Sunday, April 23, 2006

The East Harlem Connection

I have no historic "play" in East Harlem, but my wife does. Re famous anarchist Mollie Steimer: "Mollie Steimer was born in Dunaevtsky, Russia, on 21st November, 1897. When she was fifteen her family emigrated to the United States and settled in New York. Steimer found work in a garment factory and soon became involved in trade union activities. This led to her reading books on politics including those by August Bebel (Women and Socialism), Mikhail Bakunin (Statehood and Anarchy), Peter Kropotkin (Memoirs of a Revolutionist) and Emma Goldman (Anarchism and Other Essays). In 1917 Steimer joined the Frayhayt, a group of Jewish anarchists based in New York. Steimer shared a six-room apartment at 5 East 104th Street in Harlem with members of the group. This also became the place where the Frayhayt held its meetings and published its newspaper, Der Shturm (The Storm). The Frayhayt group were opposed to the United States becoming involved in the First World War. On 23rd August, 1918, six members of the group were arrested for publishing articles that undermined the American war effort. This included criticizing the United States government for invading Russia after the Bolshevik government signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty. One of the group, Jacob Schwartz, was so badly beaten by the police when he was arrested that he died soon afterwards. The others, charged under the terms of the Espionage Act, appeared in court and on 25th October, Steimer was found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. Three of the men, Samuel Lipman, Hyman Lachowsky and Jacob Abrahams received twenty years. Many people in the United States were appalled by these sentences. This included people such as Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas, Felix Frankfurter, Margaret Sanger and Lincoln Steffens. A group, the League of Amnesty of Political Prisoners was formed and it published a leaflet on the case, Is Opinion a Crime? Steimer and the the other three anarchists were released on bail to await the results of their appeal. Over the next few months Steimer was arrested seven times but after being held in various prisons was always released without charge. On the 30th October, 1919, she was arrested she was taken to Blackwell Island. While in prison the Supreme Court upheld her conviction under the Espionage Act. Steimer was now transferred to the Jefferson City Prison in Missouri. During this period A. Mitchell Palmer, the attorney general and his special assistant, John Edgar Hoover, used the Sedition Act to launch a campaign against radicals and their organizations. Using this legislation it was decided to deport immigrants from Europe who had been involved in left-wing politics. This included Steimer, Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and 245 other people who were deported to Russia. Deported to Russia on the Estonia, Steimer arrived in Moscow on 15th December, 1921. The Bolshevik government hated anarchists and soon became a target for the Russian Secret Police. On 1st November, 1922 she was arrested with her partner, Senya Fleshin and charged with aiding criminal elements in Russia. Sentenced to two years in Siberia, Steimer managed to escape and return to Moscow where she worked for the Society to Help Anarchist Prisoners. She was soon arrested and on 27th September she was deported to Germany where she joined Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman in Berlin. With Senya Fleshin Steimer opened a photographic studio in Berlin. Steimer was also active in the Joint Committee for the Defense of Revolutionaries (1923-1926) and the Relief Fund of the International Working Men's Association for Anarchists (1926-32). When Hitler came to power Steimer and Senya Fleshin were forced to flee to Paris. When France was invaded by the German Army the couple moved to Mexico where they ran a photographic studio. Mollie Steimer died in Cuernava, Mexico, on 23rd July, 1980."
It is more than likely that my wife's great aunts, Fannie and Lisa Luchkovsky were members of the Frayhayt group. They were long time anarchist activists. Perhaps they had spent considerable time at the Easy Harlem location. Last year at a memorial service in Los Angeles I spoke to Fannie's son, Jerry, about some lost family history. (Jerry is a veritable walking treasure trove of history, baseball especially). Jerry told me about the story of Mollie Steimer. Evidently, Fannie and Lisa had to go on the lam during that time because they had also been distributing pamphlets against WWI participation. He said later in their lives they had visited Mollie Steimer in Mexico. I was going through some old pictures we had of Fannie and Lisa and I found one of Fannie with a woman who definitely looked like an older Mollie Steimer. On the back of the photo was a logo from the SEMO Studio in Mexico. SEMO must have been an abbreviation for Senya Fleshin (SE) and Mollie (MO). If you double click on the picture it will enlarge to a size where you can see it clearly. Fannie is pictured separately to the right.


CTC said...

Who all is in that mural (I recognize Mollie, the Magon brothers and Julian Beck of the Living Theater) and where is it?

Sol Bellel said...

it's at 1369 Haight Street, San Fransisco, at the side of the Bound Together Bookstore

CTC said...

Hi, Sol.
Thought you'd be interested in this: