Living My Life
by Emma Goldman
New York: Alfred A Knopf Inc.,1931.
WHEN I RETURNED TO NEW YORK TWO DAYS LATER, HAVING been discharged by the Baltimore police magistrate with a strong admonition never again to come back to the city, a letter from Sasha was awaiting me. It was written in very small but distinct script and gave the details of the Monday in court. He had repeatedly tried to learn the date of his trial, the letter read, but he could not procure any information about it. On the morning of the 19th he was suddenly ordered to get ready. He had barely time to gather up the sheets of his speech. Strange and antagonistic faces met him in the court-room. In vain he strained his eye for the sight of his friends. He realized that they, too, must have been kept in ignorance of the day of the trial. Yet he hoped against hope for the miracle. But there was not a friendly face anywhere. He was confronted with six indictments, all manufactured from the one act, and among them one charging him with an attempt on the life of John G. A. Leishman, Frick's assistant. Sasha declared that he knew nothing of Leishman; it was Frick whom he had come to kill. He demanded that he be tried on that charge alone, and that the other indictments be quashed, because they were all involved in the major charge. But his objection was overruled.
The jurors were selected in a few minutes, Sasha making no use of his right of challenge. What difference did it make? They were all alike, and he would be convicted anyhow. He declared to the Court that he scorned to defend himself; he wanted only to explain his act. The interpreter assigned to him translated haltingly and wrongly, and after several attempts to correct him Sasha discovered to his horror that the man was blind, as blind as justice in the American courts. He then tried to address the jury in English, but he was impatiently stopped by Judge McClung, who declared that "the prisoner has said enough already." Sasha protested, but in vain. The District Attorney stepped into the jury-box and held a low conversation with the talesmen, whereupon they brought in a verdict of guilty without even leaving their seats. The Judge was curt and denunciatory. He passed sentence on each count separately, including three indictments for "entering a building with felonious intent," giving the prisoner the maximum on each charge. The total amounted to twenty-one years in the Western Penitentiary of Pennsylvania, at the expiration of which time an additional year was to be served in the Allegheny County Workhouse for "carrying concealed weapons."
Twenty-two years of slow torture and death! He had done his duty, Sasha's letter concluded, and now the end had come. He would depart as he had determined, by his own will and hand. He wanted no effort made in his behalf. It would be of no use and he could not give his consent to an appeal to the enemy. No need of further help for him; whatever campaign could be made must be for his act, and I was to see to that He was sure that no one else felt and understood his motives so well, no one else could clarify the meaning of his deed with the same conviction. His one deep longing now was for me. If he could only look into my eyes once more and press me to his heart -- but as that was denied him, he would keep on thinking of me, his friend and comrade. No power on earth could take that away from him.
I felt Sasha's spirit lifted above everything earthly. Like a brilliant star it illumined my own dark thoughts and brought home to me the realization that there was something greater than personal ties or even love: an all-embracing devotion that understands all and gives all to the last breath.
Sasha's terrible sentence aroused Most to a virulent attack on the courts of Pennsylvania and the judicial criminal who could give a man twenty-two years for an act that legally called for only seven. His article in the Freiheit increased my bitterness against him, for had he not helped to weaken the effect of Sasha's deed? I was certain that the enemy would not have dared to railroad Sasha if there had been a concerted radical protest in his behalf. I held Most much more responsible for the inhuman sentence than the Court of the State of Pennsylvania.
Sasha was by no means without friends. They proved their loyalty from the very first. Now two groups came forward to organize the campaign for the commutation of his sentence. The East Side group comprised various social elements, labour men, and leading Jewish socialists. Among them were M. Zametkin, an old Russian revolutionary; Louis Miller, an energetic and influential man in the ghetto; and Isaac Hourwitch, a comparatively recent arrival in America after his exile in Siberia. The last was especially ardent as a spokesman for Sasha. There was also Shevitch, who had from the beginning defended Sasha in the German daily Volkszeitung, of which he was editor-in-chief. Our friend Solotaroff, Annie Netter, young Michael Cohn, and others were the most active in the East Side group.
The moving spirit of the American group was Dyer D. Lum, a man of exceptional abilities, a poet and writer on economic and philosophical subjects. With him were John Edelman, the gifted architect and publicist; William C. Owen, an Englishman of literary talents, and Justus Schwab, the well-known German anarchist.
It was most encouraging to see the splendid solidarity in the cause of Sasha. I kept him informed of the efforts in his behalf, painting them in exaggerated colours to cheer him. But nothing seemed to avail; he was in the grip of the twenty-two-year sentence. "It is no earthly use to try to do anything for me," he wrote. "It will take years to accomplish a commutation, and I know that Frick and Carnegie will never consent to it. Without their approval the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons will not act. Besides, I cannot continue for long in this living tomb." His letters were dispiriting, but I held on grimly. I knew his indomitable will and his iron strength of character. I clung tenaciously to the hope that he would arouse himself and not allow himself to be crushed. That hope alone gave me the courage to go on. I joined the newly organized efforts for him. Night after night I was at some meeting voicing the meaning and message of Sasha's act.
Early in November came the first sign of Sasha's reawakened interest in life. His letter informed me that he might have the privilege of a visitor. Prisoners were entitled to one visit a month, but only from a near relative. Could I get his sister from Russia to come to see him? I understood what he meant and wrote him immediately to get the pass.
I had been invited by anarchist groups in Chicago and St. Louis to speak at the approaching anniversary of the 11th of November and I decided to combine the trip with a visit to Sasha. I would go as his married sister, under the name of Niedermann. I was certain that the prison authorities knew nothing about Sasha's sister in Russia. I would impersonate her and they would never suspect my identity. I was hardly known then. The pictures of me in the papers in connexion with Sasha's act were so unlike me that no one could have recognized me from them. To see my boy again, to press him to my heart, to bring him hope and courage -- I lived for nothing else during the weeks and days before the visit.
In a fever I made my preparations. My first stop was to be St. Louis; then Chicago; finally Pittsburgh. A letter from Sasha arrived a few days before my departure. It contained a pass from the Chief Prison Inspector of the Western Penitentiary for Mrs. E. Niedermann, sister of Prisoner A-7, for a visit on the 26th of November. Sasha had asked me to instruct his sister to remain in Pittsburgh two days. In view of the fact that she was coming all the way from Russia to see him, the Inspector had promised him a second visit. I was wild with joy, impatient of every hour that kept me from him. The pass for my visit became my amulet. I would not part with it for a moment.
I arrived in Pittsburgh early on the morning of Thanksgiving Day. I was met by Carl Nold and Max Metzkow, the latter a German comrade who had faithfully stood by Sasha. Nold and Bauer were out on bail awaiting trial "for complicity in the attempt on Frick's life." I had been in correspondence with Carl for some time and I was glad of the opportunity to meet the young comrade who had been kind to Sasha. He was of small stature, frail, with intelligent eyes and a shock of black hair. We greeted each other like old friends.
In the afternoon I went out to Allegheny, accompanied by Metzkow. It was decided that Nold should stay away; he was often followed by detectives and we were afraid that my identity might be discovered before I had a chance to get inside the prison. Not far from the penitentiary Metzkow remained to await my return.
The grey stone building, the high forbidding walls, the armed guards, the oppressive silence in the hall where I was told to wait, and the minutes creeping into endless time settled on my heart with the weight of a nightmare. In vain I tried to shake myself free. At last a harsh voice called: "This way, Mrs. Niedermann." I was taken through several iron doors, along twisting corridors, into a small room. Sasha was there, a tall guard beside him.
My first impulse was to rush up to him and cover him with kisses, but the presence of the guard checked me. Sasha approached me and put his arms around me. As he bent over to kiss me, I felt a small object pass into my mouth.
For weeks I had been looking forward eagerly, anxiously to this visit. A thousand times I had gone over in my mind all I would say to him of my love and undying devotion, of the struggle I was making for his release, but all I could do was to press his hand and look into his eyes.
We began to speak in our beloved Russian, but we were stopped immediately by the cold command of the guard: "Talk English. No foreign languages here." His lynx-like eyes followed our every movement, watched our lips, crept into our very minds. I became tongue-tied, numb in every nerve. Sasha, too, was mute; his fingers kept on playing with my watch-chain and he seemed to hold on to it as a drowning man to a straw. Neither of us could utter a word, but our eyes spoke to each other -- of our fears, our hopes, our yearnings.
The visit lasted twenty minutes. Another embrace, another touch of our lips, and our "time was up." I whispered to him to hold on, to hold out, and then I found myself on the prison steps The iron gate clattered shut behind me.
I wanted to scream, to throw my weight against the door, to pound it with my fists. But the gate stared back at me and mocked. I walked along the front of the prison and into the street. I walked, silently weeping, towards the spot where I had left Metzkow. His presence brought me back to reality and made me conscious of the object Sasha had given me with his kiss. I took it out of my mouth -- a small roll I tightly wrapped. We went into the back room of a saloon and I unwound the several layers of paper. At last appeared a note with Sasha's diminutive handwriting, each word standing out like a pearl before me. "You must go to Inspector Reed," it read; "he promised me a second pass. Go to his jewellery shop tomorrow. I am counting on you. I'll give you another message of importance -- the same way."
I went to Reed's store the next day. I looked shabby in my threadbare coat amid the sparkling jewellery, silver, and gold. I asked to see Mr. Reed. He was a tall, emaciated, thin-lipped creature, with hard and piercing eyes. No sooner had I given my name than he exclaimed: "So this is Berkman's sister!" Yes, he had promised him a second visit, though he did not deserve any kindness. Berkman was a murderer, he had tried to kill a good Christian man. I held on to myself by sheer force; my chance to see Sasha again was at stake. He would call up the prison, Reed continued, to find out at what time I could be admitted. I was to return in an hour.
My heart sank. I had a distinct premonition that there would be no more visits for Sasha. But I came back as directed. As soon as Mr. Reed saw me, his face turned purple and he fairly leaped at me. "You deceiver!" he yelled. "You have already been at the penitentiary! You sneaked in under a false name as his sister. You don't get away with such lies here -- you have been recognized by a guard! You are Emma Goldman, that criminal's mistress! There will be no more visits. You might as well make up your mind about it -- Berkman will never get out alive!"
He had gone behind the glass counter, which was covered with Silverware. In my indignation and rage I swept everything to the floor plates, coffee-pots and pitchers, jewellery and watches. I seized a heavy tray and was about to throw it at him when I was pulled back by one of the clerks, who shouted to someone to run for the police. Reed, white with fear and frothing at the mouth, signalled to the clerk. "No police," I heard him say; "no scandal. Just kick her out." The clerk advanced towards me, then stopped. "Murderer, coward!" I cried; "if you harm Berkman, I will kill you with my own hands!"
No one moved. I walked out and boarded a street-car. I made sure of not being followed before returning to Metzkow's home. In the evening, when he came back with Nold from work, I told them what had happened. They were alarmed. They regretted that I had lost control of myself, because it would react on Sasha. They agreed that I would have to get out of Pittsburgh at once. The Inspector might put detectives on my trail and have me arrested. The Pennsylvania authorities had been trying to get me ever since Sasha's act.
I was shocked by the thought that Sasha might indeed have to suffer as a result of my outbreak. But the threat of the Inspector that Sasha would never come out of prison alive had been too much for me. I was sure Sasha would understand.
The night was black as I walked with Nold to the station to take the train for New York. The steel-foundries belched huge flames that reflected the Allegheny hills blood-red and filled the air with soot and smoke. We made our way past the sheds where human beings, half man, half beast, were working like the galley-slaves of an era long past. Their naked bodies, covered only with small trunks, shone like copper in the glare of the red-hot chunks of iron they were snatching from the mouths of the flaming monsters. From time to time the steam rising from the water thrown on the hot metal would completely envelop the men; then they would emerge again like shadows. "The children of hell," I said, "damned to the everlasting inferno of heat and noise." Sasha had given his life to bring joy to these slaves, but they had remained blind and continued in the hell of their own forging. "Their souls are dead, dead to the horror and degradation of their lives."
Carl related to me what he knew about Sasha in his Pittsburgh days. It was true that Henry Bauer had suspected Sasha. Henry was a fanatical follower of Most, who had warned him against us as renegades, telling him that we had allied ourselves with "that spy Peukert." When Sasha arrived at the height of the Homestead trouble, Bauer was already prejudiced against him. Henry had confided to Nold that he would examine Sasha's bag while he was asleep and that if he found anything incriminating, he would kill Sasha. With loaded gun Bauer had slept in the same room with Sasha, alert for any suspicious movement and ready to shoot. Nold had been so impressed with Sasha by his open countenance and directness that he could not possibly suspect him. He had agreed with Bauer, trying to convince him that Most was unfair and prejudiced against everyone who disagreed with him. Carl no longer believed so implicitly in Hannes.
Carl's story filled me with horror. What if Sasha had happened to have something in his bag that Bauer might have taken as justifying his suspicions! Enough for the blind Most-worshipper to shoot him! And Most, to what depths his hatred of Sasha had driven him, to what despicable methods! What was there in human passion that forced men to such lengths? My own, for instance, that compelled me to horsewhip Most, to hate him now as he had always hated Sasha, to hate the man I had once loved, the man who had been my ideal. It was all so painfully disturbing, so frightful. I could not grasp it.
Of his own trial Carl spoke lightly. He would even welcome a few years in prison to be near Sasha, to help him bear his heavy ordeal. Faithful Carl! His trust in Sasha and his faith brought me close to him, made him very dear.
Far in the distance, as the train sped on, I could still see the belching flames shoot against the black sky, lighting up the hills of Allegheny. Allegheny, which held what was most precious to me immured perhaps for ever! I had planned the Attentat together with him; I had let him go alone; I had approved of his decision to have no lawyer. I strove to shake off the consciousness of guilt, but it would give me no rest until I found forgetfulness in sleep.
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