Gershuni, Grigori Andreyevich

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GERSHUNI, GRIGORI ANDREYEVICH (1870–1908), Russian revolutionary; founder and leader of the terrorist arm of the Socialist-Revolutionary (s.-r.) Party. Gershuni was born in Tavrova, an estate in the Kovno province where his father was a tenant. After a short period in ḥeder he was educated in a Russian high school in Shavli (Šiauliai), but at the age of 15, before graduating, he was sent by his parents to another town to be a pharmacist's apprentice. He eventually settled in Minsk (1898) where he opened a bacteriological laboratory. There he took part in semi-legal educational activities among working-class people and was gradually drawn into clandestine circles, partly under the influence of Yekaterina Breshkovskaya, the "grandmother of the Russian Revolution." The turning point in his revolutionary career was a fortnight of arrest and interrogation in 1900, when the czarist police officer Zubatov tried to enlist him into the loyalist workers' movement organized by himself as a counterforce to terrorism and revolutionary ideology. The effect on Gershuni was exactly the opposite. He became an ardent supporter of anti-czarist terrorism, and when several revolutionary groups merged into the s.-r. Party, it was Gershuni who organized and headed its terrorist arm, the famous Fighting Organization (Boyevaya Organizatsiya), which, under his personal guidance, assassinated some of the highest and most hated officials and dignitaries, among them the minister Sipiagin and governor Bogdanovich. Yevno *Azeff, who was later unmasked as an agent provocateur of the police, became his closest collaborator in leading the Fighting Organization and took it over in 1903, when Gershuni was denounced by another police agent and arrested. A military tribunal sentenced Gershuni to death, but the sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. He was imprisoned in the old Schluesselburg fortress in 1906, but after having been transported to an eastern Siberian prison, he was smuggled out in a cabbage barrel and in a daring flight, by way of China (where he met Sun Yat-sen) and Japan, he reached the United States. There he addressed socialist mass meetings of Jewish and other workers in many cities and collected funds for the Russian s.-r. Party. Several weeks later he appeared in Finland where he publicly attended the second s.-r. Party congress in 1907. In 1908 Gershuni died in a Zurich hospital after an illness. In his last days he learned about the Azeff affair. His friends arranged for his burial in the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris alongside other famous Russian revolutionaries. His funeral grew into an impressive demonstration of international sympathy for the Russian revolutionary movement.

Gershuni became a legendary figure in his lifetime. Although completely assimilated in Russian language and culture, he was always conscious of being a Jew. In his revolutionary speech before the military tribunal in 1903 he stressed the plight of the Jewish masses in Russia. In his behavior in prison and in his dealings with the czarist authorities he was always proud and courageous, so as not to play into the hands of antisemitic propaganda which tried to present the Jewish revolutionaries as cowardly manipulators behind the scenes. To his friend Chaim *Zhitlowsky he said that after the revolution, when liberty would be achieved in Russia, he would join those who devote themselves completely to Jewish interests. Gershuni's reminiscences Iz nedavnovo proshlavo ("From the Recent Past") were published in Paris by the s.-r. central committee (1908).


A.I. Spiridovich, Zapiski zhandarma (19282); V. Chernov (ed.), Grigory Gershuni: Zayn Leben un Tetikeyt (1934); M. Rosenbaum, Erinerungen fun a Sotsyalist-Revolutsyoner, 2 vols. (1924).

[Binyamin Eliav]