A history professor presents a chilling investigation of America's only alleged case of "blood libel"—an accusation that Jews have used Christian blood for religious purposes—and what it reveals about anti-semitism in the United States and Europe.
Berenson’s achievement in The Accusation is to contextualize the Massena blood libel in multiple provocative ways. Berenson offers a concise history of the origins of the blood libel in Europe, as well as its modern recurrences ... the resulting consequences for Jews makes for horrifying reading.
As it happens, Berenson was born in Massena. He knew residents who still remembered the incident, and so he was able to give his research a personal dimension (though he skates over that lightly, perhaps too lightly) ... It should be said of Berenson’s explanations that they rely heavily on circumstantial evidence ... Berenson’s book reminds us that what seems inconceivable is nonetheless possible.
This is a fascinating story, but Mr. Berenson’s rendition feels shallow. (Sure, Jewish kids in Massena were called 'Christ Killers' afterward, but that happened lots of other places, too.) One wishes he’d drilled down deeper or, to put it terms that struggling upstate communities have come to know, done some genuine historic fracking. He spoke to a few eyewitnesses, but even at this late date, a more ambitious canvass (an ad in the local paper?) could probably have produced more. He ignores New York City’s four Yiddish dailies, which, manned by people who’d fled this very thing, would surely have had something to say ... But when Mr. Berenson does stay close to home, he begins to bring the horrifying events taking place there back to life.