Steamy film on Russian Tsar is cause of arson attacks on Moscow Jewish targets

A recent Molotov cocktail attack on a Moscow Jewish community center can be attributed to a new movie about the Russian Tsar, the Jewish community believes.

Security footage caught a man tossing two Molotov cocktails over the wall of the  Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia building overnight on September 12. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the wall was only slightly damaged, said the Federation’s spokesman Boruch Gorin.

Gorin believes the attack was a reaction to the feature film “Matilda” about the Russian Tsar’s love affair with a Polish ballerina. The movie was directed by Jewish filmmaker Alexei Uchitel.

Ultra-conservative Christian Orthodox groups have protested the release of the film because they feel that the movie disrespects the last Russian monarch Nicholas II, who has recently been declared a saint and a martyr by the Russian Orthodox Church. Still, the movie premiered in Russian theaters at the end of October.

The attack on the Jewish center took place a week after a man set a movie theater in Yekaterinburg on fire to protest the movie’s screening, and just a day after two cars were burned in front of the Moscow office of the filmmaker’s attorney.

Uchitel’s studio in St. Petersburg was targeted in an arson attack on August 31 — which is the birthday of Matilda Kschessinskaya, the ballerina featured in the film.

“I think the attack on the Jewish center is related to the film,” Gorin said. “I think this threat is a real threat.”

Jews blamed for the murder of the Tsar

The anti-Semitic attack on the Jewish center in connection with the film is related to the fact that some in Russia have recently started calling the execution of the Tsar and the royal family a “ritual murder.”

The Russian monarch, his wife, their five children, and servants were murdered by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution of 1917. But in recent discussions some in Russia have started using new language to describe the killings.

“They murdered the entire royal family, they killed the children in front of their father, they killed the mother in front of the children. This is a crime, a frightening ritual murder,” declared a deputy of the Russian State Duma (Russia’s lower legislative house) Natalia Poklonskaya on television this year. “Many people are afraid to talk about it — but everyone understands that it happened. It is evil.”

For Gorin, the implications of Poklonskaya’s term is clear: ritual murder is an anti-Semitic myth that had previously been used to accuse Jews of murdering Christian children. It has also been known as the “blood libel.”

The most famous blood libel case involved Mendel Beilis more than 100 years ago — an innocent Jewish man who went to court in the Russian Empire for the alleged ritual murder of a 13-year-old boy. The court eventually acquitted Beilis, but his was far from the only accusation leveled against the Jews.

Now people in Russia are talking about ritual murder again, this time in connection with the recently canonized Emperor Nicholas II.

“When they say ‘ritual murder,’ the meaning is not ambiguous, we know what they mean,” Gorin said. “When they say that [on television], I think: In private conversations no one is ashamed to spell it out in exact words” that they think that the Jews killed the Tsar.

Poklonskaya and others who protest against the film “Matilda” say that the movie disrespects the Russian monarch because Lars Eidinger, the German actor who plays the Tsar, used to act in pornographic films. Eidinger denies this.

Russian Orthodox believers say the film was made to deliberately discredit the Russian monarchy, citing historical inaccuracy. They claim that in real life, the Tsar never had a sexual relationship with the young ballerina, and the Tsarina never attacked her husband’s lover with a knife.

The fact that the movie’s director is Jewish is another issue.

“Now they are saying that the same people who murdered the Tsar are now also mocking the Tsar [in the film],” Gorin said.

The accusation that Jews are responsible for the unlawful execution of Tsar Nicholas II is also implied in a new television seriesabout Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky released on Russian television this week.

According to the TV series, it was Trotsky who made the decision to reinstate the death penalty in Russia to execute the Tsar.

Historians deny this.

Joshua Rubenstein, an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, said Trotsky was at the front when the decision to murder the royal family was made, and was not involved whatsoever.

“If they’re saying that Trotsky was behind the execution of the Tsar, that’s simply not true… Trotsky always wanted to bring the Tsar to trial and serve as a prosecutor,” Rubenstein said.

“If they’re saying it was Trotsky, then I really question their motives because this is a very sensitive point… To say that a Jew was behind his execution is a very incendiary accusation,” he said.

Rubenstein said that the claim that Jews killed the holy Russian Tsar sounds similar to another ancient anti-Semitic charge: that Jews killed Jesus.

“Any ritual murder claim is an echo of that because it’s Jews targeting Christians,” he said.


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