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2009 | 4(232) | 397-410

Article title

BEJLISES OR THE POLISH REACTION TO KIEV TRIAL (Bejlisy czyli polska reakcja na proces kijowski)


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The trial of Mendel Bejlis, which was held in Kiev in the autumn of 1913, was widely commented upon across Europe. In Polish lands, too, and especially in the Russian partition zone, the accusation of an alleged ritual slaying of Andrzej Juszczynski triggered a huge debate in which the question whether ritual murders existed at all was raised every now and then. This discussion never managed to put the lie to the ritual slaying legend even at the level of official discourse. The ranks of Bejlis' Polish defenders, objecting to allegations of ritual murder, lacked men of such authority as Leo Tolstoi, who would demonstrate the absurdity of such allegations. Many newspapers concluded their accounts of the trial with the conviction that the question of the existence of ritual murders remains unresolved. The interpretation of the judgement, emphasizing that a ritual slayer occurred after all, only it was not perpetrated by Bejlis, only enhanced this conviction. Incidentally, this biased interpretation of the ruling has been used to this day as an argument in the anti-Semitic discourse about ritual murders. In the Kingdom of Poland the hysteria did not reach the dimension it reached in Russia itself. The Orthodox Andrzej Juszczynski could not become an object of religious cult. Nonetheless, the recalling of a dormant legend did produce some tens of allegations. None of them led to a trial, although there were some outbreaks of group aggression. A new derogatory term for Jews, namely, bejlises, appeared in colloquial Polish, and as it was forgotten over time that Bejlis was acquitted, all the Jews were again becoming potential murderers of innocent Christian children.






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  • Jolanta Zyndul, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Instytut Historyczny, ul. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland


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Publication order reference


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