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Steimer, Molly

STEIMER, MOLLY

STEIMER, MOLLY (1897–1980), anarchist and advocate on behalf of political prisoners; the only person ever to have been deported from both the United States and the Soviet Union. Born in Dunaevtsy, Russia, Steimer immigrated to New York with her parents and siblings at the age of 15. She soon became involved with Frayheyt (Liberty), a Jewish anarchist group that secretly published and distributed materials in both Yiddish and English supporting the Russian Revolution and opposing World War i.

These activities led to the arrests of Steimer and six other Frayheyt members in August 1918 for conspiring to violate the Sedition Act, an emergency war measure that made it a crime to criticize either the United States government or the Constitution. Their two-week trial, which took place in October 1918, became a cause célèbre. The mistreatment of the defendants, one of whom died from injuries sustained upon arrest, as well as the harsh sentences handed down, 15 years for Steimer and 20 for three of the other co-defendants, led to outrage in liberal circles. When the Supreme Court upheld the convictions, attorney Harry Weinberg, a well-known defender of political radicals, rallied leading lawyers and intellectuals on the anarchists' behalf. Despite Steimer's objections, Weinberg negotiated a solution through which Steimer and her colleagues were deported to the Soviet Union and granted full pardons, with the stipulation that they never return to the United States. Soon after her arrival in the Soviet Union in 1921, Steimer met and fell in love with fellow anarchist Senya Fleshin, a Russian Jew who had immigrated to the United States and returned after the Revolution. The two remained life-long companions.

Steimer did not fare well in the hands of the Soviet authorities, who, like the American government, felt threatened by the anarchist movement. Steimer and Fleshin were expelled from the Soviet Union in 1923 and spent the next 15 years helping political prisoners and anarchist exiles, taking part in radical political debates of the day, and running a photographic studio in Berlin. They were living in Paris at the outbreak of World War ii, and after a brief period in a French internment camp, both were able to flee to Mexico City. There, they joined a growing group of political exiles and opened another photographic studio. Steimer maintained strong connections with fellow radicals throughout her years in Mexico and had become a much admired veteran of the international anarchist movement when she died in 1980 in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

bibliography:

E.L. Goldstein, "Steimer, Molly," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 2 (1997), 1313–14; G.R. Stone, Perilous Times and Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism (2004).

[Nadia Malinovich (2nd ed.)]

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