He became the defendant in the case, that became known worldwide as the Beilis trial. It began, when the body of a thirteen-year-old boy was discovered in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev in the year 1911.
This served to spark off the most sensational blood libel accusation of the 20th century. The entire weight of a corrupt and decadent empire, its departments of police and justice, plus a virulently anti-Semitic press, church, and various ultra-nationalistic groups, were all brought to bear on Menachem Beilis, accused of using the boy’s blood for the baking of unleavened bread for Passover. By clear inference, all other Jews stood accused as well.
The most powerful motive, that could be adduced by the prosecution for placing him in the defendant’s dock, was the claim that Judaism enjoined its adherents to practice ritual murder, and the fact, that Menachem Beilis was the only Jew residing in the vicinity where the body had been found. He was subject to a long period of torture and cross-examination in the vain hope of extorting a confession.
After being incarcerated for two years, Beilis was finally bought to trial. By now, the government’s plan had misfired completely. Public opinion, both throughout the nation and the world, had rallied behind Beilis and condemned the case as a tragic mockery of justice.
At the trial itself, witness after witness pointed an accusing finger, not at Beilis, but at Vera Tchebiriak, mother of a friend of the dead boy, and a person of unsavory repute. Intended to be a witness for the prosecution, her testimony did not bear up to cross-examination, and she proved to be her own worst enemy. In addition, so-called “theological evidence” produced by a Father Pranaitis to demonstrate, that the Jewish religion itself prescribed ritual murder, was demolished by the defense, who produced a serious scholar to testify. The same fate befell another expert, who suggested, that the murder bore all the signs of a religious crime of vengeance.
The result was by now predictable. After a trial that lasted thirty-four days, the jury handed in a verdict of not guilty.
Menachem Mendel Beilis walked out of courtroom a free man amid an outburst of spontaneous rejoicing. Later in life, after an unsuccessful attempt to settle in Palestine, he moved to the United States where he wrote his memoirs, "Die Geshichte fun Meine Leiden" (“The Story of My Life,” New York, 1925).
Beilis’s story inspired Bernard Malamud’s novel "The Fixer", which was also a noteworthy film.