, the military command compelled them to move from this areas, directing them to central provinces of Russia, where, before the war, Jews had been forbidden to reside.

With these measures, the Jewish Pale was actually abolished. But on the other hand, the forcible eviction of tens of thousands, frequently in hard conditions, with insufficiently organized transport, feeding and medical services on the way, was regarded by the Jews as new form of "persecution". And the doubt in their loyalty was interpreted as an undeserved and unsubstantiated insult. Such interpretation was made not only by the evicted Jews but by the whole Russian Jewry: this only intensified anti-government feelings. Such, in general, were the conditions during the years of the war right up to the February Revolution.