Sascha Schapiro - Early Years and Russian Revolutions

Early Years and Russian Revolutions

Born into a Hasidic family in the predominantly Jewish border town of Novozybkov, Russia in 1889 or 1890, Alexander Schapiro grew up identifying more with the impoverished proletariat than with his own bourgeois family. In 1904 at the age of fourteen he left the town and joined an anarchist militant group (akin to the Chernoznamentsy) who were rounded up by the authorities in 1905 after an unsuccessful attempt to murder Czar Nicholas II. All were executed, save Schapiro who was spared on account of his youth, sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to rot in a dungeon in Moscow. He was spared a lingering death there by the intercession of an influential friend who secured his transfer to Yaroslavl, where he stayed for twelve years. It was here that Schapiro was shot in his left arm whilst trying to escape, resulting in its amputation. After an attempted suicide, he spent the year 1914 in solitary confinement.

With the collapse of the Czarist regime in Russia in 1917, Schapiro was released, and hailed as a national hero. He was one of a number of anarchists who spoke out against the representative system for electing the Constituent Assembly proposed by Alexander Kerensky's Russian Provisional Government, writing that "no parliament can break the path toward liberty, that the good society can be realized only through 'the abolition of all power'". He befriended the anarchist revolutionaries Lev Chernyi and Maria Nikiforova and became a leading figure in a cadre of heavily-armed anarchists fighting in Ukraine associated with Nestor Makhno's Black Army. Schapiro lead a tempestuous life in Russia between 1917 and 1921 in an atmosphere of increasing repression of anarchists by the Bolshevik regime, marrying a Jewish woman named Rachil, with whom he had a son, Dodek. In an attempt to evade the Bolsheviks searching for him, he fled in 1921 to Minsk, where he encountered and was financially supported by Alexander Berkman. With the assistance of a Jewish woman named Lia, Schapiro then crossed the Russian-Polish border using forged papers bearing the name of Alexander Tanarov.

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