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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Blood libels against Jews in modern times 1600-1965

Blood libel cases in Poland - investigations - blood libels as political strategy
from: Blood Libel; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 4

presented by Michael Palomino

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Blood Libels against Jews in Middle Europe in Modern Times

<Modern Times.

From the 17th century, blood-libel cases increasingly spread to Eastern Europe (Poland-Lithuania).

[1636: A blood libel case in Lublin]

The atmosphere at such trials is conveyed by the protocols of the investigation of two Jews and a Jewess who were put to torture in a blood-libel case at *Lublin in 1636: "The Jew Baruch answers: 'I haven't seen the child'. Second torture: 'I am innocent and other Jews are innocent'. Third torture: 'I am innocent and other Jews are innocent, and everything that Joseph [the accuser] said is a lie. Jews need no Christian blood'."

Fegele the Jewess struggled courageously to defend the truth, as evident in the cross-examination: "Judge: 'Are you acquainted with sorcery?' Fegele: 'I never dabble in this. I am a poor widow who sells vodka and kwas'; Judge: 'For what purpose do Jews need Christian blood?' Fegele: 'Jews need no Christian blood, either of adults or of children'; Judge: 'Where have you hidden the child's blood?' Fegele: 'The use of blood is forbidden to Jews, even of animal blood'; Judge: 'For what purpose do Jews need Christian blood?' Fegele: 'Jews use no Christian blood.' Judge: 'And are you a sorceress?' Fegele: 'No. I have nothing to do with this.' "

She remained unbroken under torture, and even the threat of torture with a red-hot iron. Hugo *Grotius, the Protestant legal philosopher, when told about the case expressed the opinion that the blood accusation was simply a libel generated by hatred of the Jews, and recalled that the early Christians and later Christian sectarians were accused in a similar way (Balaban, in Festschrift S. Dubnow (1930), 87-112).

[since 17th century: Blood libel combined with alleged Jewish sorcery]

In Eastern Europe, as late as the 17th century, the blood libel is identified with Jewish sorcery in the minds of the accusers, while the motif of the use of Christian blood for Passover mazzot increasingly comes to the fore. As (col. 1124)

conditions in Poland deteriorated, blood-libel cases multiplied.

[Investigation of Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli - report of 1759 - appeal for protection of the Jews]

Through the *Councils of the Lands the Jews sent an emissary to the Holy See who succeeded in having an investigation ordered and carried out by Cardinal Lorenzo Ganganelli, later Pope *Clement XIV. In a detailed report submitted in 1759 Ganganelli examined the veracity of the blood libel in general and of the recent cases in Poland-Lithuania in particular, quoting in extenso from former church authorities against the libel. His main conclusion was:

"It may be realized with what lively faith we ought to ask God with the Psalmist, 'deliver me from the calumnies of men'. For it cannot be denied that 'Calumny maketh the wise man mad and destroyeth the strenght of his heart.' ... I therefore hope that the Holy See will take some measure to protect the Jews of Poland as Saint Bernard, Gregory IX, and Innocent IV did for the Jews of Germany and France, 'that the name of Christ be not blasphemed' by the Jews" (see bibl., Roth, p.94).

[Blood libels in the 19th century - the anti-Semitic "science" - anti-Semitic "experts"]

In the 19th century  the ringleaders of Jew-hatred in its modern form of anti-Semitism made conspicuous use of the blood libel for incitement against Jews in various countries. It was also used as a weapon to arouse the uneducated masses for specific political reasons, as occurred, for instance, in the *Damascus Affair (1840) in the struggle among the western powers for influence in the Near East.

Anti-Semitic "experts" wrote treatises which set out to prove the truth of the libel from the records of past accusations and Jewish sources. Two such were Konstantin Cholewa de Pawlikowski (Talmud in der Theorie und Praxis [[Talmud in theory and praxis]], Regensburg, 1866) and H. Desportes (Le mystère du sang chez les Juifs de tous les temps [[The blood mistery of the Jews in every age]], Paris, 1859, with a preface by the notorious anti-Semite E. *Drumont).

In the blood-libel trials held in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century, such as the *Tiszaeszlar and *Beilis cases, "experts" such as August *Rohling appeared to testify in (col. 1127)

court; all were irrefutably answered by Jewish and pro-Jewish scholars (J. S. *Bloch, H. L. *Strack, J. *Mazeh). Another weapon developed in the arsenal of anti-Semitism was an insidious way of implying the truth of the blood-libel charge by stating it as a fact without denying it.

A notorious example is found in the article Blut [[Blood]] (in Handwoerterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens [[Pocket dictionary of the German Superstition]], 1 (1927), cols. 1434-42) where it is remarked (col. 1436):

"Moses verbot umsonst das Bluttrinken" ("Moses in vain prohibited the drinking of blood"), and

"Dass die Frage der juedischen Ritualmorde immer noch nicht verschwunden ist, lehren Prozesse neuerer Zeit" ("Trials in modern times show the problem of ritual murder has still not disappeared"; col. 1439).

[Blood libels in the Nazi period]

The Nazis unashamedly used the blood libel in full force for anti-Jewish propaganda. They revived old allegations and instituted reinvestigations and trials in territories under their rule or influence: at Memel in 1936; at Bamberg in 1937 (a revival); and at Velhartice, Bohemia, in 1940. On May 1, 1934, the Nazi daily, Der Stuermer [[The Stormer]], devoted a special horrifyingly illustrated number to the blood libel, in which German scientists openly served the Nazi aims. The above-mentioned Handwoerterbuch [[Pocket dictionary]] (vol. 7 (1935-36), cols. 727-39) printed an article entitled Ritualmord [[ritual murder]] written by Peuckert, a man who remained active and respected in German science, which is throughout simply an affirmation and propagation of the blood libel, although using some cautious phrasing. The epitome appears in the remarkable enquiry:

"Es mag im Anschluss an dieses erschuetternde Register nur noch die Frage behandelt werden: zu welchem Zweck verwendeten die Juden das Blut?" ("In conclusion to this shocking list, there remains only one question: for what purpose did the Jews use the blood?"; col. 734).

[Balance: The blood libel has caused a very strong damage to the Christian's brain itself]

The blood libel, in the various forms it assumed and the tales with which it was associated, is one of the most terrible expressions of the combination of human cruelty and credulity. No psychological or sociological research can convey the depths to which the numerous intentional instigators of such libels, and the more numerous propagators of this phantasmagoria, sank.

It resulted in the torture, murder, and expulsion, of countless Jews, and the misery of insults. However, the dark specters it raised were even more harmful in their effects on the minds of Christians.The Jew had only to refer to himself, his upbringing, laws, way of life, and attitude to other people and to cruelty, to perceive the falsity and baselessness of these allegations. In modern times *Ahad Ha-Am found "some consolation" in the existence of the blood libel, for it could serve as a spiritual defense against the influence on Jewish self-evaluation of the consensus of hostile opinion.

"This accusation is the solitary case in which the general acceptance of an idea about ourselves does not make us doubt whether all the world can be wrong, and we right, because it is based on an absolute lie, and is not even supported by any false inference from particular to universal. Every Jew who has been brought up among Jews knows as an indisputable fact that throughout the length and breadth of Jewry there is not a single individual who drinks human blood for religious purposes. ... Let the world say what it will about our moral inferiority: we know that its ideas rest on popular logic, and have no real scientific basis. ... 'But' - you ask - 'is it possible that everybody can be wrong, and the Jews right?' Yes, it is possible: the blood accusation proves it possible. Here, you see, the Jews are right and perfectly innocent" (Selected Essays (1962), 203-4).> (col. 1128)

<It was only in 1965 that the church officially repudiated the blood libel of *Trent by canceling the beatification of Simon and the celebrations in his honor).> (col. 1124)

<[H.H.B.-S.]> (col. 1128)


-- M. Samuel: Blood Accusation (1966)
-- M. Hacohen (ed.): Mishpatim ve-Alilot Dam (1967)
-- H. L. Strack: The Jew and Human Sacrifice (1909)
-- C. Roth: Rutual Murder Libel and the Jew (1935)
-- D. Hruby; In: W. P. Eckert and E. L. Ehrlich (eds.): Judenhass-Schuld der Christen? [[Guilt of anti-Semitism of Christians?]] (1964), 281-308; idem; In: Der Judenchrist [[The Jewish Christ]] (1960/62)
-- J. Trachtenberg: Devil and the JEws (1943), 124-55
-- Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 398-423
-- Il Piccolo martire S. Domenichino de Val, Patrono di Chierichetti (1960)
-- M. I. Seiden: Paradox of Hate (1967)> (col. 1131)

Blood libels against Jews in Russia in Modern Times 1799 to after 1948

[1799: Blood libel allegation at Senno - a poet gives bad opinion to the czar - split upper class in Russia]

<IN RUSSIA. In modern times Russia has been the principal perpetuator of the blood libel, both medieval and modern factors (see above) combining to enable its deliberate (col. 1128)

dissemination among the ignorant masses. The first blood-libel case in Russia occurred in the vicinity of Senno, south of Vitebsk, on the eve of Passover 1799, when the body of a woman was found near a Jewish tavern: four Jews were arrested on the ground of the "popular belief that the Jews require Christian blood."

*Apostates supplied the court with extracts from a distorted translation of the Shulhan Arukh and Shevet Yehudah. The accused were released through lack of evidence. Nevertheless the poet and administrator G. R. *Derzhavin, in his "Opinion submitted to the czar on the organization of the status of the Jews in Russia", could state that

"in these communities persons are to be found who perpetrate the crime, or at least afford protection to those committing the crime, of shedding Christian blood, of which Jews have been suspected at various times and in different countries. If I for my part consider that such crimes, even if sometimes committed in antiquity, were carried out by ignorant fanatics, I thought it right not to overlook them."

Thus a semiofficial and "highbrow" seal was given to the libel in Russia at the opening of the 19th century. Official Russian circles were divided in their views on the libel. A number of inquiries into the charges were instituted, while the views of the czars themselves fluctuated; the emperors and popes of the Middle Ages (see above) can be pointed to as models of enlightenment in comparison with the rulers of czarist Russia.

[Russia: When a body is found without murderer, the Jews are blamed with a blood libel - and anti-Semitic czars]

Between 1805 and 1816 various cases of blood libel occurred in places within the *Pale of Settlement, and the investigations always ended by exposing the lie on which they were based. In an attempt to stop their dissemination the minister of ecclesiastic affairs, A. Golitsyn, sent a circular to the heads of the governments U(provinces) throughout Russia on March 6, 1817, to this effect. Basing his instruction on the fact that both the Polish monarchs and the popes have invariably invalidated the libels, and that they had been frequently refuted by judicial inquiries, he stated in his circular that the czar directed

"that henceforward the Jews shall not be charged with murdering Christian children, without evidence, and through prejudice alone that they allegedly require Christian blood."

Nevertheless Alexander I (1801-25) gave instructions to revive the inquiry in the case of the murder of a Christian child in *Velizh (near Vitebsk) where the assassins had not been found and local Jewish notables had been blamed for the crime. The trial lasted for about ten years. Although the Jews were finally exonerated, Nicholas I later refused to endorse the 1817 circular, giving as a reason that he considered that

"there are among the Jews savage fanatics or sects requiring Christian blood for their ritual, and especially since to our sorrow such fearful and astonishing groups also exist among us Christians."

[Blood libels in Telsiai, Zaslav - folklorist V. Dahl - blood libel at Saratov 1853-1860 - kidnapping allegations]

Other blood libels occurred in Telsiai (Telz) in the government (province) of Kovno, in 1827, and Zaslav (*Izyaslav), in the government of Volhynia, in 1830. The Hebrew writer and scholar I. B. *Levinsohn was stirred by this case to write his book Efes Damim (Vilna, 1837), in which he exposed the senselessness of the accusations.

A special secret commission was convened by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the problem concerning "use by Jews of the blood of Christian children", in which the Russian lexicographer and folklorist V. Dahl took part. The result of the inquiry, which reviewed numerous cases of blood libel in the Middle Ages and modern period, were published in 1844 in a limited edition and presented by Skripitsin, the director of the Department for Alien Religions, to the heads of state.

In 1853, a blood libel occurred in *Saratov, when two Jews and an apostate were found guilty of the murder of two Christian children - the only instance in Russia of its kind. (col. 1129)

The council of state which dealt with the case in its final stages announced that it had confined itself to the purely legal aspect of the case and refrained from "anything bearing on the secret precepts or sects existing within Judaism and their influence on the crime." It thereby prima facie deprived the case of its test character as a blood libel.

While the case was being considered, between 1853 and 1860, various Jews were accused of "kidnapping" on a number of occasions. The special committee appointed in 1855 had included a number of theologians and orientalists, among them two converts from Judaism, V. Levisohn and D. *Chwolson. The committee reviewed numerous Hebrew publications and manuscripts, and came to the conclusion that there was no hint or evidence to indicate that the Jews made use of Christian blood.

[since 1870s: Anti-Semitic movements in Russia and more blood libels]

With the growth of an anti-Semitic movement in Russia in the 1870s, the blood libel became a regular motif in the anti-Jewish propaganda campaign conducted in the press and literature. Leading writers in this sphere were H. *Lutostansky, who wrote a pamphlet "concerning the use of Christian blood by Jewish sects for religious purposes" (1876), which ran into many editions, and J. Pranaitis. Numerous further allegations were made, including a case in *Kutais (Georgia) in 1879, in which Jewish villagers were accused of murdering a little Christian girl. The case was tried in the district court and gave the advocates for the defense an opportunity of ventilating the social implications of the affair and the malicious intentions of its instigators.

the chief agitators of the blood libels were monks. At the monastery of Suprasl crowds assembled to gaze on the bones of the "child martyr Gabriello", who had been allegedly murdered by Jews in 1690. the wave of blood libels which occurred at the end of the 19th century in central Europe, including the cases in Tiszaeszlar in 1881, *Xanten in 1891, *Polna in 1899, etc., also heaped fuel on the flames of the agitation in Russia.

[Russian works against the stupid blood libels - and new blood libel cases since 1900]

A number of works were published by Jewish writers in Russia to contradict the allegations, such as D. Chwolson's "Concerning Medieval Libels against Jews" (1861), I., B. Levinsohn's Efes Damim was translated into Russian (1883). Some of the calumniators were also prosecuted (see *Zederbaum v. Lutostansky, 1880).

Despite the growing anti-Semitism and its officially supported anti-Jewish policy, the czarist authorities during the reign of Alexander III (1881-94) did not lend credence to the blood libels. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that further attempts were renewed. These included the *Blondes Case in Vilna, in 1900, and in attempt in *Dubossary, in the government of Kherson, where a Russian criminal tried to pin the murder of a child on the Jews.

[1907-1917: Rightist Duma struggles with blood libels against left revolutionary Jewish wing]

However, with the victory of the reactionaries in Russia after the dissolution of the Second *Duma in 1907, and the strengthening of the extreme right wing (*Union of Russian People) in the Third Duma, another attempt at official level was made by the regime to use the blood libel as a weapon in its struggle against the revolutionary movement and to justify its policy toward the Jews.

An opportunity for doing so occurred in the *Beilis Case engineered by the minister of justice Shcheglovitov. The trial, which continued from spring 1911 to fall 1913, became a major political issue and the focal point for anti-Jewish agitation in the anti-Semitic press, in the streets, at meetings, and in the Duma. The whole of liberal and socialist opinion was ranged behind Beilis' defense, and even a section of the conservative camp.

Leading Russian lawyers conducted the defense, and in Russia and throughout Europe hundreds of intellectuals and scholars, headed by V. Korolenko and M. *Gorki, joined in protest against the trial. The exoneration of Beilis was a political defeat for the regime. Despite this, the (col. 1130)

government continued to assent to the instigation of blood libels and support their dissemination among the masses until the 1917 Revolution. The Soviet government's attitude toward the blood libel was that it had been a weapon of the reaction  and a tactic to exploit popular superstition by the czarist regime. The instigators of the Beilis trial were interrogated and tried at an early stage after the revolution.

[1948-1970: More attempts of blood libel allegations against Jews - international public opinion stops them]

In later years the specter of the blood libel has been raised in the Soviet press in remote regions of the U.S.S.R., such as Georgia, Dagestan, and Uzbekistan, in the context of the violent propaganda campaign conducted by the Soviet government against Judaism and the State of Israel. After these attempts had aroused world public opinion, they were dropped.

[Y.S.]> (col. 1131)

<It was only in 1965 that the church officially repudiated the blood libel of *Trent by canceling the beatification of Simon and the celebrations in his honor).> (col. 1124)

<[H.H.B.-S.]> (col. 1128)

<Bibliography [...] IN RUSSIA:

-- Dubnow, Hist, s.v.: Ritual Murder Libel
-- A. D. Margolin: Jews of Eastern Europe (1926), 155-247
-- A. M. Tager: Decay of Czarism. The Beiliss Trial (1935)> (col. 1131)

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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4,
                      col. 1123-1124
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1123-1124
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4,
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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1127-1128
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4,
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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1129-1130
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4,
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Encyclopaedia Judaica: Blood Libel, vol. 4, col. 1131