Berezin, Morris (Moishe Isaakovich) (1888-1973)

From Chains to Freedom

A short biography of Morris Berezin, a Jewish anarchist active in Russia and the USA.

Moishe Isaakovich Berezin was born in 1888 in Kishinev (now Chisinau in Moldova) within the Russian Empire. He was born into a very poor Jewish family and witnessed the dreadful pogroms at Kishinev in 1903. At school he discovered a pamphlet with Proletarians of All Lands Unite printed on its cover and subsequently joined an underground Marxist group.

Very soon he became an anarchist communist in 1905, joined the local anarchist group, and was active in both Kishinev and Odessa, and knew anarchists like Altman, Moishe Mets and Olga Taratuta, who he regarded as the finest type of revolutionaries. Subsequently arrested he was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labour and was sent to Siberia to the notorious Artvisky katorga (hard labour) prison where his cellmate was the Socialist Revolutionary Igor Sazonov, who in July 1904 had assassinated the hated interior minister Von Plehve.

He managed to escape from the prison in 1911(he was aided by a young woman who had fallen in love with him, “Gussie”, and whom he subsequently married in America) having served five years, escaping to China and then over the Pacific to the United States in 1912. There he settled in Philadelphia and became known as Morris Beresin (or Berezin).

In Philadelphia he joined the Radical Library which had been set up at the turn of the century, whose members were mostly Jewish, with a few Italians and Russians, many of an anarchist bent. Most members worked in the rag trade, as cigar workers or building workers. There Berezin decided to set up the Anarchist Red Cross. In the Philadelphia branch of the ARC he was joined by Boris Yelensky and Joseph Cohen. As he said : “In some prisons there was little distinction made between anarchists, and other political prisoners, but in others the anarchists were refused any help. That is the reason why I organized the Anarchist Red Cross when I came (to Philadelphia).”

“When I arrived in the United States in 1911……my first thought was to devise some means of extending aid to our comrades who were languishing in Russian prisons. I promptly proceeded to have a notice inserted in the Russian language newspapers requesting any co-workers in our ideological movement who were located in Philadelphia... to come to a meeting. Among those who attended that gathering was Yelensky. Our first step was the ... organization of the “Anarchist Red Cross”

Yelensky wrote that :”As an advertisement members of the A.R.C. committee attended dances of friendly organizations in the guise of prisoners. When the Jewish Daily Forward held its annual masked ball, Berezin suggested that we should create living pictures illustrating the life of the political prisoners undergoing hard labour. His suggestion was accepted, and at the ball we erected a tent with three compartments; in the first was shown the march of political prisoners through the cold Siberian winter towards their place of confinement; in the second was shown the kind of life which each man lived in his cell; in the third was represented the suicide of Igor Sazonov. When the Ball was in full swing we showed our tableaux, and they made a deep impression on the thousands of dancers who crowded round to watch. Later, when we passed in the Grand March before the judges who were appraising the various fancy dresses, we were accorded the loudest popular applause. “

Berezin wrote a book in Yiddish about his Russian prison experiences in 1916,Fun Keyten tsu Frayhayt (From Chains to Freedom, from a fugitive political hard-labour convict) published in New York by the ARC.
He was one of those responsible for an anarchist summer colony, Camp Germinal, 30 miles to the north of Philadelpia at Jamison, which lasted until 1934.

Berezin trained as a dental technician. In 1917 he moved to Baltimore and stayed there for three years. He joined the local branch of the Union of Russian Workers. During the Palmer Raids of 1921, the branch was raided and its documents seized. Berezin was himself arrested and served three months in prison and was threatened with deportation. Fortunately things calmed down, and he benefitted from a law that forbade the separation of families. He returned to Philadelphia after prison where he remained for the rest of his life. He stayed active in the anarchist movement, writing for Marcus Graham’s paper Man! under the pen name B. E. Resin. He also contributed to the Yiddish anarchist paper Freie Arbeiter Stimme, and helped Joseph Cohen publish his History of the Jewish anarchist movement in America.

He died on March 15th, 1973 in Philadelphia.

Nick Heath

Sources:

Avrich. P. Anarchist Voices (2005)
Yelensky, B. In The Struggle for Equality.The History o the Anarchist Red Cross (1958:
https://bostonanarchistblackcross.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/history-of-red-cross-final.pdf
http://militants-anarchistes.info/spip.php?article308

Comments

Karetelnik
Sep 22 2017 05:12

The manuscript for Berezin's book From Chains to Freedom was written in Russian, but never published in that language, only in a Yiddish translation. Some excerpts from the Russian original were serialized in Khleb i volya [Bread and freedom], an organ of the Union of Russian Workers of the United States and Canada, in 1919.