A film by Albert Maysles
In 1911, in a cave outside Kiev, the mutilated body of the
Christian child Andrei Yushchinsky was found, having been
stabbed 47 times. During the funeral procession for the boy,
members of the Black Hundreds, an organization similar to
the KKK, passed out pamphlets labeling the crime as a Jewish
ritual murder. The pamphlet read in part: “ORTHODOX CHRISTIANS!
The Yids have tortured Andryusha Yushchinsky 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! Beat them up until there is not a single Yid left in Russia.
Have pity on your children!Avenge the unhappy martyr! It is time!
It is time!”
The Russian government, threatened by revolutionary upheaval,
saw in this incident a golden opportunity. At the direction of the
Minister of Justice and the Tsar, prosecutors framed a Jewish
factory manager, Mendel Beilis. Their goal was to convict the
Jewish people of ritual murder; further, the trial aimed to incite
a slaughter and to rally “real Russians” to support the tsar in his
efforts to crush the burgeoning democracy movement.
Ritual murder accusations against Jews date back to 12th-century
England, and continue today; in 2005, a substantial portion of the
Russian Duma voted in support of a letter reiterating this accusation.
It was used by Hitler as well, and has been adapted recently to a
Hezbollah version. Scapegoat On Trial considers the Beilis Affair as
a prototype that ushered in a century in which governments have
used modern political tactics to revive or even manufacture “ancient”
hatreds, which in turn have served as portals to genocidal violence.
But the film also emphasizes a more uplifting theme: the birth of
the global human rights movement, and the collaboration of disparate
individuals and groups to stop genocidal massacres. The case created
an international sensation, a second Dreyfus Affair, in which workers
went on strike, and hundreds of cultural, intellectual and religious
leaders around the world raised their voices together against injustice.
The film will incorporate voices of today’s human rights lawyers and
activists as they consider the Beilis trial in light of their own experiences.
The Beilis trial of 1913 was nearly lost in history because it was quickly
overshadowed by the onset of World War I and then by the Russian
Revolution. But this case is crucially relevant today and deserves to be
more widely known. Fantastic myths and “Big Lies” are still part of the
arsenal that governments wield to pit people against scapegoats. This
instance, when ordinary people around the world stood in protest and
exposed the lie, should be remembered and celebrated.