Eugene M. Avrutin F'12
Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships 2012
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
The Velizh Affair: Ritual Murder in a Russian Border Town
Now largely forgotten, the Velizh affair (1823-1835) was the longest ritual murder case in the modern world. Drawing on a newly discovered archive, this study reconstructs small town life in the Russian Empire; along the way, it explores neighborly encounters, law and daily life, and the complex motivations leading to the ritual murder charge. While scholars usually attribute the charge to antisemitism, this project offers an alternative explanation. By recreating the day-to-day world of Velizh, this study argues that tales of blood sacrifice proved remarkably contagious in the towns and villages of Eastern Europe because of their role in popular belief systems of the time and their ability to express the fears and preoccupations of a population that left no other written records.