Friday, October 24, 2014

Esperanto and Blood Libel

The synagogue where Beilis's
funeral was held
“Blood libel” is the anti-Semitic claim that Jews use Christian blood in the manufacture of Passover matzah, which despite its utter absurdity persisted for many years.[1] The 1913 trial of Menahem Mendel Beilis in Kiev (then within the Russian empire) was last such trial, and it has been noted that it was the only one backed by a central goverment. The Beilis affair was international news, since in most places the blood libel was a superstition that had been cast off in the Middle Ages.[2]

Even at the time, suspicion fell on one of the witnesses for the prosecution, Vera Cheberyak. In an article on the Beilis trial on October 24, 1913, the Salt Lake Tribune has a section headed “Evidence Against Vera.” Cheberyak was described in the paper as being part of a “gang,” later she was found to have had the victim, Andrey Yushchinsky, murdered because he found out about her criminal activities through being friends with her son (whom she also possibly killed). At the time of the report, the Czar’s case against Beilis was crumbling, and suspicion was turning to Cheberyak.

So, what does this have to do with Esperanto? There was a international letter-writing campaign, denouncing the trial. Just below the end of the main article, which ends with the words, “the general opinion prevails among those frequenting the court that Beiliss now has an equal chance of being acquitted,” is an accompanying article, “World-wide Protest.” And who was leading this protest? Esperantists!
World-wide Protest.
NEW YORK. Oct. 23.—Through the medium of Esperanto, a world-wide protest against the so-called ritual murder trial at Kiev has been launched.

The protest originated in Bohemia with the adoption there of a resolution by 136 lawyers and public officials. A copy of this resolution, translated into Esperanto, has been mailed to every council of Esperantists in the world. Local Esperantists embodied it today in a petition to Senator Root, requesting him to place the protest before the senate.
The Senator Root of the article was the Senator for New York, Elihu Root. Although the article describes the petition as starting in Bohemia, the American Jewish Year Book, 5675 (1914) noted that
Esperantists start worldwide moment against Beilis trial; protest in Esperanto to be forwarded to Europe.
European Esperantists got to this issue earlier. In a list of items dated October 12, the American Jewish Year Book includes
The Manchester Guardian prints translation of protest in Esperanto on Beilis case, signed by leading representatives of Slavonic nations.
There are two other references to Esperanto in that edition of the American Jewish Year Book, although neither of them have anything to do with the Beilis case, they are both indications of how some opposition to Esperanto was due to pure antisemitism.
January. At Vilan, authorities prohibit a song in Esperanto at a concert, because the inventor of the language is a Jew. 
August. The Novoe Vremya declares the Esperanto movement a Jewish invention against Russification.
Belies was eventually acquitted. He left Russia, settling in Palestine, but moved to the United States in 1921. He died in 1937. His funeral was held in New York City at the Eldridge Street Synagogue.[3] We can salute the Esperanto movement for their contribution to seeing justice prevail over hatred in the Beilis case.

  1. The use of any blood, including animal, would render them non-kosher. Don’t bring your black pudding to a kosher household.  ↩
  2. William of Norwich was a young man who was murdered in 1144, at the age of twelve. His murder was claimed by the people of Norwich to be ritual murder by Jews.  ↩
  3. These are in many sources for this information, including the Wikipedia article. I visited the Eldridge Street Synagogue in June 2014.  ↩

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