On April 22, 1823, a three-year-old boy named Fedor finished his lunch and went to play outside. Fedor never returned home from his walk. Several days later, a neighbor found his mutilated body drained of blood and repeatedly pierced. In small market towns, where houses were clustered together, where residents knew each other on intimate terms, and where people gossiped in the taverns, the courtyards, and the streets, even the most trivial bits of news spread like wildfire. And it did not take long before rumors began to spread that Jews had murdered the little boy. The Velizh Affair reconstructs the lives of Jews and their Christian neighbors caught up in the aftermath of this chilling criminal act. The inquisitorial commission into the murder resulted in the charging of forty-two Jews with ritual murder, theft, and desecration of Church property, and the forcible conversion of three town residents. Drawing on an astonishing number of newly discovered trial records, historian Eugene M.
Avrutin explores the multiple factors that not only caused fear and conflict in everyday life, but also the social and cultural worlds of a multiethnic population that had coexisted for hundreds of years. This beautifully crafted book provides an intimate glimpse into small-town life in eastern Europe. The case unfolded in a town like any other town in the Russian Empire where lives were closely interwoven, where rivalries and confrontations were part of day-to-day existence, and where the blood libel was part of a well-established belief system.
Eugene M. Avrutin is Associate Professor of History and Tobor Family Scholar in the Program in Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois. He is the author of Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia and the coeditor of Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Beyond: New Histories of an Old Accusation.