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, residents knew each other on intimate terms, and people gossiped in taverns, courtyards, and streets, even the most trivial bits of news spread like wildfire. It did not take long before rumors began to emerge that Jews 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 investigation into Fedor's death resulted in the charging of forty-three 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.
Eugene M. Avrutin is Associate Professor of modern European Jewish history and Tobor family scholar in the Program of Jewish Culture and Society at the University of Illinois. He is the author and co-editor of seven books, including “Jews and the Imperial State: Identification Politics in Tsarist Russia” (Cornell University Press, 2010) and “Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Beyond: New Histories of an Old Accusation” (Indiana University Press, 2017). He is at work on several projects: a short exploration of racial politics and the demographic crisis in modern Russia, and a longer book on crime, criminality, and neighborly relations in the borderlands. His scholarship has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
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