Sacha Piotr (Sascha Pjotr) aka Alexander Shapiro aka Sergei 1889/1890-1942(?)

Alexander 'Sascha' Schapiro.
Alexander 'Sascha' Schapiro.

A short biography of the obscure figure of Ukrainian anarchist Sacha Piotr-real name Alexander Schapiro, active in the Ukraine, Russia, Belgium, France and Germany. He fought with the anarchists in Spain and was murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz. Father of the gifted mathematican Alexander Grothendieck.

Author
Submitted by Battlescarred on May 16, 2009

Alexander Schapiro was born into a Jewish family with a Hasidic background in Novozybkov in the Ukraine on October 11th 1889 or 6th August 1890. This is the date given by his son Alexander, but it is not clear whether this was by the Julian or Gregorian calendar! In addition the Red Cross report of 1957 on him give two different birth dates, one of 10/11/1889 and one of 11/10/1889! He should not be confused with the other more famous Alexander Schapiro, who also participated in the Russian anarchist movement and who also went to Spain during the Revolution and Civil War (the wikipedia aricle on Sascha, partly based on this entry, puts the words of the other Alexander Schapiro on the Constituent Assembly into the mouth of Sascha). This small town which was predominantly Jewish, was in a region that bordered with Bielorussia and Russia. From an early age he felt more sympathy for the peasants and the poor than for his middle class family.

In 1904 at the age of fourteen he joined an anarchist group and left his town. Sacha was passionately committed to anarchist politics throughout his life. Two years later he and the rest of the group were rounded up. All of the others were executed. Sacha Shapiro, only 16, was spared because of his youth, as had Nestor Makhno in a similar situation. However during three weeks he expected to be put in front of a firing squad at any minute. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The Czarist regime incarcerated him in a dungeon in Moscow to die a slow death. This would certainly have happened were it not for the intervention on the part of an influential friend that resulted in his transfer to Yaroslav'l, where conditions were not as bad. Sasha remained there for 12 years. In 1909, in one of several attempts to escape, he was shot in the left arm, which was later amputated (he did not lose his arm in the Spanish Civil War as some accounts state). He unsuccessfully attempted suicide. The hardest year for him was in 1914, when he was placed in solitary confinement for a year.

In 1917 Sacha Schapiro was released and feted as a revolutionary hero. He was a friend of the anarchist Lev Chernyi, later murdered in a Cheka cellar, and of the fiery anarchist Maria Nikiforova, later shot by the Whites. He fought at the head of a heavily armed independent anarchist band in the Ukraine with links with the Makhnovists. A Sasha Shapiro is mentioned in a Cheka report as being a member of the Underground Anarchists which had organised a secret network in Moscow to carry out attacks on the Bolsheviks and who was sent by them to organise a similar network in Ufa in the Urals. This may be the same man as the subject of this biography.During these tempestuous years between 1917 and 1921 he had an equally tempestuous love life. His first wife was a Jewish woman called Rachil and he had a son with her called Dodek. He fled to Minsk in 1921, after the Bolsheviks began searching for him, where he met up with Alexander Berkman who supplied him with money (he met Berkman again later in Berlin in 1925). He was then aided by a Jewish woman called Lia across the Russian-Polish border. He left with false papers under the name of Alexander Tanarov (he was deported to Auschwitz under this name). Within the movement he also used the name Sergei.Between 1921 and 1924 Sacha lived in Paris, Belgium and Berlin.

In Paris he was friendly with the novelist Scholem Asch and the painter and journalist Aron Brzezinski. The latter made a bronze bust of Sacha. He also frequented the Café Dome, the haunt of many artists. He had occasional contacts with Makhno and his circle in Paris.

He was very active in anarchist circles in Berlin in the 20s under the name of Sacha Piotr (or Sascha Pjotr). He befriended Durruti and Ascaso in Berlin in 1928. He also became friends with the Italian anarchist Francesco Ghezzi who had fled repression in Italy and attended the Berlin congress of the International Workers Association in 1921. Ghezzi died in a Soviet concentration camp in Siberia in 1942. In May 1924 Sacha was one of several anarchists including Sébastien Faure, Ugo Fedeli and Walecki (real name Isaak Gurfinkiel) who founded Œuvres Internationales Des Editions Anarchistes (International Works of Anarchist Editions) based in Paris and run by the anarchist Severin Ferandel.He contributed at least two articles to it. Sacha was linked to the libertarian writer Theodor Pievier who dedicated his novel Stienka Rasin (1927) to him.

It was through the anarchist movement that he met his wife, Hanka Grothendieck. She came from a middle class family in Hamburg, which had come from Holland in the previous century. She worked as a journalist for the progressive newspaper, Der Pranger, (The Pillory). She gravitated to the Berlin anarchist movement where she met Sacha. He had to earn a living by working as a street photographer. This had first been suggested to him by anarchists in Belgium as a way of making a living. They had a son together called Alexander in 1928. He went under the Dutch name of his mother because of the increasing anti-Semitism in Germany.

In 1933 the young Grothendieck was entrusted in the care of a middle class family sympathetic to progressive causes, the Heydorns, while his parents moved to France because of the menace of Nazism. Both Sacha and Hanka moved to Spain in 1936 with the coming of the Spanish revolution and fought with the anarchist movement. There under the name of Sacha Pietra he addressed an assembly of foreign anarchist militias where he said that he was not a militia man, had lived through the Russian Revolution and had seen what they had done to the anarchists there. (Supplement to CNT/FAI Information Bulletin Barcelona 19.6.37) With the defeat of the Spanish Republic both Sacha and Hanka crossed the border to France. From the age of 5 to 11, Alexander was raised in Berlin. The Heydorns finally notified his parents that it was too dangerous to keep him any more. In May 1939, just a few months before France entered the war, the Heydorns put Alexander on a train to Paris and his parents.. Sacha was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Vernet with the outbreak of war in 1939. Vernet had the worse conditions of all the camps set up by the French government to intern refugees and exiles. The anarchist May Picqueray describes in her autobiography visiting Vernet to support her friend the anarchist sculptor Fernando Gualdi. She saw Sacha there and was able to pass food to him. She took a photo of him behind the barbed wire which she later passed to his son in Paris after the war.

In 1940 Hanka and her son were interned in the Rieucros camp near Mende. Later they went into hiding in the Cevennes mountains in the south of France. Sacha was deported to Auschwitz in 1942, where he was murdered by the Nazis.

Hanka and Alexander survived the war and settled in Montpellier. She remained in the south of France while he went on to become famous at universities in Nancy, Strasbourg and Paris. She died in 1957 of pulmonary tuberculosis contracted in the concentration camp. She wrote a novel Eine Frau ( A Woman) which was never published, a thinly fictionalised account of the years in Berlin, in which Sacha has a principal role. Alexander, known as the “Einstein of mathematics“ threw up a brilliant career and now lives somewhere in the French Pyrenees in almost complete obscurity.

NICK HEATH

Sources Marianne Enckel, CIRA ( entry on Piotr in forthcoming Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement libertaire en France
Winfried Sharlau's work on Alexander Grothendieck at http://www.math.jussieu.fr/~leila/grothendieckcircle/biographic.php

Comments

Marie-May

8 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Marie-May on March 6, 2016

In 1940 Hanka and her son were interned in the Rieucros camp near Mende.

My mother, May Picqueray - then representing the Quakers association and sponsoring different French concentration camps - received a 2 page letter from Hanka Grothendieck, dated 18-11-40, written in Rieucros, in which she was asking her to sponsor the camp, especially the children and the babies. They needed food, milk, clothes, soap. And Alexander needed glasses.
It is about that time that May arranged the escape of 9 prisonners of Le Vernet. She had to leave the Quakers and hide in a small village of the Pyrénées. I'm convinced that if she was able to do it, she answered positively to that letter.
My aunt, Ida Mett was also prisonner at Rieucros with her son, Marc.

Battlescarred

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 30, 2022

Sacha's first wife Rachil was the Jewish anarchist Rachil Davidovna Khaimovich."In the spring of 1917 Rachel ended up in Petrograd and got a job as a secretary in the editorial office of the Bolshevik newspaper Soldatskaya Pravda. Because she was an anarchist, she was used to connections with the headquarters of the anarchists (then the anarchists were allies of the Bolsheviks). On the eve of the July demonstration in the editorial discussed the question of how to conduct a demonstration - armed or
no. Lenin and Trotsky walked around the room embracing and arguing animatedly,
Rachel took the minutes. It was decided that the demonstration would be unarmed, which she was to inform the anarchists about. From the headquarters of the anarchists Rachel was sent to a factory to tell the workers not to bring arms to the demo.
no need. Accompanying her was Sasha then about 30. Summer 1917 they were wed in a civil marriage. Rakhil was in Petrograd under summer 1918 when she went to Kyiv , then under control of the Germans, to set up a safe house. After Kyiv fell to the Reds she was reunited with Sacha. Their son, Dodek, was born on November 4th.

Battlescarred

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 30, 2022

it was strictly not customary for Ashkenazi Jews to name children by the names of their living parents. Therefore he was named David after Rachil's deceased father. Rachil fled Kyiv in August 1919 and settled in Moscow in a roomon Merzlyakovsky Lane. Apparently, her brother lived there and worked in the People's Commissariat of Education. She was sentenced on January 14, 1922 for belonging to an anarchist organization and counter-revolutionary activities to a term of imprisonment. Rakhil Shapiro arrived in April 192 in the Kholmogory prison, where before being transferred to Petrominsk on 24 April 1923. July 1, 1923 all prisoners of the Petrominsk camp transferred to the Solovki camp.. On November 13, 1923, Rachil was sent to the Kem transit prison to await release. She met her future second Nikolai Mikhailovich Belyaev (see bio of him here at libcom ) in one of the camps. After her release she went to Surazh to fetch her son, who was being looked after by her grandparents. She then lived for some time in Moscow with her mother-in-law, then visited Belyaev in Tula and returned to Moscow again.

Battlescarred

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 30, 2022

The rest of the term of exile in the Arkhangelsk province for Belyaev was replaced by exile to Kyzyl-Orda . After a while Rachel was sent after him. In 1927, Belyaev was expelled from Kzyl-Orda to Minusinsk for protesting against the naming of a military In 1931, Rachil and Belyaev had a daughter,Svetlana. in Simferopol, but in 1932 Belyaev was arrested again. Rachil left for Moscow and then Ulyanovsk where there was an anarchist commune. She then returned to Minusinsk in 1934 after Belyaev came out of prison.
David Alexandrovich Shapiro (Dodek) in 1936 graduated from the Minusinsk school in 1936.His certificate of secondary education allowed him to enter a higher educational institution without exams. He chose the physics department of Leningrad University.
In November 1936, his stepfather Belyaev was again arrested and sentenced to
capital punishment on August 13, 1937
Rachil with her daughter Svetlana left for Belaya Tserkov, from where in the summer
In 1941, she managed to leave on foot before the arrival of the Germans. She got to Voronezh, where Belyaev's sister lived, and was evacuated to Ufa. Then she moved to iIshimbay, where she died in 1944.
David graduated from the Faculty of Physics of Leningrad State University with a degree in molecular physics in June 1941 However,his career was in petrophysics and field geophysics. He died in August 1997.

Battlescarred

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 30, 2022

According to the daughter of David, Valeria, her grandfather was born in 1889 in the town of Surazh (the current Bryansk region of the Russian Federation is not far from Novozybkov). At birth, he received the name Iosif. His father was Isaiah Shapiro, his mother was Slava Shapiro. "Thus, his real name is Shapiro Iosif Isaevich. I know all this from the words of his son from his first marriage, my father - Shapiro David Alexandrovich. I wrote down the history of my father's family, so to speak, "for internal use." These records are kept in our family archive and have not been published anywhere. His first common-law wife, my grandmother, was a revolutionary, anarchist Khaimovich Rakhil Davidovna. They met in Petrograd in the summer of 1917. ...I found a video on the Internet that tells about Alexander Grothendieck - his son from his second marriage - as far as I understand, he did not know his father's real name (or maybe he did). I would also like to thank Wikipedia for that now I have photographs of my grandfather (my father lost almost all photographs during the war - only a few of my grandmother's survived). And also for the fact that from Wikipedia I learned the continuation of the story of my grandfather, unfortunately, tragic. Sincerely, Shuer (Shapiro) Valeria Davidovna

Battlescarred

1 year 11 months ago

Submitted by Battlescarred on June 30, 2022

According to Kate Sharpley Library:
Rakhil Davydovna (or Davidovna) Shapiro, born in 1897 in Brest-Litovsk, ethnic Jew, housewife, anarchist-communist. Lived in Moscow or in Surazh (Gomel Guberniya). Arrested on August 17 (or 21), 1921. Sentenced by Moscow Cheka on January 14, 1922 to two years’ imprisonment (or exile to Arkhangelsk Guberniya) for participation in an anarchist organization and counter-revolutionary activities. Later exiled to Berezov (1924) and to Siberia (1927). Rehabilited in 1997. - from http://lists.memo.ru/d36/f250.htm

According to ru.wikipedia.org Rakhil later lived in Simferopol and Ulyanovsk [There are letters from her from these cities in the Fleshin archive].
https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/0vt55r