A short biography of anarchist Rebecca Yaroshevskaya active in Bialystok, Tashkent and Kharkov
Rebekka Yaroshevskaya was born in Bialystok in 1887. She became an active anarchist in 1903. She was one of the main distributors of the anarchist communist paper Khleb I Volya (Bread and Freedom), edited in Switzerland and smuggled into the Russian Empire. She was arrested in spring 1907 and judged in Warsaw with 23 others including the German anarchist Senna Hoy for membership of the Federation of Anarchist Communists of Poland and Lithuania. She told the court that “I do not speak with tyrants” and remained silent for the rest of the trial. She was sentenced to 10 years katorga (hard labour).
With the Russian Revolution she renewed her anarchist activity. Her husband, fellow anarchist Benjamin Epstein, also known as Nemka Belenky, was shot by the Whites in 1919. She herself was harassed by the Communist regime in the same year, and in 1920 was arrested in Kharkov with other anarchists and imprisoned. The anarchist Andrey Andreyev commenced a hunger strike in protest at the arrest of himself and 26 other anarchists. On the second day of the hunger strike, all the anarchists were released except for himself and eight others, which included Rebecca, Senya Fleshin, Fanya Avrutskaya, Siomka Kievsky, Iosif and Lea Gutman, Isaac Teper and Katya Kharkovskaya.
These nine anarchists were verbally accused of maintaining relations with Nestor Makhno. Three days later they joined Andreyev in the hunger strike. Eight days later the authorities agreed to the hunger strikers demands. They would be freed but not before being taken to Moscow. As a result of the treatment in jail Katya Kharkovskaya died soon after of T.B.
Rebecca was sentenced in January 1922 when she received a term of 2 years in a political isolator followed by exile to Central Asia for three years.
This exile was spent in Tashkent. The anarchist and Makhnovist Viktor Belash (by then working for the GPU) describes in a letter of April 17th, 1925 how Rebecca (who he refers to as Reveka) supported herself by sewing. In the “confession” that he later gave to the GPU in 1937 he expanded on the Tashkent anarchist underground. This was organised as the Nabat group with “Reveka, her friend from Moscow (I don’t recall his last name) who was working as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of the Tashkent newspaper, and a third Muscovite (who had already left Tashkent when we got there) who was a writer (I don’t remember his last name). They published a journal called “Nabat”, tried to publish a newspaper, carried on agitation against Soviet power and the NEP, and organized Italian strikes [i.e. sabotage-N.H.] especially on the railroad and at the streetcar depot.” He says that Rebecca was opposed to open correspondence with anarchists abroad and proposed that all correspondence be sent clandestinely through the secret route over the Polish border that had been set up by Olga Taratuta.
Rebecca first became suspicious of Belash because he opposed secret correspondence because that meant he could not have control over it. In March-April 1925 she began to warn other anarchists in Tashkent against Belash.
In 1930 Rebecca was back in Kharkov where along with other anarchists who had also returned from exile she set up a Nabat group. This had been initiated by Grigoriy Tsesnik, and also included Pavel Zakharov and Avenir Uryadov. “According to Belash, in the early 1930s the Kharkov anarchists were most interested and stirred up by the problems of collectivization and the famine that followed. In relation to that they had discussed the perspectives of setting up a mass underground press the use of which was supposed to facilitate the mass resistance to the literally cannibalistic policies of the authorities. But money was needed in order to create an underground printing shop, and they didn’t have any….. A meeting of the Kharkov Nabat members decided to gather the money needed for setting up a printing shop from the work of their ceramics-making artel and of the commune of old anarchists and SRs (members of the All-Union Society of Political Convicts and Exiles) in the Merefa settlement near Kharkov” (Dubovik).
Throughout 1930 and 1931 the Kharkov group re-established connections with anarchists in Moscow and Elisavetgrad, Dnepropetrovsk, Simferopol Kiev, Voronezh, Bryansk and Orel.
In 1934 the Kharkov group planned to set up a regional conference and reform the Nabat Confederation of Anarchists of the Ukraine (Konfederatsiya Anarkhistov Ukrainy “Nabat”, KAU Nabat). However mass arrests by the GPU took place on February 1st in Kharkov, Orel, Voronezh and Bryansk.
Rebecca Yaroshevskaya disappears from records at this point. It is likely that she was arrested and later shot, perhaps in 1937 or 1938, years that saw the shootings of Belash himself, Aron Baron and many others.
Anarquistas de Bialystok:
Anarchist Renegade: Viktor Belash in Tashkent. Malcolm and Viktor Belash:
The Anarchist underground in the Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s. Outlines of history. Anatoly Dubovik: