Baron, Fanya aka Fanny Grefenson, aka Anisimovna aka Fanny Baron 1887-1921

Fanya Baron
Fanya Baron

A short biography of Fanya Baron, an idealistic young anarchist who suffered the brutality of both the US police and the Russian Cheka.

Submitted by Battlescarred on July 6, 2009

“Baron was of the type of Russian woman completely consecrated to the cause of humanity. While in America she gave all her spare time and a goodly part of her meagre earnings in a factory to further Anarchist propaganda. Years afterward, when I met her in Kharkov, her zeal and devotion had become intensified by the persecution she and her comrades had endured since their return to Russia. She possessed unbounded courage and a generous spirit. She could perform the most difficult task and deprive herself of the last piece of bread with grace and utter selflessness. Under harrowing conditions of travel, Fanya went up and down the Ukraina to spread the Nabat, organize the workers and peasants, or bring help and succour to her imprisoned comrades. She was one of the victims of the Butyrki raid, when she had been dragged by her hair and badly beaten. After her escape from the Ryazan prison she tramped on foot to Moscow, where she arrived in tatters and penniless. It was her desperate condition which drove her to seek shelter with her husband's brother, at whose house she was discovered by the Tcheka. This big-hearted woman, who had served the Social Revolution all her life, was done to death by the people who pretended to be the advance guard of revolution. Not content with the crime of killing Fanya Baron, the Soviet Government put the stigma of banditism on the memory of their dead victim.” My Further Disillusionment in Russia - Emma Goldman.

Born in Vilnius, Lithuania within the Russian empire, Fanya Greck ( her family changed their name to Grefenson in the USA) moved to the United States where she established a relationship with Aron Baron (aka Kantorovitch), who worked as a baker. Aron had fled to Chicago in 1912. He met Fanya (Freide) through his older brother Newman (Nahum) who was married to Fanya's older sister Sarah. She was active in the anarchist movement in Chicago, and with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). She was involved in the hunger demonstrations of 1915 there, alongside Lucy Parsons and Aron. On January 17th 1915 she led the Russian Revolutionary Chorus at a meeting addressed by Lucy Parsons and others at Hull House, established by Jane Addams to help the poor. On the demonstration outside the police viciously attacked. Plain clothes detectives used brass knuckles on the crowd, while uniformed cops struck out with billy clubs. Fanya was knocked unconscious by one of the club wielding cops. She and five other Russian women and fifteen men were arrested. Jane Addams arranged bail for Fanya, Lucy and others who were pictured in the Chicago press.

She returned to Russia with Aron and Boris Yelensky in 1917.She was active with the the Nabat Anarchist Confederation in the Ukraine between 1919 and 1920. She was arrested with many other anarchists by the Cheka at a conference held in Kharkhov on the 25th November 1920.

From spring 1921 she was at the prison at Ryazan. She escaped from there with 9 other anarchists, sprung by the Underground Anarchists - a clandestine anarchist network - on 10th July 1921. She planned to help Aron escape from prison in Moscow. She sought refuge with Aron's brother, a member of the Bolshevik Party and was arrested by the Cheka on the 17th August at his home. It is unclear whether he betrayed her. The Cheka had planted agents among the Underground Anarchists, and arranged acts of provocation, including forgery.

Fanya was shot by the Cheka on 29th September, 1921 after having been found guilty of being an “accomplice of anti-Soviet criminal acts”. Murdered at the same time were the poet Lev Tcherny with nine other anarchists. Their deaths became a symbol of the oppression unleashed against Russian anarchism. She refused to go to her death meekly, fighting her executioners all the way.

Aron perished in the labour camps in 1937.

“Her face was turned to the sun, her whole being radiant with idealism. Her silvery laughter rang with the joy of youth and life, but I trembled for her safety at every approaching step. “Do not fear” she kept reassuring me, “no one will know me in my peasant disguise”." The Bolshevik Myth - Alexander Berkman.